The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for. One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post .) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp - probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?


Samantha is a working Mum, juggling career, parenting and life one day at a time – with a smile on her face. She blogs at Keeping The Glass Half Full.

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Meri March 26, 2012 at 05:27 PM
I am lucky enough to be able to have my toddler at work with me. My husband and I work for my Mom so it all works out. It is imperfect, but it works out. My son gets lots of love and attention and loves to talk to our customers. I am also lucky enough to have in-laws who want to take my son for summers when he is in Elementary School. The truth is that without these two wonderful things we couldn't have had even one child, and I have literally no idea how we could afford and manage another one! I think this is the real reason having only children seems to be the trend!
Samantha McGarry March 26, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I'm happy you have a solution that works for you Meri! I imagine that having willing, local family can really help to offset the cost, stress and logistics of childcare for working parents. I wish I had family local to help out but sadly no. Fortunately I do have a fantastic network of Mom friends and we try to help each other as much as possible!
Diane Tiger March 26, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Thank you for this piece. This is my first year navigating camp and I think you have captured the feeling perfectly - overwhelming! As someone that also must enroll my child for the whole summer, I struggle between the high cost and the desire for her to spend those hours having a rich experience. Also, who decided that camp ends at 3:00? The whole idea of the need for after-camp care is infuriating! I'm not looking forward to when I have to pay for two for the whole summer.
Samantha McGarry March 26, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Thx for the comment Diane. There were lots of camp options that I would have loved for my kids but they were either outrageously priced and/or finished at 3 or 4 without any extended care or transportation. If I wasn't so busy working, I'd be coming up with an alternative that truly helped us working parents - and gave our kids the best experience.
Julia Burke March 27, 2012 at 01:46 AM
I don't know. I have a different take on all this, but also have the benefit of looking back on the period through which you are experiencing now. When I was working, my husband and I also remember being as shocked as you are about how much it cost to send our child to an enriching day care & vacation camp program. That is the key~enriching! I think that since we all want our children to be in stimulating and nurturing environments, we end up "paying the price" for that choice. But I don't necessarily think of it as being "ripped off". It is just reality~ the price we pay for wanting the best for our children. And, in the long run, we might pay a much higher price for not wanting and not providing the best that we can for our children, even if it means that we have to tighten our belts and live with a little less of the "wants". I no longer work, first not by choice but for health reasons, and now by choice. This approach has most assuredly paid off in spades with our child. But that is the beauty of it all. We can chose what we think is best and right for ourselves and our children. And with our choices, no matter what they are, come sacrifices. After all, having children is a commitment to make sacrifices, even if it means we take the back burner for a while, right? The good news is that it does get better as they get older. Yet, don't be fooled. They will always need you to be there! And it will always cost something! You make the choice about those "costs".
Samantha McGarry March 27, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Thanks Julia for your insightful perspective.


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