By: John Kim
Ten years ago I began my journey as a father.
I still remember that moment, standing in our bathroom and staring at that little plastic stick. And just like that, there was a pale blue plus sign staring right back at us. Like an idiot – my first words as a newly minted father-to-be were, “Holy crap…we did it!”
Sadly enough, that moment of celebration and excitement doesn’t last that long. At least it didn’t for me. Within a few minutes it hit me right smack across my dumb, happy face. “How the hell are we gonna afford all of this?” With that, the economics of having a little bundle of joy washed over me like a cold shower.
Thinking about the costs of having a child was overwhelming. From all the gear you need, to taking time off from work, and then there was childcare.
How the hell does anyone afford having kids?
How did my parents do it?
What did we get ourselves into?!?
Saddled with student debt, financially supporting both sets of our parents, and both fully committed to our fulfilling but stressful and underpaid nonprofit jobs – this question weighed heavy on us.
This is not something that folks talk a lot about. People feel fine talking about the sleepless nights, the loss of your social lives, and a sudden increase in a tolerance for human poop on your hands. But the question of how to actually afford all of this is just too personal.
It wasn’t until we found an extraordinary, high-quality yet affordable child care center that we finally felt at ease. It meant that our little one would be spending many of her waking hours in a nurturing, enriching space where she could learn about the world, learn to be with others, and learn to be herself. It also meant that we didn’t have to move out of Los Angeles, or that one of us would have to quit our job, or go even further into debt.
Sure it was hard, at first, to leave our precious infant with “strangers.” But those child care workers quickly became family to us. All of them showed a level of warmth and care for Naiya that I’ll never forget.
We, however, were one of the fortunate ones. We did have the resources to pay for child care. We had access to information and a network of friends that helped us identify the right center for us, but for far too many families, particularly low-income families of color, that just isn’t the case.
We know, for a fact, that quality child care is just about the best antidote to generational poverty and can do wonders for the kids themselves, their families, and the communities overall. We know, for a fact, that it’s the kind of investment you need to make if you want to get serious about closing the stubborn racial gaps in long-term educational achievement. We know, for a fact, that for every dollar we spend on child care now we will save $7 in public funding in the future. We know all of this but for some reason early care and education budgets saw some of the deepest cuts during the Great Recession and have yet to be fully restored.
How does this happen? Some say it’s because there isn’t a strong enough “political constituency” to protect those dollars – because 3-year olds don’t vote and parents are too sleep deprived to engage. I say, one reason, is that we fathers have – for too long – been sitting on the sidelines thinking that this was a woman’s rights issues and somehow not our fight.
I say that we who’ve been through this journey need to talk about our struggles and the policy changes needed to support working families like ours. We owe it to the other fledgling fathers who are now facing that wall of anxiety of how to pay for it all. We’ve been in their shoes.
Now, when I look at my daughter Naiya – she is brimming with light and sharpness and joy. And yes, my wife and I have a lot to do with that. But now it’s time for us, and mothers and fathers across the country, to stand up for families who aren’t as fortunate as ours to fight for the supports all working families need.