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Daycare vs. stay-at-home: A near-impossible parenthood decision?

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Kate and Richard are at a crossroads. They’re expecting their first child in less than a month and are still undecided about whether they’ll put their new baby in daycare after Kate’s six weeks of parental leave or if one of them will stay home with the baby.

They’ve done some homework on childcare costs and have found that the cost of childcare can exceed that of a college education. This is particularly troublesome since Kate and Richard both earn the median income in the United States in 2022 of just over $31,000. Both incomes are needed to maintain the standard of living they’re accustomed to and want their child to enjoy.

Considering that the cost of childcare is well over $10,000 per year of after-tax income (about half of either Kate or Richard’s annual income), what would you advise them to do?

Before you decide what advice to give them, let’s analyze the pros and cons of daycare and caring for a child at home. We’ll also look at an alternative they should consider that might give them the best of both worlds.

Pros & cons of daycare

Kate was raised in a traditional family where her mother stayed home during her newborn and toddler years and didn’t return to the work outside of the home until after Kate had entered kindergarten. She’s very close to her mom and feels a special bond was formed between them while her mom stayed home with her during her most formative years (0-5).

You’d probably not be surprised that Kate is experiencing some guilt for even considering daycare for her soon-to-be newborn. However, looking at the pros and cons of daycare might help her with her decision:

Pros

  • Age-specific grouping, activities, and curriculum
  • Kids learn to socialize
  • Kids learn to follow a schedule
  • Smoother transition to formal schooling
  • Dedicated equipment and space
  • Some centers are moving to continuity of care, which means a child can stay with their caregiver from entry until they age out of care
  • Substitutes are used when staff are ill

Cons

  • Caregivers can work in shifts, which might be uncomfortable for some children
  • Staff turnover can be disruptive
  • Less adult interaction
  • Exposure to more illnesses depending on the hygiene practices of the center
  • A child’s personality might not be a good match for large group care
  • Hours and location might not be convenient
  • The cost of care will be higher
  • Some centers have long wait lists, especially for infants and toddlers

After looking at this list, Kate and Richard may still be torn between daycare and staying at home with their newborn. However, to get the whole picture, they must also consider the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent (SAHP).

Pros & cons of being a stay-at-home parent

Due to the pandemic, many of us have had experience working from home full-time instead of heading into the office for 8+ hours a day. Some of us loved it, while others loathed it. Many parents working from home struggled to juggle work and parental responsibilities. Kate and Richard need to carefully consider the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home-parent:

Pros

  • Staying at home with their child is often less stressful for the parent
  • Increased bonding between parent and child
  • Fewer germs than in daycare can mean fewer illnesses for everyone
  • Important milestones aren’t missed: first step, first words, etc.
  • Will save money on work-related expenses like clothing, gas, tolls, wear and tear on vehicles

Cons

  • Family may not be able to survive on a single income
  • Loneliness for the parent staying at home
  • Career disruption
  • SAHP may feel undervalued

If Kate and Richard decide staying at home is the route they prefer to take, they’re then going to be faced with the $64,000 question:

Who will stay home: Mom or Dad?

For some couples, deciding who will be the SAHP is easy based on their preferences and individual situation. For example, one parent may be more inclined to stay at home if their partner’s income is big enough to support the family, while in another instance, one spouse may detest their job and gladly stay at home with their newborn.

The decision of who would stay at home was easy for baby-boomer parents: the mother always stayed home with the children. But times have changed in that respect, too.

The film Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton, came out in 1983 and foreshadowed the coming acceptance of dads staying at home caring for the kids while moms went off to work. Though some stigma is still attached to being a “stay-at-home dad,” many men are envious of their friends who have made that election.

[ Related: How much does it cost to raise a child? ]

Finding a happy medium that works for you

Since Kate and Richard have similar incomes and both love their careers, the decision of daycare vs. stay-at-home parenting is even more complex. But there is an alternative to consider.

Kate and Richard should both approach their managers with a proposal that they are allowed to work from home 2-3 days per week while their child is too young to attend school. This hybrid work arrangement will allow them both to keep their careers and solve the dilemma of childcare vs. stay-at-home parenting.

For example, two weeks a month, Kate could work from home three days a week and Richard two days, and the other two weeks, they could switch things up so Richard works from home three days and Kate just two.

This way, Kate and Richard can both keep their careers, save a substantial amount of money on childcare expenses, enjoy all of the benefits of staying home with their newborn, and work as a team to raise their family.

Many working couples also have family members stay at home at least part-time with their newborn. If Kate and Richard are fortunate, they could have a grandparent stay with their baby one day a week so they could both work from home two days a week.

[ Related: Top 10 employee benefits for working parents ]

What do you say?

Don’t worry; it’s a rhetorical question.

Hopefully, if you’re soon faced with this decision on child-rearing, we’ve provided some food for thought. If you have friends or family members who are having this debate now, share this article with them.

Either way, if a child knows they’re loved by their parents, there will be a happy ending to their story.


The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Work-Life
Published October 31, 2022