By: Russ Feinberg
Like so many new parents, it was only a matter of time before my wife and I had to be back at work.
We were lucky enough that she could go back part-time initially, but for even a few days a week, the costs of child care were eye-popping.
That made our choice simple: sacrifice crazy money each week to make sure our son was safe and sound as we transitioned back to work or sacrifice some of our quality time making the trip to Grandma’s house–where child care was free and high quality.
So, in order to save on child care costs, my son was my HOV lane buddy once a week for a full day of grandma-grandson time. We were very lucky to have someone we trust take on such an important responsibility.
I can’t imagine how families afford child care when there aren’t any grandparents or extended family around.
The drive to Grandma’s was just under an hour each way, and our usually happy little man would shriek the whole way there and back. For 60 minutes, more with any kind of traffic, my baby was completely inconsolable. …Oh yeah, and in case you weren’t aware, a car is an echo chamber. I swear that I lost some of my hearing permanently over the course of that first year, but the physical pain in my ears wasn’t the half of it.
The emotional pain of being two feet from my sweet, adorable son for an hour, twice a day, and unable to calm him at all was just terrible. On that first day, we made it halfway home, and I pulled over to just jump in back and hold him. After maybe seven or eight minutes, he had calmed down, but then I had to put him right back into the car seat, and the crying resumed.
Poor baby, poor daddy. I quickly learned that free child care still costs.
For six months, every Monday, by the time I got to work I was completely on edge. And by the time I got home, I was so psychologically drained that I needed alone time to get centered.
The ride in the car was taking the place of quality time, that I might have the energy to spend with my son. Instead of reading a book together, or even just holding and feeding him, I spent two hours trying to console him while navigating lousy traffic. I was glad that he was well-cared for during the day, but drained from the experience overall – usually too drained to appreciate that precious time with him, after we finally got home.
For so many parents, work is not an option–it’s a necessity. That means out-of-home care for small children is a near certainty. The sacrifices parents make to provide that care, not only cause stress, but can lead to parental guilt when you’re too taxed to appreciate what quality time you have left with the kids…guilt that I experienced myself during that tough time.
Eventually, my son figured out how to self-soothe, and a few times he even fell asleep, which was a true godsend, but I never felt more powerless than I did on those trips once a week. Even with all the time spent on the road, driving him to daycare, I still don’t feel like I got the quality time I wanted with him.
The time I spend with my son these days – taking him to the playground or for a walk, reading books together, or making funny faces to go with the tickles – is priceless, and the most valuable thing I do any day of the week.
We know that we were lucky to have the option of time with Grandma – that’s great stuff – but saving money on a day of child care shouldn’t have to cost quality time plus all of that emotional energy.
Reliable infant care costs as much as in-state college tuition. That means most parents in America are often forced to choose between things like leaving the workforce or accepting underemployment at a time when they can least afford to do either. Putting food on the table versus finding affordable, quality child care is a choice no family should have to make. Yet, so many families are facing this problem every day.
In the end, I guess this is what fatherhood is for me – the powerlessness of a screaming child in the back seat, the joy of making my son laugh, the sacrifice of extra time at work or in the car to make child care affordable, and the magic of creating as much quality time as possible while providing for my family.
My son has learned to enjoy car rides, and rests easy the whole way. If the U.S. could do more to help parents feel less powerless when it comes to finding quality affordable child care, I could rest a little easier, too.