The costs of daycare vs. staying at home

April 16, 2019 by David Riedel

Here’s a question that makes almost every parent I know perspire with anxiety: Now that you have a kid, is one of you going to stay at home? Or is your kid going to daycare?

Forget, for a moment, about the shameful state of maternity leave in the United States. Or paternity leave. (My last full-time job gave me three days—THREE DAYS—off when my first child was born.) Let’s fly off to La La Land for a second and assume you got your three months or six months or whatever seems like a reasonable amount of time. Now you’re ready to either go back to work or continue staying at home with your child.

For my wife and me, it was largely a financial decision. I worked full-time and had great health insurance coverage, and my wife had just begun a lucrative work-for-herself career. Even by sending our son to daycare—he started at five months, which looking back, seems very young—we were still in the black. That doesn’t account for the tears we shed, or that he shed, at drop-off; I’m pretty sure those tears were priceless.

With baby number two the choice became less clear. I now work for myself, and that means we have two freelance incomes and buy our own insurance. After crunching the numbers, we knew child number one could still go to daycare (and now he’s in pre-school).

But the baby? Less cut-and-dried.

We knew from experience that, after his initial jitters, our older son enjoyed daycare. He has lots of friends, and he does all kinds of things at daycare he could never do at home, such as play with lizards when the lizard guy comes to school, learn yoga (for reals!), and learn sign language (which he also taught his mother and me).

We also know that I now earn less money than I used to, and buying our own health insurance is puh-ricey. We ran the figures for our younger son and determined for now it would be better for him to stay home with me most days and with my wife a couple days. Plus, my wife now works one weekend day.

So what happened? We decided the skills he would pick up—maybe baby yoga, or sign language, and socialization—weren’t worth the actual financial costs. I make less money now than I did as a full-timer (I also like my job more, a not-insignificant consideration), and to offset the cost of having an infant in daycare, which is more expensive than the older child, I’d have to bump my income by about 15 percent. Or my wife would have to bump hers a smaller percentage, but a percentage nonetheless.

I work in a business—writing and editing—that requires a lot of hustling. When I’m not working on a story or editing something, I’m pitching. And pitching takes a lot of time, energy, and research, and there’s no guarantee anyone will take your pitch. My wife and I determined the estimated 10 to 15 hours extra I’d have to work a week wasn’t worth it.

So now I work when the baby naps, or at night when the kids go to bed (I prefer writing at night, anyway). And because fate has been kind to us in the past few months, I’m getting busy enough and earning enough, even on the reduced work schedule, that we’re having the daycare discussion again. We’re no longer in a lose-money position if he goes, so is sending the now-7-month-old to daycare worth me missing him terribly each day?

Kids. They’ll break your hearts. And your pocketbooks. What choices will you make regarding staying at home or sending the little ones to daycare?


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