Ask any American with young children what their No. 1 household expense is, and you’ll hear the same answer almost every time: child care. Each family finds its own way to manage. Some parents are pushed out of the workforce. Others work jobs they wouldn’t take otherwise or hold down multiple jobs in order to meet their families’ needs.
In order to show you how real families are navigating this child care challenge, HuffPost is profiling parents around the country. If you’d like to be featured in an installment, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Lucie Benevise
Location: Roanoke, Virginia
Occupation: Marketing and communications coordinator at the local chamber of commerce
Monthly take-home pay: Benevise brings home approximately $2,800 a month, earning $22 per hour for full-time work. Her husband brings home $2,000/month from his full-time job as a firefighter EMT. He also receives $2,000 per month in veteran’s disability benefits.
Monthly child care costs: $1,280 per month. Benevise pays $40 per day, per child, to an unlicensed in-home day care provider for four days a week of full-time care for her girls.
Child care plan: “When I became pregnant with my first, I was working for a veteran’s nonprofit and I was really struggling with them to figure out parental leave. I decided to just leave my job, because we had been put on a waitlist for day care that was over a year long. By the time she would get in, she wouldn’t be an infant anymore. And so we decided that I would leave my job and stay home with her. It was a very difficult year because I had very bad postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety. So when she turned 1, I decided that we had to put her somewhere — but she was still on the waitlist at various places. I decided to just go ahead and look for unlicensed in-home day cares because that seemed to be our only option in terms of cost, and also availability and accessibility. Now both of them go to an unlicensed, or unregistered, in-home day care with a full-time grandma who watches a handful of kids in her home. The prices are a lot cheaper, because I think that we were looking at $1,200 a month for one child in day care centers, so it would probably be about double what we’re currently paying.
“I have a very strong relationship with the day care provider, who has kind of become like their grandma. A really great thing, and we’re so thankful for it, is that she’s flexible. So if we need to bring them in a little bit earlier in the morning, it’s fine with her. If he’s at work for 24 hours and I have an evening work function, she’ll watch them later into the evening or at night. When my second daughter was born, she actually kept our first daughter overnight at her house until I had given birth.
“The downside is that it’s unlicensed, unregistered, which means that they don’t get certain inspections or things, and, as a parent, your biggest concern is your child’s safety. So there’s always that at the back of your mind. Of course, we trust her. She’s been amazing with our children. But at the same time, it would be so nice if we knew that there were certain regulations in place.”
Work arrangements: “I try to [work] 8 to 4. I’m very, very privileged in the fact that my director and the board have allowed me a lot of flexibility, were I to take a day off because I don’t have child care that day, or if I have to leave a little bit early to pick them up — things like that. Life happens and they understand that, and so they’ve been very flexible.”
Because firefighters work 24-hour shifts, Benevise’s husband is home at times during the work week. This allows them to have the girls in day care usually for four days a week instead of five.
“Depending on the nature of his shifts, he might be busy all night on the ambulance and then still has to come home exhausted, not having slept, and take care of our children the whole day.”
What would help their family: “$640 biweekly doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s almost half of my take-home pay. My husband is the one who provides health insurance for himself and our daughters. I can’t on my side because of how small my organization is. Without his disability, I’m still the main breadwinner, with a lot more stable hours.
“We’re kind of at a crossroads where one of us is probably going to have to leave our job because of the current situation and how unaffordable it’s becoming. And so we’re looking at, do we choose to lose health insurance? Or do we lose a big chunk of our income?
“It’s really taxing. We can never really turn off. I think for a lot of parents that’s that’s just how it is. You’re parenting full-time. We did this to ourselves, we have two under two. But we’re definitely not happy with the way that things are. We’re just really exhausted, especially now that it’s back to school, everyone is sick all the time. We’re on like, our third illness since September. So we’re looking at slowing down, and we’re looking at reevaluating our jobs and our child care situation. I think most likely by the end of next year, one of us will just be a stay-at-home parent because it’s just not sustainable financially.
“There’s just not enough centers. There’s not enough spots for children. In our area —we’re not a big city, I think 100,000 people — every single day on Facebook, I see moms begging for a spot in child care: ‘Can you watch my child? I’m getting a new job and I’ve not found anything.’ Most of the people commenting say that they’ve been on waitlists for months. And I remember when I was trying to get on waitlists, the waitlists were closed. There were waitlists for the waitlist, which for an infant class makes absolutely no sense. By that point, they’re not infants anymore.
“Right now, a lot of the burden is being taken off parents’ shoulders by other parents who are providing care. They’re generally stay-at-home moms who are looking for a little extra income. Again, we’re talking about unlicensed, unregulated, unregistered. You don’t really know who they are unless you go to their home and you check it out yourself. You don’t really know how things are going to happen in their home.
“I’m a member of the Campaign for Childcare. It’s a grassroots network. This week, we’ve been going out to congressmen’s offices all throughout the U.S. to talk about this, to talk about the child care crisis and urge them to do something, to take action. At the end of the day, it’s not just child care programs that are going to be affected. If people can’t have their kids in child care anymore, they’re going to leave the workforce. It’s this whole line of repercussions on every sector of society. It’s not just the parents. It’s going to be businesses. It’s going to be the economy. In Virginia, it’s $280 million of earnings that are going to be lost. People having to cut down hours, leave their jobs, and if those earnings are lost, then we’re talking about tax dollars that are not going to be coming in as well. So it’s really going to affect everyone at the end of the day.
“Something has to be done. Children that get the best care when they’re so little go on to have much more successful and happy lives, so we really have to look at it as we’re not just talking about a year or two when they’re babies and toddlers. We’re looking at that, but also the effects on the rest of their lives. The effects on the rest of society, because they are the future. So I think we’re not just funding child care. We’re funding the future.”
Banking on Child Care is a HuffPost series that details what parents spend on child care in the U.S. If you’d like to be featured, email us at email@example.com.