As I was reading a recent post by WAMU on facbook, I kept shaking my head. The title was ‘For Some D.C. Parents, It’s Too Expensive To Work’ by Eliza Berkon. The gist of the story is “D.C.-area parents contend with some of the highest child care costs in the country — annual fees in the District average about $24,000 for infant care and $19,000 for toddler care. For this reason, some are deciding to opt out of the workforce, forgoing a salary and avoiding high child care costs.”
This was all so relatable to me, except in my case it was over a decade ago and in Bergen county, NJ. This leads me to believe this isn’t a new problem, nor is it specific to any particular region.
I’ll tell you my story. It’s not particularly special, spectacular or woebegone, but it is a story. It’s not even a story about childcare. It’s the story of one family in America. My family. I share it in the hopes you will share yours whether you opted to stay home or work, a single parent struggling to make do in the world, or somewhere in-between.
When my husband and I decided to start a family, I stopped using my salary for a year to see if we could afford it. It seemed we could and I continued to save so I could take 1-2 years off to raise the baby as so many in my circle did and not have to go back to work after 6-12 weeks. It turned out I was able to save a lot because after three years and trying most everything I was still not pregnant. Finally, we turned to fertility treatments and IVF. I depleted most of my savings paying for several rounds of IVF. My reward, was a beautiful baby boy. I could not be more grateful.
I decided to stay home with my baby boy. At the time, I was commuting from NJ to NYC to work as an ESL teacher and in order to continue at that job I had two choices: 1. Hire a nanny to come from 6am-6pm because daycare does not open until 7am or 2. Commute with my child across two bridges in traffic that could make my 12 mile commute 2-2.5 hours in often bad weather in order to put him in a daycare near my school.
1. Full-time nannies in Bergen county made the same salary as my teacher’s salary (more sometimes) 2. I didn’t want my baby making that commute, moreover I really didn’t want to make that commute either. So, I decided it was cost-effective for me to be a Stay-At-Home (SAHM) mom.
After fighting with the secretary at work who majorly messed up my health insurance, played lets make a deal over when I got to go out on leave, and then REFUSED TO SIGN MY DISABILITY PAPERS BECAUSE I WAS NOT ‘DISABLED’ like its my fault that is what ‘maternity care’ falls under? She eventually signed the papers, Im not sure why, she never explained and by that time I was too preoccupied with a newborn and lactating problems to care.
Thirteen years ago, I became a SAHM because it actually saved us money over my going back to work. I did have to convince my husband to find a new job so that we would have stability and better health insurance. He had a long career in the telecommunications industry that had recently gone bust. It just so happened an old boss of his was looking for someone to come work with him at the Dept. of Defense. A month before I gave birth, my husband started working at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. It seemed this New Yorker was stuck in New Jersey.
I actually loved being a SAHM. It changed me so much for the better. I even grew comfortable with New Jersey once I made a circle of new mommy friends. After two years, most of the other moms started going back to work. I thought about taking the state exam to work as a teacher in NJ, but I was in no rush. Instead, I decided it was time for a second child. This seemed more of a rush as I had just turned 40. We looked in to adoption, but it just wasn’t as accessible nor affordable for us as IVF. So we tried again. This time however, it was difficult with a small child to care for and without the UFT to pick up the slack health insurance did not cover. After depleting almost all my savings after one round of IVF and my hematologist making it quite clear I could lose the baby or die or both, we gave up. We decided our family of three was just right for us.
When my son was about to turn four, our family was transferred to Maryland as part of BRAC. As a person with ADHD that move sent my ADDled brain spinning. The last of my savings went to pay for the house we bought in Maryland. For the first time since I turned eighteen, I was a dependent. I maintained my bearings and was ok until the September after my son turned 5 (2012) and I had to mail my resignation to the NYC BOE. I thought about taking the teaching exam to become licensed in Maryland, BUT I really didn’t want to teach. Once I paused and thought about it, I really had no desire to get back to the classroom. I made sure over the years to volunteer in the classroom and teach Sunday School which always served to remind me that I didn’t love it. Also, we had no support system in Baltimore where the schools close at the threat of a snowflake or if the temps are predicted to be 90 or above. I started a blog instead.
I wondered what was wrong with me. By the time we moved to the DC area I could no longer deny I was suffering from generalized anxiety. I probably always had it, but back home in New York, I had coping skills, I had a supportive network, everything was familiar … the suburbs (and every place outside of NYC is the burbs in my opinion) suck, I thought. But this is another story for which staying at home was the catalyst. My choice to stay at home in the first place was a matter of economics: when I would have had to pay a nanny the equivalent of my salary, the money I would save on gas, tolls, lunch and wardrobe it just wasn’t worth going back to work.
Most people I know went back to work not for the money, but because they needed the health insurance. That is part of the problem in a country that not only wants to call itself great, but the greatest. A place where many cry a rally call about family values, and for some reason many vehemently advocate for the unborn, we really need to support families so they can get on with living life the best way that works for them.