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.
Children’s ages: 8 years old and 19 months old
Family income: Under $30,000
Monthly take-home pay: $3200 during summer months and $1200-$1500 per month during the school year.
Monthly child care costs: $1000 during summer months; during the school year, this varies, but is typically lower or nothing at all because she works fewer hours during the academic year.
Living situation: “I live with my mom and my brother currently, to help save on costs. I moved back home because financially, it was just too hard.”
The father of Ida’s older daughter died. Ida’s current partner, the father of her younger daughter, lives in New Hampshire.
Her current situation “just doesn’t allow us right now to be together.”
“It just seems like the right thing to do right now — just to be with my mom, my brother, and have that support. My sister lives nearby and she has her kids, and I have a lot of relatives, aunts and uncles that all live in town, too. So I have a wide network of family that I could call, versus if I was living where my partner lives.”
Child care plan: During the summer, Ida’s 8-year-old, Cece, was in a camp program for a variable number of days per week. There were extra costs for trips, too.
“I just want her to have an enriching summer, and I can’t do all the things I would love to do. I’d love to take her to the beach. I’d love to take her to the zoo or wherever they go [at camp]. They go to a lot of really fun places. So this allows her to do those really fun things while I’m working. But it’s a cost, for sure.”
Ida cares for her toddler, Mia, at home, and Ida’s mother and brother care for the child when Ida works remotely 40-50 hours a week. Her partner’s mother, who, like Ida’s mother, is retired, also takes care of Mia sometimes.
“It was a juggling act of myself, my brother, my mom all taking turns picking [Cece] up, taking her places — and if they’re not doing that, they’re helping me with Mia.”
“I currently owe money to the child care that my [older] daughter was at before, the before- and after-school program that she was at. So I’m trying to play catch-up with that,” she continued.
“Right now, even if I wanted to put [Mia] in child care where I am, it’s just so limited. They either have spots, but it’s only for full-time care, or they don’t have anything and it’s just a waitlist.”
Work arrangement: “I am currently a regional director for a Lego STEM program that’s in New England: Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In the summer, I’m working full-time, but then the rest of the year, it’s just like 10 to 15 hours a week. Alongside that, I’m a literacy tutor for a school system in Massachusetts. So I do K-3 online remote tutoring, trying to help the children that are behind [because of] COVID catch up and meet the standards. That position is also part-time, just a few hours a week. It’s grant-funded programming. Since I’ve had Mia, my youngest, this is kind of what I’ve had to do: piecemeal work.”
“What didn’t work when I had my 1696837193 8-year-old was I was working full-time, working multiple jobs, working in child care, working wherever I could to support myself.”
“I love working with children. I could find a different career, maybe find something else, but it’s just hard. At the end of the day, I want to choose something that provides income, something that provides happiness — and then what works for the family.”
– Ida Rodriguez, 38
Ida was able to have her older daughter with her at the child care center she worked at, but still had to pay for this care, albeit at a discounted rate. “It was just like, I’m basically working to pay the people that I work for. So I’m trying to avoid that with Mia.”
“Now I’m at the point in my life, my career, that a job has to work for me and my family. I feel like what I’m doing now does work, for the most part, but it’s just [that] there’s more weeks that are busier than others. I started this position that I’m in now in April, so it was supposed to be very, very part-time, and then it blew up into this bigger role. I really appreciate them then thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll give you this opportunity to do this.’ So that feels good, but at the same time, it’s like, ‘Whoa, I wasn’t anticipating all this.’”
“I really want to spend time with my children, but then I have to choose working constantly. I really haven’t been able to find that fit. And I wish I could, you know?”
What would help her family: Ida appreciates the flexibility that her current remote job offers. “I can start my day off working from home and then I can go and run all the errands I need to do.”
“Because my income is so limited for such a period of time, and then I have even less income as the months go on, I’m looking to apply for voucher assistance or something towards tuition for child care. But in Massachusetts, it’s just a long waiting list. You’re just waiting, waiting, maybe someone will give up their spot or won’t need it anymore, and you’re able to get something.”
The world of child care and early education “doesn’t serve the people that work within it.”
“There has to be some level of understanding. We can’t expect people to work all this time, but then at the same time, not be flexible. I can’t tell you how many employers I’ve had in the past that were like, ‘Your child is sick? Well, why don’t you just give your child Tylenol and still come in.’ But it’s so hard to take care of someone else’s child when you’re worrying about your own child at home.”
“I’ve always been so passionate about what I do. I love working with children. I could find a different career, maybe find something else, but it’s just hard. At the end of the day, I want to choose something that provides income, something that provides happiness — and then what works for the family. What would be ideal I think [is] if my job that I currently have continued on and became a little bit more hours per week, but still had flexibility.”
“The last [child care] center I worked at before I had Mia, I was one of two people that had young children at home. It was always, ‘Oh, Ida is out today because so-and-so was sick,’ or I had a doctor’s appointment because I was pregnant with Mia at the time. That hyper-focus was always on me, and I couldn’t be dependable when I wanted to be — and that, for me, is the worst feeling ever. I always just want to be there, do a great job, be present for my co-workers, the parents, the kids, everybody. It just feels like, ‘I can’t make anyone happy.’”
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.