CHAPTER 8
The Childcare versus Career Dilemma

All I could hear were the sounds of both of my two‐year‐olds sobbing and banging on the window. Their cries had something to do with the fact that I had to step outside on my front porch to give a radio interview. This wasn't just any radio interview. It was my first spokesperson job for a company that hired me to complete 10 different radio interviews on their behalf over a period of two days. The interviews were national segments with tens of thousands of listeners and wouldn't you know, my babysitter couldn't be bothered to wake up that morning to watch the twins so I could do it.

I'd just moved to Michigan, and my entire house was full of boxes. It wasn't the greatest time for me to accept a spokesperson job, but it was such a big opportunity, I couldn't turn it down. With my husband working very long hours at the hospital as a new intern, I had to scramble to find a babysitter in a state where I didn't know a soul.

The babysitter I hired was a teenager who was off from school for the summer. She seemed very excited to help and had experience. I even talked to her parents. But the morning of the radio interviews came and there was no sign of her. She didn't answer her phone or texts, and I found myself in my house with two two‐year‐olds not exactly sure how I was going to make it all happen. After all, this was before much of the world had to learn how to work at home with kids in the house, so I wasn't sure how my client would react if my kids interrupted the radio programming they paid me to do. (I think people are more understanding now in a Covid‐19 world.)

Either way, I ended up giving the interviews on my front porch. If you've had a two‐year‐old, you'll know it's very different from having a six‐year‐old or a 10‐year‐old. They're not very self‐sufficient. And, although I knew I could get at least two of the interviews done during their nap, there were still several others I had to figure out how to give—like a professional—without two kids crying in the background.

These radio interviews were live and scheduled segments, so there was no option to move them. I came up with the idea of doing the segments outside because I thought I could put on a show for the kids, quietly step onto the porch to do the interview, and watch them through the three huge windows we have in front of our house.

Well, the twins didn't like that idea very much. The show held their attention for about three minutes, and then right about the time I went live on the air, they realized that I was, in fact, not in the room with them. There was no show that could capture their attention once they realized that their mom was somehow gone. When they spotted me through the window as I smiled and waved at them, they were not smiling—not at all. They both stood at the window sobbing and banging on it. To them, I was in mommy jail, stuck outside. They didn't know that mommy had to put herself outside so I could be live on the radio, speaking on behalf of a billion‐dollar insurance company.

I'm not going to lie; I had a lot of self‐doubt that day. I didn't feel like a professional business owner. I didn't feel like a great mom. I felt like I was simply posing as a real adult but in reality shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of anything (or anyone.) But, I made it work as best as I could in those 15‐minute interview chunks, and the kids and I survived that day, even though all of us had tears at some point.

What mattered is that I did my job well and the kids were safe because I could see them through the window the whole time I worked. Remarkably, no one who interviewed me or the tens of thousands of listeners that day had any idea that my babysitter failed to show up that day.

What can I say? Quality childcare at affordable prices is very hard to find. This is a burden for so many families and something that can prevent you from pursuing your dreams, whatever they may be. Sometimes, people have family members who can help them with childcare tasks. For us, because we live many, many states away from our family members, we haven't had that available to us on a regular basis.

When I was pregnant with my twins, I had it all mapped out. My plan was to be a stay‐at‐home mom who worked on my business whenever my kids napped and after they went to bed. I thought I could do everything on my own, without outside help. I believed I'd be saving my family money on childcare and building my career at the same time all while keeping my house clean and my two infants happy. Not only that, but I'd be able to witness every one of my kids' milestones. Perfect, right?

Well, it was a dream from someone who had no concept of how challenging it was to raise children. As you'll find out in the next chapter, things didn't quite work out as planned. Eventually, I realized I couldn't be everything to everyone, at least not successfully.

So, I hired a mother's helper when my twins were babies for $10/hour. She was a sweet high school junior who came over after school two days a week to help me feed the babies, clean bottles, and help in any other way she could. That was the childcare I could afford at the time, and it was just enough to take the edge off and have a little help with the twins. Her help allowed me to breathe, to see the light again. As an unexpected bonus, her family adopted us, inviting us over for holiday dinners and Fourth‐of‐July parades. So, not only did we get our very first bit of childcare help through her, but we gained her family as friends during the process too.

At that point, I did something I call “reinvest in the babysitter.” Every time I was able to earn money or complete a writing job while I had childcare, I took some of that money and added childcare hours. So, when my mother's helper first started, I could only afford to have her for what equated to $160 a month. But, as I slowly grew my business I'd earn money and then add to her hours, which enabled me to pitch more and earn more again. I continued this until I was able to hire someone to come during the day, not just after school. Eventually, I was able to have someone help with my kids 25 hours a week. I continued with that schedule until my kids started school full‐time.

As such, I have a unique perspective when it comes to both stay‐at‐home moms and working moms as I've been straddling those two worlds since my kids were born. Even though I had bad luck with the new babysitter I chose the morning of those radio interviews, we did have great luck with many others who enriched our family and loved our kids.

I know that finding quality childcare and paying for childcare is a core issue for parents. And, it's no secret that there needs to be so much improvement on a national scale in the United States when it comes to family leave and maternity leave. But, until that happens, we all have to find childcare solutions that work for our individual families and fit into our personal budgets.

For some people, that means heading into work full‐time and finding a great daycare or nanny to take care of your kids. For others it means finding a part‐time babysitter and seeking a flexible job, which is the route I took. Additionally, many moms will decide to leave work and stay home with their kids.

I often hear moms say they decided to stay home with their kids because after paying for childcare, they wouldn't have had much left over from their paychecks. But, that's where things get tricky, at least in a financial sense.

If you want to be a stay‐at‐home mom because it's something you believe in and want to do, I think that's amazing. I'm a huge advocate for stay‐at‐home moms. I designed my entire career around being able to work from home so I could see my kids more. So, I completely relate to the desire of wanting to see your kids during the day, pick them up from school when they get older, volunteer in their classrooms, and more. So I very much understand the draw of this choice.

But, if your main reason for wanting to stay home is because your take‐home pay is more or less equivalent to your childcare bills, you're leaving out some important math.

If your employer offers you benefits, there's quite a big difference between your gross pay and net pay. Your gross pay is the money you make before your benefits in any retirement contributions are taken out. If you take advantage of an employer‐sponsored retirement plan, that will be taken out of your paycheck before you get it. The same is true of social security, health care, and anything else you've elected to have automatically taken out of your check. Only after all of that is taken out do you get your net income. That's the amount of money deposited in your bank account. Whenever I talk to moms about the financial decision of staying home, they are typically referring to their net income when comparing it to the cost of childcare.

The problem with that comparison is that it's not reflective of your total compensation package. In order to truly compare the cost of childcare with what you earn at your job, you need to look at your gross income. It's also important to talk about whether you will still be able to invest if you decide to stay home. Can your spouse open up a spousal IRA for you so you still have retirement contributions in your name? How much will it cost if you have to get a different health insurance plan, dental plan, or vision plan?

Additionally, what is your earning potential? How often does your employer give raises? What does someone make in your position who has 5 to 10 more years of experience? What will happen to your earning power if you step out for 1 year, 5 years, or 18 years?

As you can see, comparing your net income to the cost of childcare is too simplistic. If you're looking at the numbers and taking emotion out of it, you have to gather more information. Will you be losing out on investing time? Will taking yourself out of the workforce set you back in terms of raises? Will you be able to retire when you want if you step out of the workforce right now? Will you be able to raise your kids with the lifestyle you want them to have if they have just one working parent? Do you have a plan of what you'll do in the event of a divorce, death of a spouse, or your own health emergency?

Some of these questions are not easy ones, and I know they force you to think of some worst‐case scenarios, things you can't even fathom right now. But, things do happen, and I'm an advocate for all moms, so I want to make sure that if you do become a stay‐at‐home mom that you always have financial awareness and financial protection in case of an emergency.

It might seem like I am advocating for moms to work at a job and keep working, but that couldn't be further from the truth. What I'm advocating for is that you make decisions with full knowledge of the financial impact of your choices. I'm pushing you to run the numbers and to think about your finances not only in the present but also in the future. I want you to still have investments in your own name even if you decide to stay at home. My hope is to encourage you not to completely step out of the financial conversation even if your day is filled with toddlers wreaking havoc on your house. Remember, one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is to be financially independent and not a financial burden to them when you are older. You have to know what's going on. You have to ask the hard questions.

So, what that means is that if you choose to be a stay‐at‐home mom, which is a valid choice, you understand the financial impact that will have on your family. It also means you are committed to taking the lead and speaking with your partner about how you will handle money together once you stop working. Before you make the switch, you need to discuss what will change about your monthly budget. It's important to establish whether each of you will continue to have some type of allowance where you are able to buy things for yourself without question or critique. Sometimes, in relationships where only one spouse is working, there becomes a power shift where the earner feels like because they are working, they get to make every money choice. I want you to still feel like a financial boss, even if you're covered in spit‐up.

As a stay‐at‐home mom who is learning to manage money like a boss, it's important to advocate for yourself, to show that even though you may not be earning a paycheck, the support and services you provide for the family are incalculable. You still get a say in your partnership, in your spending, and in your budget. I encourage you to spend time educating yourself about managing money and investing. I want you to take a seat at the table and to help lead your family to a brighter future.

If you make the choice to be a stay‐at‐home mom to save money on childcare, I don't want you to lose your autonomy. It takes a lot of communication between partners to elegantly navigate a relationship where one person stays home to take care of children and the other works. There's a lot of pressure on the working parent to provide as well because the financial needs of their entire family rest on their shoulders and their ability to do their job well.

Plus, it's very easy to slip into resentment and exhaustion when you're home with little kids all day and you need a break, but your partner has been at work all day and also needs some downtime. If you add financial worries and stress to resentment and exhaustion, it can be a recipe for disaster in your personal life. So, you have to have some built‐in mental breaks for both partners and the ability for some freedom and autonomy when it comes to spending as well. There is a way to harmoniously stay at home with your kids, but it will take some financial backing and open communication to make it work.

For the record, I see nothing wrong with hiring a babysitter every now and then if you're a stay‐at‐home mom. Put it into your budget not for anyone else but for you. If you can't fit it in, trade childcare with another stay‐at‐home mom so you each get a little break. A lot of stay‐at‐home moms feel like they should do everything, but it's incredibly difficult to be home with little kids all day. This adds to the mental load, to the exhaustion. So, when you have a budget meeting, advocate for yourself. See if you can fit two to three hours of babysitting a week into your budget so you can take a drive, go grocery shopping alone, or spend time getting coffee with a friend without interruption.

Just because you don't have an actual paycheck hitting your bank account doesn't mean that you can't have a break from time to time. People who work 9‐to‐5 jobs get vacation time and sick time. Stay‐at‐home moms are on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So don't feel badly about asking for some perks every now and then. Your mental health is an absolute priority when it comes to your family's overall happiness. You know it, and I know it, and you should never feel guilty about designing your life to ensure you have personal space from time to time.

Unless you have an exceedingly high household income, slimming down to a one‐income family usually takes a lot of compromise, planning, budgeting, and sacrifice. It's absolutely worth it if staying home with your kids is something you deeply want and care about. But, it's not as simple as looking at your paycheck and comparing it to the cost of daycare. Instead, I want to empower you to become a total financial boss and to run every single number possible before you make this major decision.

Similarly, if you are a working mom, there's going to come a point where you will need to outsource in order to make things work. Working moms still get woken up in the night by little voices even after they've put in a full day at the office. Motherhood is an all‐encompassing role, and you will often need back up. If you have a partner, hopefully they help keep things running smoothly. But, if you're both working long hours, you'll likely still need to outsource something. If you're a single mom, it's almost certain you'll need to outsource various tasks or rely heavily on your family and community in order to parent and work successfully.

The biggest outsourcing cost for working parents comes in the form of childcare when your kids are under age five and not in school yet. The Economic Policy Institute shares childcare cost data from every state. In Michigan, where I live now, the average annual cost of infant care is just under $11,000 at the time of writing. In New Jersey, where I lived before, it's nearly $13,000. In Louisiana, where I grew up, it's just over $7,700 annually. In California, it's just under a whopping $17,000 per year.1

Plus, childcare is a budget category where quality matters the most (and quality matters deeply to millennials). So, I know it's a huge challenge to find childcare providers you are comfortable with. We usually interview several candidates, and I love seeing how they interact with our kids. I won't hire someone who doesn't acknowledge my kids. It's the people who ask the kids questions and seem to want to play with them during an interview that tend to do the best work for us. When it comes to childcare facilities, preschools, and schools, the happiness of the people who work there is also an important indicator. If caretakers seem tired, cranky, or you can overhear them complaining about the kids or their boss, it might not be a good environment.

Ultimately, I know it's hard to find a place you feel safe leaving your children, especially one that is affordable. If you just moved somewhere or feel like there are limited options, don't be afraid to reach out to local mom groups on Facebook, neighbors, or other moms at your children's activities. Sometimes, you can find the best childcare simply by word of mouth. They might be able to tell you about an in‐home daycare in the neighborhood or a nanny who is ready to switch families. Remember, it's okay to ask for help, especially in a budget category as important as this one.

Of course, the need for childcare doesn't end when your kids start school. Even once your children are school age, you'll likely still need to spend money on after‐school care, babysitters, or after‐school activities to cover the hours between when they're off from school and you're off from work. Plus, as kids get older, they tend to take on more extracurricular activities, which can get expensive.

Travel sports teams, extensive dance practices, multiple instruments, drama club, and more all take coordination not only of your time but of your wallet too. Right now, my kids are little and we've limited them to just one after‐school activity each, but I know it's only a matter of time before their interests grow and they want to add new things.

According to a 2019 survey, 46% of parents spend more than $1,000 every year on their children's extracurricular activities and 62% of them have been in debt due to their kids' activities.2 So, when you are weighing the cost benefits of whether to stay at home, consider your lifestyle needs now and in the future. Babies don't join competitive gymnastics teams, but elementary‐age school kids do. So, when running the numbers and deciding on your goals, consider the cost of any future lifestyle shifts that might need to incorporate your children's interests, preferably without going into debt to make it a reality.

Another popular area of the budget to consider outsourcing is food, and this goes for every mom out there. Depending on the age of your kids, each member of the family can select a night that they're responsible for dinner. You can also make a meal plan, prep food for the week, or even order dinner a few times a week if you're able to fit that into your budget. One thing my husband contributes is going to the grocery store because it's a task I really don't like doing. It saves me time and stress. He also tries to think about dinners, which again, saves me the mental space.

I don't mind prepping simple dinners like tacos or spaghetti, but creating the ideas in my mind is always difficult for me. Maybe you're different and love looking up recipes and planning what you're going to buy at the store. If so, go with that. Play to your strengths, and then try to outsource the rest either to your kids, your other half, or some wonderful local restaurant.

Regardless of what you outsource, the important lesson of this chapter is to ask for help when you need it. Keep referring to your budget if you want to add in something to outsource and see if it makes sense for your cash flow.

A good rule of thumb is to outsource what you like doing the least. So, if you were to think of all the household and child responsibilities you're responsible for, list them in order of what you like to do best to least. Some moms love party planning. Some love organizing. Some love helping their kids with their homework. I happen to have one friend who really enjoys vacuuming. Other moms enjoy hiring tutors, housekeepers, and the occasional party planner. I always say I love to read to my kids. It's one of my favorite things to do as a mom. But, I don't want to make a volcano or create slime. Just know what you like to do, what you'll tolerate, and what you might really enjoy outsourcing. Give yourself that gift, whether you work outside the home or not.

We might not be able to outsource every single task in our lives. That's just a budgeting reality. However, if you can outsource just one task you don't like, you'll create more time and space for more of the things you love. That creates more harmony in your mind, which can lead to more patience and less chaotic evenings. Who wouldn't want that?

So, if you're in a position where you're pondering a change in terms of your career or your childcare situation, consider all factors. Working moms might need to spend more money on outsourcing. Moms who stay home will likely experience a drop in income or lost investing time. Although it's important to follow your heart and do what you believe is best for your children, remember that providing them a financially stable home is of prime importance. That might mean cutting back and paying closer attention to your budget if you decide to stay home. Or, it might mean leaning into work more to earn more income while utilizing childcare.

The choice will look different for everyone and every family, and I respect every mother for the choices they make. My role is not to recommend a specific path but to empower you to run all numbers before making big choices. That way, you can confidently lead your family to the life and lifestyle you believe is best for them.

NOTES

  1. 1.  “The Cost of Child Care in Michigan,” Economic Policy Institute, October 2020, www.epi.org/child-care-costs-in-the-united-states/#/MI.
  2. 2.  Matt Schulz, “8 In 10 Parents Think Kids' Extracurricular Activities May One Day Lead To Income,” CompareCards, www.comparecards.com/blog/8-in-10-parents-think-kids-extracurricular-activities-may-lead-to-income/.
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