Paid Child Care: A Crazy Quilt of Crushing Cost

This year is my family’s costliest one for child care. With two children in paid care arrangements we’re really feeling the pinch. It doesn’t help that we live in the costliest state for child care, according to The National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies report Parents and the High Cost Price of Child Care: A 2009 Update. Fortunately, things will ease up considerably next year when our oldest enters kindergarten and our youngest enters our town’s (paid) public pre-school program, which is far cheaper than day care.

Day care costs and arrangements are insane in this country, at least that’s our experience. We’ve attempted to keep costs reasonable and tried lots of different arrangements. But it has been a crazy patchwork quilt. Since turning one, our older daughter has been in four day care/pre-school settings and both our children have had a half dozen different nannies or baby sitters.

We’ve changed providers so much in part because our family’s needs have changed and in part because of quality issues. A shockingly small percentage of providers we’ve tried impress us. We’re delighted that our town’s public pre-school program is an exception. It is very impressive and has been the highest quality early childhood education our older daughter has experienced. Bravo!

One other bit of insanity associated with child care is the web of cash flows. Take our younger daughter’s current arrangement, a nanny share with another family. There are nine different financial entities involved in flow of money from the families to the nanny:

  • Three bank accounts: one for each family, one for the nanny,
  • Two employers, each with two dependent care flexible spending accounts (I’m counting this as four entities),
  • Two governments: federal and state, for collection of payroll and income taxes, unemployment and worker’s compensation fees.

It is a stunning amount of paperwork and shuffling of money for the care of such a cute, tiny being.

Sometimes I wonder why child care in the U.S. is so complicated and inconvenient. Every parent goes through several years to a decade dealing with it. Few like it. Hardly any I know find it sensible or easy to manage. Nearly everyone thinks it is expensive. It sucks, and it sucks for everyone.

One hypothesis why it doesn’t improve is that parenthood is just so darn exhausting and the demands are unrelenting. Plus, by the time you’re through with it anything you do to improve it won’t affect you. Day care is just one of the earlier challenges of parenthood, but no where near the last. When my kids are through with day care I’ll probably behave just like most other parents who dealt with it: put it behind me, try to forget about it, and not lift one damn finger in trying to fix it. I’ll be too busy dealing with the problems of primary and secondary education, among others. They’re messed up too in their own special ways.

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