THE COST OF BEING A WORKING PARENT
It has been a long week—as she smells the aroma of coffee beginning to drift through the air and looks at the baby snuggled up beside her that has finally fallen asleep after a night of waking, shushing, and rocking. She wanders out of bed in a fog of sleep deprivation and slaps on some cover-up, praying that it will conceal the dark circles under her eyes. She ensures that meals are prepared, and care is in place for her children as she heads out the door for the work day. She is strong, she is capable, and she is mother. At least that is what she tells herself each new morning. She is me.
Two short months after the arrival of our sweet little boy, a new job sent my husband packing 2,000 miles from home for 17 weeks. While I was thankful for this opportunity for my family, I was absolutely terrified of being left alone with a newborn and three year old, to manage the household, and my return to work a few weeks later. Prior to this, my husband had been the primary caregiver for our children, while I have balanced my family and career. Now, I have been thrust into full time single parenting, and single working parenting at that!
At the time that we married, I had a degree and a steady job. My husband was recently out of the military and pursuing his degree as a long term investment. When our first child was born, my husband was close to graduation and once he graduated and began his job search we realized the contradiction between accepting an entry level job and meeting the financial demands of full time childcare. When our daughter was born in 2014 the average cost for childcare in the Seattle area was roughly $17,000 annually. To add insult to injury the waiting lists were upwards of 18 months and it’s not uncommon for a center to require a deposit of $100 or more to be placed on the waiting list without option for refund should you choose another facility. I used the word racket to describe the childcare industry as I begrudgingly shook my head while visiting facilities last year. How can you be on a waiting list for 18 months when you are only pregnant for 40 weeks?
During his time as a stay at home dad, many folks gave my husband a hard time for not being the primary earner—what they failed to recognize is that this decision was the most financially responsible option for our family. Although he owed them no explanation he explained patiently that he was a “domestic engineer” and can be quoted saying, “from blanket forts to psychologist, you name it; I’ve done it. My boss can hit the borderline if not properly chocolated or apple juiced!” He prided himself in the fact that his job, for that season, was the hardest most important assignment he would ever hold. He approached this challenge with humor, which every parent knows you must maintain if you don’t want to go postal when staying home with small children. I would laugh when I would check our Amazon account and see fort supplies as recent searches and purchases. I found others’ comments toward him about being a stay at home dad to be such a contradiction to progressive thinking. Never mind that it’s the 21st century, I am educated, capable of holding a job, and have a strong drive for success—being a working mom is not something that was forced upon me, it is something that I chose.
When offering these criticisms to stay-at-home parents, folks don’t consider the cost of working. Since I require childcare while I am single-momming it, the price is evident. A report published by Child Care Aware of America projects that the cost for full time childcare for my kids is $22,997 and we are spending considerably more because there is no adequate daycare with two vacancies. I took referrals from friends, conducted interviews, and selected an excellent caregiver that could be at my house in time for my commute. I weighed the options with dependent care flexible savings accounts for a tax break. Even with a substantial salary paying for the expense of a nanny begs the question, do I have any other options? Aside from the financial cost as a working, temporarily solo mother, I also have to take care of everything else. I am burning the midnight oil, literally 24-7, making small allowances for self care so that I can keep it all together.
So where does that leave the single mother earning a substantially lower wage? Single mothers comprise 23% or nearly a quarter of the parenting population in the United States, according to the most recent census data. This is 8.5 million families. She must provide for her children financially, and unless independently wealthy, must work to do so. Single or not, women should not feel forced to choose between their children and their education and/or career. We have a lot of work to do. Affordable childcare is certainly a pro-life issue– as we rally to protect the inherent dignity of every human from conception to death, we must ensure that they are not exploited in between.
Being a parent is the ultimate challenge in perseverance where payment is received in sticky kisses and memories. I struggle for the moment to hold it all together with 5:30 am departures to work, a two hour commute, coming home to feed, bathe, and kiss the kids goodnight. I offer my heart and my soul to my children as my pocketbook is poured out ensuring that they are cared for while I am away. Although for me this is just a season, for many it is a way of life. For all the single moms out there, I see you too. What you are doing is an amazing feat. My husband says I’m like a mountain, beautiful and strong for my endurance in this time– I believe he is right. Single moms you are mountains too; and mountains rise as the earth collides and force gives way to beauty.