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.