A costly choice

Choosing someone to care for your child is one of the biggest decisions you can make as a parent.

It’s a step in the parenting journey that creates the very beginning of your for-hire village. 

For me, choosing childcare wasn’t just about the excruciating decision to choose long stretches of time away from my child, which I knew would distance me from the daily act of child-rearing. 

It was also about my career: Did I want to fully quit my job only to have to scratch and claw my way back after spending years off the market?

No. Though the decision wasn’t easy, I felt ready to return to work after 4½ months of maternity leave, some of which was partially covered by FMLA and vacation. During leave, I learned I was happier and better suited to parent in smaller doses. (Think somewhere between the parenting styles of the laughably checked-out Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and her helicopter mother, Rose.)

What I didn’t realize at the time was how much was at stake in terms of finances. 

We’ve often talked in this magazine about the crazy cost of childcare. (In fact, you can read about that bleak picture in The Uncensored Toddler in the pages ahead, our annual Childcare Issue.) 

But you know what’s even more insane?

The cost of leaving a job for kids — something more men and women are doing these days, according to Forbes — includes a lot more than lost wages.

You might ask: “Is it really worth it to keep working when childcare is eating up my entire paycheck?”

The answer, if money matters long term in your household, might be yes.

According to the Center for American Progress, which calls out our country’s “failing” childcare system, a parent who leaves the workforce loses up to four times his or her annual salary per year.

For example, a 26-year-old female making $44,148 (the median pay in the U.S.) who takes five years to stay home with the kids will experience (if she lives to be 82) a total lifetime income loss of $706,778 — $220,000 in lost wages, $264,599 in lost salary growth and $222,179 in lost retirement assets and federal benefits. (You can calculate your own losses at interactives.americanprogress.org/childcarecosts.)

So, wow, a lot more than those years of daycare payments!

Then again, it can be a priceless experience to stay home with the kids. 

Finally, there’s also the middle ground of freelancing or working from home. (Nothing like doing two jobs at the same time, right?)

Whatever route you choose, I wish you the best of luck, enduring grace and the freedom to change your mind, too.