by Saralyn Ward
I am a working mother, with two children in full-time, center-based daycare, and I’ll be honest: Every month I wonder if it’s worth it.
When I was first pregnant, I was working full time as a project manager. I liked my job, but I knew it was only a step on my career path. I had many more goals to pursue, and I remember feeling nervous, unsure how having a child would impact my career. I wondered, would I want to keep working? Would I be able to find daycare? Would I suddenly become irrelevant in my industry? How would I balance my aspirations with my new, cherished role as mother?
But something unexpected happened after I gave birth: While my heart expanded exponentially with infinite love for my child, my personal goals and priorities came sharply into focus. Not only did I want to continue my career, but doing so became a matter of self-preservation. With little eyes watching me, I felt a renewed drive to succeed and live a life of purpose. I wanted to work, and I needed to do it efficiently. With dreams to chase and a daughter along for the ride, I was determined to continue my career.
Little did I know the biggest challenge I’d face was be the astronomical cost of daycare.
My husband and I both have good jobs, but still, our daycare costs surpass our mortgage payment. Currently 93 percent of my personal salary goes to paying for childcare. In the 4 ½ years since having my first child, I have tried almost every working situation imaginable. I’ve stayed home. I’ve worked remotely. I’ve freelanced. I’ve started my own business. I’ve worked part-time. And I’ve worked full-time. I even tried network marketing. Every one of my moves was heavily influenced by our childcare options at the time—or perhaps more accurately, lack thereof.
And I’m certainly not alone. Working parents across Colorado are trying to navigate the rocky waters of costly and limited childcare while minimizing the impact on their careers. Single parents and families living below the poverty line are hit the hardest by the lack of quality, licensed childcare in the state, and while there are resources available to help, they are hard to find.
As operational costs continue to rise and with limited federal and state support, childcare centers are forced to raise prices or sacrifice the quality of care. Often, this equates to hiring underqualified employees and paying them less than a living wage. In a September 2017 report written by the University of Denver’s Butler Institute for Families in partnership with Brodsky Research and Consulting, it was noted that “families are unable to pay the full cost of the quality care and education that they want and that society benefits from. However, society is not picking up the marginal costs between what families can afford and what quality services cost. The result is that the early care and education sector is in market failure.”
In the same report, the facts are laid bare:
According to the National Women’s Law Center, 7 in 10 mothers today are in the workforce. Yet a 2015 Washington Post survey reported 51 percent of parents stopped working or took a less challenging job for caregiving reasons.
Because women typically make less than men, mothers are often the parent to put their career on hold. Then, when their children enter school, women often struggle to find work because of the “mom gap” on their resume. Lack of affordable child care isn’t just affecting women in the years when they rely on it; their long-term career trajectory and earning potential may be affected for years to come.
The repercussions don’t end there. Companies are faced with the cost of high employee turnover, the economy suffers as disposable income diminishes, and society loses the long-term economic benefits associated with early childhood education. Yet there is hope: These socio-economic consequences are proving to be catalysts for innovative solutions.
For example, WorkLife Partnership is a Denver-based nonprofit partnering with Care.com in a pilot program to invest in family childcare settings. They aim to increase the availability of affordable, licensed care by providing grants to at-home daycare providers. This, in turn, serves the companies with which they partner.
“Our goal is to partner with businesses in Colorado to fill the need of their employees’ childcare. We hope this leads to less turnover,” says Cathy Fabiano, Childcare Business Manager for WorkLife Partnership. “What we’re doing is literally one-on-one [training for childcare providers]. I’m going to their house, looking at their space, helping them realize they could have 5 more children and saying ‘What do we need to do to make this work?’ We have used grant funding to replace fences and windows, given them equipment, bought curriculum. For one of our providers, we will pay for her Director certification. We are building these providers’ self-confidence [as] small business owners to increase their enrollment, which, in the end, helps employers.”
Fabiano sums up the problem we face in Colorado with one simple statement: “Colorado is known as a ‘childcare desert’ because there are more people who need care than the state can hold.” As our state continues to attract more residents and the cost of living increases, I hope this is just the beginning of our collective brainstorming session on ways to make the desert flourish with more opportunities for affordable, quality care. The women of Denver—and the country as a whole—are counting on it.
Saralyn Ward hosts a parenting segment on Colorado’s Everyday Show, and is the founder of The Mama Sagas, a community of women sharing their stories in video and blog form. For more stories of local Colorado women balancing a career and family, visit The Mama Sagas blog every Wednesday.
Heidi, works full time with 2 kids in daycare, $2400-3000 per month in childcare:
“Daycare eats a lot of our disposable income—$30k of it each year. That’s money that can’t be saved for college or put to other uses. But the other day I said to my husband, even if we were eating mac & cheese for dinner every night, I’d still keep my kids in school. When you find somewhere you love with people you trust, you don’t doubt what you’re doing. You just make it work.”
Jacquelyn, left full-time corporate job to move to part-time work, spends $1600 a month in childcare:
“The most challenging aspect to this situation is that as a mother I innately put my children’s needs first. Having to acquiesce to my financial situation is torture. Knowing your family needs you in a very close and personal capacity AND knowing that you have to sacrifice that to provide financially causes an intense emotional strain.”
Meggan, single mother working a demanding job with an airline, $2000 a month in childcare:
“The most challenging part of my move to Denver has been finding reliable childcare. I need child care consistently from 5 AM to 5 PM, but someone who is flexible enough to sometimes come earlier, stay later, and do overnights because my job requires a fair amount of travel. I was not able to be promoted as quickly as I could have been due to the lack of flexibility in my schedule due to unreliable child care. Having to call in on short notice and missing meetings because my child is sick, or I don’t have someone to pick her up from school means I need to take PTO, and impacts my performance at work. The amount of stress and worry is a huge distraction.”
Alima, made a complete career change because she couldn’t find childcare, $120 a month in childcare:
“I was an elementary teacher, but after scrambling for childcare constantly and going through 6 different childcare situations in one school year, I decided to quit my teaching job. It was too stressful! Trying to find a job that would work around my husband's constantly changing schedule was nearly impossible, so I created my own. I decided to take a year to fully pursue my passion in photography and see if I could make a part-time career out of it. It has been so much fun and manageable being a family photographer.”
Camille, works part-time in the fitness industry, juggles childcare between both parents and a kids’ club onsite at work, $150 per month in childcare:
“We began the process of looking for daycare when we found out I was pregnant. We toured many places, but they were ALL waitlisted. Even if they did have room, I wasn't sure we could afford to put him in daycare. We used a nanny two days per week for his first year because there was no room in any daycare facilities we researched. Also, most we found did not offer part time and because of the nature of our jobs, we did not need a full-time daycare.”
Celeste, single parent who works an hourly manufacturing job, pays $400 per month in childcare and drives 40 minutes each way for a friend to watch her child:
“My biggest challenge is not being able to have a stable babysitter. You don’t know if suddenly they’ll say they can’t watch kids anymore for whatever reason. It has happened to me before, to where I have to find someone the next day. It makes it really hard because I have to miss work or have to be late. I always panic. I don’t have the opportunity to do as much as I’d like to, like stay for overtime or go in on weekends if needed. Even if I wanted a second job for the extra income I’d have to find a night babysitter and that’s twice as complicated and I’d have to pay twice as much. I would prefer to work in a different department than where I’m at, where there’s better pay, but it’s a 12-hour shift with a rotating schedule and I can’t do that. I’m very limited in what I can do.”
This article was originally published in Women of Denver magazine.