According to The Wall Street Journal, the average price of daycare in America rose 6 percent in July from a year before, nearly double the overall inflation rate of 3.2 percent. “We don’t have many other options, so we just have to take the hit,” said Danielle Ganje, a mother of three living in Blaine, Minnesota.
If you’re a single parent, perhaps. But if you’re married with an employed spouse, maybe not.
According to Care.com, the average cost of full-time, center-based infant daycare in 2023 is $1,136 per month. That’s per child. To help solve this problem, finance blogger Ivana Pino suggests six ways to lower the costs of childcare — none of which is helpful and one of which includes using debt! Practical suggestions such as relocating to a cheaper area of the country or moving closer to family didn’t make the list.
But the most glaring omission is the option for a parent to stay home. Why not forgo the childcare expense altogether and use that money to ease a family’s financial burdens?
In my recent YouTube video on daycare, one commenter conceded that his wife’s entire paycheck goes to pay for daycare. Her entire paycheck!
That may be an extreme example, but it is nevertheless true that a majority of Americans spend 20 percent or more of their household income on childcare. Married couples would be wise to put pen to paper in order to determine if that second income offsets their daycare costs.
For decades now, dual-income families have been hailed in America as “necessary for basic survival.” In reality, this lifestyle simply boosted the GDP, which is why economists and tax collectors cheer for it.
After all, when both parents work, they have to pay for child care. They have to buy new work clothes. They spend money on commuting, as well as on takeout and convenience foods since no one’s home long enough to cook. Even the coffee industry benefits. (Remember brewing coffee at home?) All these transactions further swell the national income accounts.
Married parents of young children who both work full-time and year-round do indeed make us richer as a nation — but that doesn’t mean the result is a net positive.
For one thing, when a married couple who can afford to have a parent at home chooses not to, it puts the one-income family at a distinct disadvantage, as those families struggle to make ends meet due to the rising costs brought on by a ballooning GDP. Second, daycare was originally intended to be a last-ditch option for low-income and single-parent families — not a way of life for married middle- and upper-middle-class families. The result is that a shocking number of our nation’s children are being raised by virtual strangers, rather than by Mom and Dad.
This isn’t just bad for children. It’s also bad for mothers, many of whom discovered during pandemic lockdowns that they really can live on less. Indeed, 2 million mothers traded their jobs for more time at home during lockdowns and are significantly happier because of that decision.
What if we built upon this pandemic lesson and rebuilt our economy by encouraging parents, mothers in particular, to stay home and invest in the early years, which we now know are critical to human development? Erica Komisar is a psychoanalyst who wrote the book on the science behind a mother’s physical presence in her child’s life. She explains how the emotional security offered by a mother’s presence is the foundation for mental health:
What we’ve done over the years is projected onto babies that they are like Teflon, that they are born resilient, born tough, born able to deal with stress, and none of this is true. … Mothers are the emotional regulators for children from the very beginning. Their physical and emotional presence is critical in terms of soothing babies from moment to moment. In that interaction of soothing the baby, you bring the baby’s emotions back to what we call emotional homeostasis. You’re doing that all day long.
Not only is a mother at home best for the mental health of our nation’s children, thus costing us less down the road, but it also benefits us financially in other ways. If mothers stay home when their children are young, and receive familial support and societal respect for doing so, this would liberate our government from a massive spending crisis in this arena. As a nation, we simply cannot, financially or practically, accommodate every family that would rather use daycare than stay home with their children in the early years. Nor should we want to.
In 2001, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton and child psychiatrist Stanley I. Greenspan wrote the groundbreaking book The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish. Dr. Greenspan, who has since passed away, had a message for Americans even then.
“The only way to improve daycare,” he said, “is for fewer parents to use it.”