Betty Duffy

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's childcare worth to you?

People like to say to me, "You're so lucky, you get to stay home with your kids." I couldn't agree more--I've talked often about the perks of being a stay at home mom.

I should note though, that working outside of the home has not been a practical option for me in a very long time. If I totaled up childcare for five children (even at the lowest rates), added to that the price of gas, then the cost of pre-prepared meals for a family of seven, not to mention falling into a higher tax bracket, I would probably be in the hole several thousand dollars in my attempt to make money.

What I could potentially do is offer to watch someone else's kids while they return to work. But childcare workers are not paid what the job is actually worth. I've worked in childcare on and off throughout my life, and have received payment ranging from 75 dollars a week (full time--when I was a teenager) to eight dollars an hour.

I understand the need for affordable childcare, particularly when a single parent needs work to feed his or her family. I have also been a parent who cannot afford a babysitter in order to leave home without children, even for a few hours. But I don't think affordable childcare is a right.

For two parent families with fewer kids, low childcare rates incentivize having two parents absent from the home for most of the day--and while I recognize the economic benefits of more people in the workforce, and I recognize the dignity inherent in having a good job--I have difficulty seeing the benefit to children and society of more children spending most of their waking hours in the care of underpaid third parties.

It's a challenging issue...and also what I'm posting about at Patheos today.


Karly said...

I completely agree with you that childcare workers should not be underpaid--their work is expremely valuable, in fact is a profession, as is the (unpaid) work done by SAHMs such as yourself. When we were looking for preschools for Mira it was Steven who insisted that we find a place with unionized, well-paid workers (turned out it was our local public school district's early childhood program that fit this bill). But I have to respectfully disagree with a couple comments made on the Patheos link suggesting that most moms would prefer to be home with their kids all the time if they could afford it. I'll admit that is not true for me. I prefer my current situation: working part-time, mostly when my daughter is in school, because I like being involved in a productive, adult work environment...and I'm not particularly oriented towards house work or cooking as creative pursuits (I think they can be, they're just not my field). Frankly you could also think of public school as subsidized child care--the value my family gets from it is FAR greater than what we pay in property taxes. I wonder what you would say about the studies that seem to suggest that children who attend high quality child care and preschools do better (educationally, emotionally) overall. I will be going to a panel next Tuesday evening about Early Childhood Education as part of our county-wide interfaith social justice initiative--the Cleveland Metropolitan School District may start offering pre-K programming taught by highly-qualified teacher because all of the studies suggest that is one of the best ways to improve high school graduation rates.

BettyDuffy said...

Karly, I agree with your assessment of the notion that all mothers would "rather" be home. The data on women returning to work after childbirth suggests as much, and I've heard many different women admit a preference for working to staying home. I appreciate your honesty.

I'll also admit that while it first pained me to send my older kids to school, I now feel happy to see them off. The state of mothering young children at home is (nearly) always a temporary state of life--which I think is what allows me to do it with gratitude for now. It's when I picture myself changing diapers into my fifties that I get antsy. But kids eventually need their mother less than they do when their young--and thank God.

Regarding early childhood education--I don't think it's a cut and dry issue. I think good parental involvement matches, and at times, exceeds the quality of a preschool. Of my own children, the ones who did not attend preschool were earlier readers than the ones who did. But they were also born when I had more energy and spent more time teaching educational concepts. And I don't discount the role of genetics in determining emotional and educational achievement. Is early childhood ed more beneficial than staying home with a neglectful parent--absolutely. Is it more beneficial than staying home an involved parent--probably not. Socially--I just don't know. My kids are all a little socially awkward, but some of that may be genetic too.

Wendell Berry has an essay that may interest you in "What are People For" called "A Remarkable Man" which discusses our societal overemphasis on scholastic achievement. He writes: "A powerful superstition of modern life is that people and conditions are improved inevitably by education." The essay details the life of Nate Shaw whose innate intelligence and personal virtue made a profound effect in his community.

JMB said...

This is a tough question because child care costs, like salaries and real estate, vary by city to city, region to region. My sister lives in NYC and pays her nanny $800 per week to care for two small children from 7 am to 7 pm. Experienced nannies in NYC are a hot commodity. The joke is, you don't hire them, they choose they chose to work for the family. Now my sister, an investment banker, needs to bring in 3X the nanny salary (after taxes) to make it worth while for her to work. She doesn't get any deductions on her salary because she is a second earner (marriage penalty). They hope to be able to buy a house in the suburbs at some point and move out of their rental (5K per month). It's tough. I think she would love to be home with her children but at this point, they need her income.

Kimberlie said...

I agree that child care providers should be paid better. I also think that teachers should be paid better. I was really surprised to hear that on average, most teachers leave the profession after 5 years. It's not something I have read but someone told me so I don't know if it's because they leave temporarily to stay home with kiddos, or whether they actually leave the profession for a better paying job. I do know that it's a shame. My dad, who worked in advertising for 35 years, became a 10th grade English teacher 7 yrs ago. He's retiring this year because they keep heaping more and more paperwork/testing on him and no more pay and because all that stuff takes away from what he first enjoyed about teaching - opening up good literature to kids who may never have thought about reading it before. Sad.

I also want to say that the over-emphasis on academic achievement is disturbing to me as a parent. It seems that in our society, going to college is the "be all end all" and I wonder what we are saying to our mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc who spend years acquiring special skills and yet we devalue what they do because they don't have a college education. I don't want my children to think that college is the only avenue for them. Also, what value does a BA/BS have anymore when everyone gets one? I want to read the essay by Wendell Berry which you mentioned in your comment.

Lizzie said...

Great post Betty. I've been away from the internet for Lent and it's good to be back reading your blog!
Re: your comment here about Wendell Berry's essay and our society's emphasis on education. I've been wondering about this myself recently as I think about developing countries, for example, and the assumption that education is the key to everything. I don't have any particular thoughts or opinions about it yet but this has given me the confidence to reflect on it more - and read the essay!
This issue is such a complex one and as JMB commented, so dependent on location. As a single mother, working has been my only option (other than existing on state benefits which would be miserable) and the tax credit system here in the UK has really benefited me - over here, if you pay a registered childminder/childcare provider, you are eligible for 'tax credits' if your income is low enough.
Thankfully, I've always been eligible (as have some families I know on low incomes) and I've always paid decent wages to my son's carers.
There are no easy answers to this one - I know if I had been happily married, I would have wanted to stay at home with my son for a lot longer than I was able to. I've always thought that if I had more than one child, I'd almost certainly want to stay at home full time if at all possible.
I loved Simcha Fisher's post recently - 'the atypical mom' which for me said it all!
God bless and a Happy Eastertide to you and yours Betty!

Anonymous said...

from Bill Foley

I aplogize that my comment does not apply to the article in question, but I have come across a paragraph that is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever read, and I want to disseminate it over the Internet.

Human Person and the Tabernacle

Paragraph from page 344 of Volume 1 of The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church by Father Juan Arintero, O.P.

“One day, at the time of Communion, Blessed Mariana of Jesus, the Lily of Madrid, being unusually aware of her lowliness and unworthiness, said to her Lord: “My Lord, the tabernacle in which Thou art is much more clean and beautiful.” Christ answered her: “But it cannot love me.” “From this,” said the holy nun, I understood how much more Christ prefers to reside in our souls than in gold or silver or precious jewels which are inanimate creatures incapable of love.”

Maggie said...

The Catholic school development director caught me in the parking lot this morning and wanted to know what we're doing about Jack and kindergarten. I told her that we'd LOVE to send him to her school, but I'd have to go back to work to make it happen. Assuming, of course, that that salary would pay the cost daycare for the other two, let alone enough for tuition. (HA HA!) There is SO not a chance of that EVER happening, so I don't have to admit to anyone that I don't WANT to go back to work anyway. So complicated.

mommyadventuresintx said...

Love this post Betty. I have to say that I think society's obsession with education stems from our measures of success. It's easy to measure success by scores on a test, or how much money you make, or how many people enter prestigious professions. It seems to me that in generations past success was considered from a more "whole person" concept as opposed to qualities only having to do with work. We have reduced people to seeing their value only through what kind of job they have and how much they are compensated for it monetarily. Don't get me wrong, I understand that people can take great joy through having a job in the workforce and doing well at it. Plenty of women would rather work outside of the home and I see nothing wrong with that. I just wish that we could see ourselves as so much more than taking our identity solely from work.

LazyBones said...

I've been thinking about this post for days now. I was raised by a SAHM. I positioned myself with part-time professional work (in early childhood education) before becoming a mother--very intentionally. I lost that job due to funding cuts. Now I provide childcare in my own home to 2 other kids, which allows me to be home with my kids, and also allows me to avoid collecting unemployment (there are no teaching jobs in my area, they're still cutting, so I wouldn't have found another job. Also, I'm not willing to work full-time with young ones at home, even if it were available.)

I bring home about the same amount of money that I used to, by working more hours and not paying childcare. I used to spend a little over 50% of my take-home pay on childcare. Now I make a third of what I used to, hourly, and take home slightly more than I did while working.

I think I'm going to homeschool my kids. I have a Master's degree, and 50K in student loans. We also can't afford food unless I bring in some money. Do I have a Master's degree in Education to babysit forever? How can I work and homeschool? If I don't take advantage of free, public education as a babysitter, how do I parent full-time into the future and still earn a living? It's all very complicated to figure out. I'm rolling these questions around in my mind constantly. So far I have no answers.