Last Year I Spent $18,000 on Child Care
The ‘privilege’ of working motherhood comes at a high price — and this doesn’t include the gender wage gap.
According to my 2018 tax return, our family spent just shy of $18,000 of our after tax income on child care last year.
$18,000 — think of what else we could have done with that. A six week vacation in Hawaii. Paying down our mortgage. A new car. Retirement savings.
You’re probably thinking that number has to be for more than one kid, or that my husband and I sent our son to a daycare at the Hilton. The sad truth is that you’re wrong — very wrong.
That $18k is for one child attending full time daycare — Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5:30. Lunch and snacks were also provided as part of that ridiculous fee, though I don’t think my picky eating 5 year old ever got us our money’s worth.
You can do the math and figure out that both my husband and I were doing well in our respective careers for it to make any sense for both of us to work. We’re equal breadwinners and last year for the first time my income eclipsed his. So what exactly did that $18,000 get us?
It’s the cost of the ‘privilege’ for me to be a working mother and pursue a career.
We talk incessantly about barriers that keep women from the workplace after having a baby. Whether it’s structural policies, antiquated corporate culture or unreasonable expectations from management, the odds are stacked against us.
The support mothers need to ultimately succeed in the workplace isn’t there and I’ve experienced it first hand. Putting the needs of my family ahead of those of my employer often left me on the receiving end of back handed comments and major shade from my manager.
It meant that my commitment to my work was always questioned and I was openly bullied in front of my colleagues.
Even a mid afternoon trip to the Emergency Department with my son after a tumble on the playground left him with a concussion was met with, “It’s really too bad you missed our leadership meeting.”
And to think I shelled out $18k to put up with that. I’m no longer at that job and was fortunate that I could make a move to get out, but a lot of other working mothers aren’t so lucky.
They’re stuck somewhere between working and keeping a job, putting bread on the table, raising their babies and trying to keep their heads above water.
It’s incredibly difficult to make enough money to justify the cost of child care, giving little reason for women to go back to work after becoming a mother unless it’s out of absolute necessity.
To add to this burden, women continue to earn $0.80 for every $1.00 men are paid. It’s even worse for working mothers who according to the National Women’s Law Center earn $0.71 cents for every $1.00 dads bring home.
“It’s even worse for working mothers who according to the National Women’s Law Center earn $0.71 cents for every $1.00 dads bring home.”
What this means is that we’re working harder and longer in order to even try and compete with our male counterparts.
My career is important to me, and I’ve had to put in a lot of effort to get to where I am. I have a Master’s degree. I’ve made the right moves from a career development perspective and I’ve sacrificed a lot of time and energy at work where I could have spent it otherwise.
What it’s meant that I’m fortunate to find myself fairly well compensated for my work.
Most women with young children that require full time child care aren’t in the same position. Because of a lack of opportunity, skills, education or other structural factor, they’ve been relegated to lower paying industries, careers and jobs.
In the case of professional women they often find themselves on the ‘mommy-track’, being passed over for new opportunities, clients and career development that all have a long term impact on earning potential.
Further complicating things is that the time spent at home caring for children often results in a 5–10 year employment gap on most women’s resumes, which automatically puts them at a disadvantage to their employed peers. Most employers will pass over a resume with such a long period of unemployment because of the loss of transferable skills and perception of stay at home motherhood.
“Most employers will pass over a resume with such a long period of unemployment because of the loss of transferable skills and perception of stay at home motherhood.”
When mothers do try and re-enter the workforce it often means they find themselves working in low paid service or administrative positions, further limiting opportunity for an increase in household income and educational or advancement opportunities.
What this leaves us with is a further widening of the gap between low and high income earners, and that the privilege of being a working mother with upward mobility is only for those that can afford to have someone else look after their kids.
When all these factors are taken into consideration it’s easy to see why some mothers choose to opt out of the workforce. The system isn’t designed for us to succeed; we’ve been merely invited to the game and are forced to play by rules written for and designed by men.
Effective, family-friendly policies in the workplace are a start, but true equality requires a dramatic shift in thinking about what it means to have working mothers in any employment situation. Paid parental/maternity leave is necessary, but as is a reform of how we think about work, productivity and how we value and prioritize our children.
Working motherhood isn’t something that should be limited to only the highest income earners. This practice is dangerous and not only threatens our immediate livelihoods, but also the opportunities and outcomes for the next generation — the lives of our children that we’re working so very hard to support.