Parents Sound Off On The Economics Of Child Care

Originally published on August 9, 2011 5:53 pm

Yesterday, All Things Considered ran the first part of a two-part round table with a group of parents (and one grandparent) to discuss child care. You can get descriptions of each participant on Part 1, which focuses on the emotional decisions of finding care and how it's a juggling act. Part 2 focuses on finances.

To tap into the hushed discussions about day care that take place alongside soccer fields or among trusted friends, All Things Considered co-host Michele Norris assembled a group of middle-class parents. (Part 2 of the conversation airs tonight on All Things Considered.) All are from Washington, D.C., where day care costs can be quite high.

But here's the conundrum: One thing that the group agrees is on is that nannies, babysitters and day care providers don't earn enough money based on what they do. And yet, the group also agrees that care costs too much money.

Adam Graham, a former stay-at-home dad who now works as a high school teacher, says that he put his second daughter, who is now 9 years old, in a Montessori school and it was probably in excess of $10,000 a year.

"I don't know if I paid that much when I went to college," he says. "I'm a little bit older and I went to an in-state school, but still."

Kelly Hruska, who has a 7-year-old daughter and a husband on active duty in the Navy, says she has a lot of friends who have nickle-and-dimed whether it makes financial sense to go back to work.

"They've sat down and calculated out to the nth expense: their professional clothes, their lattes — a muffin in the morning and their latte in the afternoon — and calculated every last cost to see if it's cost-effective to go back to work. Some have found that it is; some have found that it isn't."

And some are lucky. The grandmother in the group says she and her daughter and son-in-law have worked out an "ideal situation." Sharon Johnson says her daughter and son-in-law insist on paying her $200 a week, even though she would "keep him for free." Johnson says her daughter says she doesn't want to take advantage of her — they can afford to pay her and it gives them peace of mind that their son is with his grandmother. Johnson says they live across the street from each other, so she can show up in her pajamas if she's late — and she does everything, including laundry and making dinner. She says if she were to provide a day care center, she wouldn't want to overcharge parents.

For parents who are considering having children, Stacey Ferguson has some advice: "Stop and think about child care right now." She says her "only regret in life" is that she didn't get to stay at home for the first few years of her child's life.

Graham also has some advice: "Make sure you're a flexible person. I've learned a lot more flexibility and learned that sometimes something that you may have said 'no' to at the beginning — 'I don't think I could do that' — well, when you have to, you do, especially with child care and taking care of your child. The bottom line is it has to be done, whatever it is. So, be flexible."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

F: five mothers, one grandmother, and one man who was briefly a stay-at-home dad. And all are from D.C., where day-care costs can be quite high.

We hear first from Stacey Ferguson. The mother of three says the day-care dilemma is almost always on her mind.

STACEY FERGUSON: Ninety percent of my time is spent balancing, juggling, thinking about it.

ADAM GRAHAM: Oh, it's ever pervasive. It's just always there. It's a strata of parenthood that just never goes away. It's always on your mind.

NORRIS: Even when it's working well, you're still...

GRAHAM: Even when it's working well, yeah.

NORRIS: Whether they are nannies or babysitters or day-care providers, anyone who is in the business of taking care of children that are not their own, do they earn enough money based on what they do?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, probably not.



WOMAN: Yeah, no. No way.

NORRIS: And yet, if I flip the question and ask: Does day care cost too much money?

WOMAN: Right.



NORRIS: How can both be right?

WOMAN: Right.


NORRIS: Personal question, but I hope you don't mind me asking: How much of your family budget goes toward day care? How expensive is it for you?

GRAHAM: My second daughter, when we had her in a Montessori school, it was probably excess of $10,000 a year - a little child. I mean, you know, I don't know that I'd paid that much when I went to college.


GRAHAM: I was a little bit older but, you know, but then I went to an in-state school. But still.

KELLY HRUSKA: This is Kelly. I have a lot of friends who after, you know, they had their children and then they're trying to make the decision whether or not to go back to work, have sat down and calculated out to the nth expense. So their professional clothes, their lattes, you know, and muffin in the morning and their latte in the afternoon - and calculated out every last cost to see if it's cost-effective for them to go back to work. Some have found that it is. Some have found that it isn't. And they've made the decision not to go back to work because it wasn't cost-effective.

NORRIS: Sharon, if you were - I'm going to put you on the spot here - but if you were to put a dollar amount on the - an hourly dollar amount on the price of what you do for your grandson, what would that be? If you were to go into business for yourself, how much would you charge per hour?

SHARON JOHNSON: Well, I'm really blessed because my daughter and son-in-law pay me. And it wasn't a decision that I made because of course, I would keep him for free. But my daughter felt that - Mommy, we can afford it. And we don't to take advantage of you. You're retired and we know that, you know, you could use the income. And she said, so we want to pay you what we would pay if he was going to a day-care center. And with that, she said we have peace of mind.

The situation for us is really ideal because my daughter and son-in-law were able to rent a house directly across the street from me.


JOHNSON: So, I mean, for me it's great because I can go across the street in my pajamas, if I'm late.


JOHNSON: And I don't have to worry about somebody saying, you're taking care of my child in your pajamas?


JOHNSON: You know, so I have to be at my daughter's at 5:30. She has to be to work at 6. My son-in-law is in the military, so he has to be at formation by 5. So they're able to go to work. They're able to leave. They don't have to wake him up. They don't have to dress them up. They don't feed him. They don't bathe him. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, I provide, you know, fix dinner most of the time. So I get paid $200 a week, and I think that it's just - to me, it's a lot of money.

I want to be able to provide a center where children are able to come. But I don't want it to be place where parents are, you know, overcharged. So I know for infants, people charge anywhere from - what, 300, 350 a week.

WOMAN: Not in D.C.


WOMAN: Way more than that.

JOHNSON: Really?

WOMAN: Yeah.

WOMAN: Yeah.

WOMAN: Yeah.

WOMAN: We figured a nanny would have been about 40,000 a year.


JOHNSON: Dollars?


JOHNSON: U.S. dollars?

WOMAN: U.S. dollars.


WOMAN: You can find it like 30, but it's still...

JOHNSON: Thousand?

WOMAN: For two infants though...

WOMAN: OK, yeah.

GRAHAM: I will say it's one of the things that my mother, who still lives back in Illinois, panicked about when we first started having kids. 'Cause, you know, I grew up in an area where, you know, all - her sisters lived there, her parents live there, everybody was there. There was a built-in unit. When I was young, you know, if one of the parents was busy, well, you were dropped at aunt's house, uncle's house. Doesn't exist here for us. And I know for a lot of people, it doesn't. It's a transient area, to a great extent. And she panicked.

She was like, I don't know how you think you're going to raise kids there with no infrastructure. Luckily - and I will sing the praises of the grandmother, my mother-in-law, who was with us, my eldest daughter, for a long time. And you cannot underestimate having a grandmother. It's one of the greatest inventions ever.


NORRIS: So who did you all think would take care of - you know, when you first thought about having children, it was still sort of the glimmer in your eye and you thought OK, I think I might go back to work, or I'm going to try to figure out this structure. Or if I don't go to work, I can at least get out of the house a little bit. And who did you think might take care of your child, and how does that match up with what actually happened?

FERGUSON: This is Stacy and like, I had no idea. I didn't think about it, who was going to take care of my kids. I just said oh, I'll go to college, I'll go to law school. I'll have a family and I'll put them in day care, I guess. I didn't think about it too hard. But now if I meet young moms or my friends that are pregnant, I tell them: Stop and think about it, seriously, right now.

Because what if you don't want to go back to work - are you able to afford to stay home? Because, you know, that's like my only regret in my life, is that I didn't get to stay home for the first few years of my child's life because I didn't plan for it.

NORRIS: Well, you know, they need you just as much as they get older.

FERGUSON: Understood. But I feel - I feel like now, they're relying on you for everything. And you have to be at the Halloween parade. And you have to be at the, you know, whatever - Spirit Day. That's the hard part.

ANGELA TILGHMAN: Being a single parent...

NORRIS: Angela.

TILGHMAN: Sorry, this is Angela. Being a single parent, I knew when I was pregnant from - I mean, the moment I found out, I was like oh, gosh, how am I going to do this?


TILGHMAN: So, and you definitely go through sticker shock.

NORRIS: Any other pearls of wisdom?

GRAHAM: I think just making sure that you're a flexible person. I mean it's, you know, I've learned a lot more flexibility - and learned that sometimes, something that you may have said no to at the beginning - like, I don't think I can do that - well, when you have to, you do, especially with child care and taking care of your child. The bottom line is it has to be done, whatever it is. You know, so be flexible.

NORRIS: That was Adam Graham. He stayed home with his oldest daughter her first six months of life. She starts high school this fall. We also heard from Stacey Ferguson, Corie Driscoll, Tanae Foglia, Kelly Hruska, Angela Tilghman and Grandma Sharon Johnson.

And before we say goodbye, thank you to all those people who watch children who are not their own. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.