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The Hidden Costs of Having a Baby—Part 2

Categories: child care, pregnancy


In light of the ragged economy, the rising cost of living, and all the ballot measures that promise to add hundreds and hundreds of dollars to our already astronomical property tax bill, the last thing I want to do is obsess over the expense of bringing a child into the world and then supporting him for eighteen-plus years. Alas, the only way out is through, and it’s better to be prepared than caught unawares by the collection agency, especially if the agent dares ring the doorbell while the baby is napping.

Last week in Part 1 of “The Hidden Costs of Having a Baby,” I wrote about maternity leave, the first major expense for working mothers, and today I’ll tackle Part 2, an expense that, long after your maternity leave is up, will continue to affect your bank account—and perhaps your entire working-mom lifestyle—for years to come. You might have always thought of yourself as a designer-diaper-bag girl at heart, but maybe this reality check will make you reconsider using that oversized tote you already have in your closet.

In the comments for Part 1, some of you beat me to the punch on the next Hidden Cost of Having a Baby:

2. Child care. If you eventually return to work (some of us will decide to, others will have to), chances are you’re going to need child care at least part-time. Grandparents, trusted neighbors, babysitting co-ops, and stay-at-home partners are great (and cheap!) resources if you can find them, yet many of us have little choice but to go the daycare/babysitter/nanny route. Of all the expenses involved with having a baby, child care is probably one of the most costly and most important, so make sure you take some time before the baby’s born (or conceived!) to not just think about your preferences but actually research them in detail, using real dollar signs and real decimal points.

Prices will obviously vary depending on where you live, what kind of care you’re after, how often you need it, and the age of your child(ren), so this isn’t the sort of thing you can get a grasp on through casual word-of-mouth. A friend can quote you prices on the cost of full-time daycare for her two-year-old in the suburbs, but that likely has little bearing if you’re looking for a part-time nanny for your newborn in the city. In my research, for instance, I was shocked to learn that many providers in my area won’t take infants under six months, which poses an obvious problem for those of us with measly six- or twelve-week maternity leaves. Even worse was coming to the realization that my dream child care environment for an infant added up to significantly more than I’d be earning when I return to work part-time next spring. Obviously, something has to give one way or another, and although I resent having to think about this sort of thing when I should be free to focus on nothing aside from folding precious little onesies and stacking them in the bureau with tender, loving, color-coordinated care, I know that having a plan well in advance of needing said plan will make things a lot easier for everyone in the long run.

(This issue of child care canceling out my salary does, however, open the discussion of whether it would be better to just quit my job altogether and stay home with the kid myself. A fellow coworker was in this situation recently and had a creative way of justifying her decision to continue working: she figured that since being in an office on a regular basis helps keep her sane, it was well worth it for her to dump her entire monthly salary into daycare, as the alternative was to be a stay-at-home mom and rack up charges in psychotherapy! It’s funny cuz it’s true!)

The other thing that really shocked me about child care was the number of providers who have long waiting lists. I’d heard of this phenomenon among swank preschools in urban areas, but I was entirely unprepared to encounter it in laid-back California, and before my son is even born! A lot of the centers I looked at recommend parents set aside some time during the third trimester to attend daycare pre-registration orientations! For a fee! Before this, I’d always cast a shifty eye on parents who filled out college applications before Junior was even out of diapers, but now I’m seeing that in many cases, planning months and years into the future is not just a neurosis but a necessity. Child care: Definitely not for the faint of heart, the light of pocketbook, or the free-spirit/procrastinator/lazybutt.

After tallying the expense of child care minus maternity-leave paycuts plus the Hidden Cost in Part 3 (coming next week), my partner and I have been forced to think outside the box on this issue; ordering off the Bay Area’s child care menu is no longer an option, so we’re trying to cobble together a solution a la carte. Maybe instead of working part-time in the office during the day, I can work part-time from home at night. Maybe one of us needs to think seriously about a career change for a higher salary. Maybe we both need to pursue more freelance work. Maybe we can go online and buy a monkey trained to change diapers. Maybe we finally need to get serious about winning that lottery.

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8 comments so far...

  • One reason to work even if all the money goes to child care is to preserve your earning potential. If you leave and reenter the workforce you miss out on salary increases and may even have to take a lower paying job when you want to come back in — and that will affect your income for years.

    That said, I’m personally still glad I took two years off, despite the career and salary hit.

    All options have advantages and disadvantages, you just have to weigh the tradeoffs.

    SoftwareMom  |  November 5th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

  • I vote for winning the lottery. Think of all of the bon bons you could consume!

    Seriously though, the balance between work and family is a daily struggle over here since we both work from home. We make it work, but it takes, well, WORK.

    Maybe I need to get me one of those monkeys…

    Angella  |  November 5th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  • There’s a lot of freelance work you could do from home in your field too, right? Or just on the Internet :-)

    Kristin D  |  November 5th, 2008 at 11:31 pm

  • Kristin–Yes, my job (book editing) was practically MADE for freelancing, and having been in the business for so long already, I definitely have connections that will hopefully turn into extra work for extra pay. The main thing that worries me about editing book-length projects while caring for a newborn is that I can’t be delerious from lack of sleep and expect to do a good job. I can, however, edit with one hand, so at least I have that going for me!

    Leah K  |  November 6th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  • Leah,
    My husband and I have cobbled together a solution that works pretty well for us. We do two days of daycare. One day a week, my husband takes the morning baby shift and I work a half day at the office then he goes into his office at lunch time, then works 8 hours…getting home really late. So, that’s twenty office hours for me, and then I do ten more at home, at night. I feel pretty lucky to have this set up as an option, but I have to warn you, it’s HARD. Even now that Maddy goes to bed at 8 and sleeps 10-12 hours, it’s really hard getting geared up to work after she’s gone to bed. But…it’s worth it. Good luck!!

    lainey  |  November 6th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

  • Lainey–That’s just the kind of solution we’re trying to work out (although even part-time childcare would take up most of my part-time salary). The main problem is that Simon is a contract worker who’s pretty much on call 24/7. What happens if he’s with the baby while I’m at work and then he gets called in for an emergency? At the very least, we need a backup person who would be available to watch the boy on a moment’s notice.

    Leah K  |  November 6th, 2008 at 4:14 pm

  • We are going through the same challenges. Who would have thought that there would be 1 1/2 year waiting lists in Columbus, oh!
    I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home through the summer. Concerned though about how I would balance both working and baby care a coworker offered a possible solution… hiring a teenager to work for a couple hours. I would still be present in case of emergencies, but it would be alot less than daycare.

    Andrea  |  November 10th, 2008 at 10:40 am

  • Yikes. I know that some areas (like yours) run much higher for childcare than others. I’m really lucky that daycare only takes up about 12% of my salary, and I don’t even make that much!

    Robyn  |  November 18th, 2008 at 3:29 pm