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When it Comes to Childcare, Think Outside the Usual Sandbox

If you are in life stage: Climbing the Ladder Posted September 1st, 2016
By Kathryn Sollmann

With both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump proposing solutions that could make childcare more affordable, things are looking up for women who want their paychecks to cover more than the weekly daycare bill.

But until significant changes are made, as this Time article says, “The Childcare Gap is Widening”. Though it’s a difficult sandbox-1583289_1920challenge, I believe more creative thinking is in order before women at all income levels make the choice to forego work and stay home.

The Time article is correct in pointing out that higher earning mothers can afford the childcare they want and need. But there are also a number of non-household name online resources mentioned that can help you find the childcare that fits your wallet—one, for example, that charges a reasonable fee of $150.

More and more of these childcare resources are popping up around the country, and women have more options than the handful of daycare centers they see down the street.

When my daughters were young and I had enough of the live in or live out nanny drama, I learned about a very reasonable licensed babysitting service that was at the home of an acquaintance. You would never have found this woman’s services in the yellow pages…I found her through word of mouth.

During a later childcare phase another professional woman and I split the cost of a babysitter who cared for both our daughters after kindergarten dismissal. The babysitting became more playdate oversight, and the children enjoyed afternoons playing at their own and their friend’s home. This arrangement took some creative thinking and negotiating: we didn’t want to pay a full-time salary—so we helped the babysitter fill up her morning caring for the children of other friends.

The most creative child care solution I’ve seen was a young, low-income woman who was determined to work, but lacked the earning power to cover the cost of child care. She became a school bus driver, and the first seat was always taken by her daughter—in a portable baby carrier.

Though most highly educated, professional women would not opt for the bus driver job, and there are not many jobs that allow your children to come along, with more creative thinking and more informal babysitting co-ops, more mothers can work and pocket money they earn. Most women want flexible work and many want part-time jobs—it’s not impossible, for example, to find an in-home babysitter who can work two days for one mother’s children and three days for the children of another mother. And not all reputable babysitters come through agencies or demand top dollar per hour. (With the economic downturn many professional women in even affluent communities turned to babysitting when they could not find work.)

Safe and reliable babysitting situations can be found, but the sticking point is how much money is left over after paying the childcare bill. It’s discouraging when the majority—or all—of a paycheck is eaten up by childcare. But it’s rarely logical to stay home. While you’re paying for childcare, you may not always bring home an abundance of green dollars—but you’ll steadily be earning experience dollars. Your time working is never for naught: you’re always building your resume and putting those experience dollars in the bank so that you can continually advance your earning power and career.

For many years a secretary at IBM brought her three children to different childcare arrangements in three different towns. She was a single mother and childcare swallowed most of her paycheck. But she persevered, saw her work as an investment for the future, and she is now the head of a highly respected non-profit organization.

A physical therapist who works part-time told me she barely has any money left over after she pays for in-home child care. She does not focus on this depressing arithmetic—instead she realizes that a big resume gap would set her back in continuing education credits and very quickly make her skills out of date. She sees her work today as an investment in the career gains she can make when her young children come of age for school.

An HR professional I know shares a similar view. She has two young children with a third on the way, and childcare now eats up almost 50% of her take-home salary. She has just completed additional certification to advance her career, and with strategic thinking she has created a childcare mosaic that includes both a live in au pair from abroad and a local day care facility. Though she says these arrangements “bleed money”, she does the math and realizes that the money she has left over still contributes to family extras like gymnastics classes and dinners out. More importantly her employment allows this woman and her husband to participate in—and maximize contributions to—not one but two 401(k) plans (as well as reap the benefits of two pension plans and life insurance plans) and save in other ways for retirement.

There’s the professional fulfillment angle for this 30-something HR professional, too: “I get tremendous personal satisfaction and confidence from my work.  I love my children very much, and am always thrilled to see them, but I know I’m a happier version of myself because I work, and that, in turn is good for them! And the day care environment has many educational benefits that have prepared my children well for school—so they’re learning while I’m working and we all keep on track to get ahead.”  —KAS

Flexible work eases the childcare conundrum. Check out my easy and affordable online course, Find A Flexible Job & Make Work Fit Life.

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