From the Blog

The Cost Of Going Back To Work After Babies

Here’s a fun thing. I sat down and calculated how much money I made from my job after paying for taxes and childcare. It was…enlightening.

Some background. I went back to work when our twin boys turned six months old. It was a new job, as opposed to returning to a current job after maternity leave. It was a new industry for me, with a decent, professional salary. It was an opportunity for me to switch careers and gain experience in marketing, as opposed to working in accounting and collections, which is what I have done for much of my professional life. It was an out-of-the-blue opportunity, and I jumped at the chance to take it.

I got some wrinkled noses when I decided to take the job. It was clear some thought it was more important for me to stay home with the babies. But I also got many congratulations. A good number of people, including mothers I know, understood why I wanted to work outside the house. It was for the extra income, yes, but it was also just to use my brain.

Since the babies arrived, I felt like I lost a bit of my intelligence. That is a completely honest statement. I didn’t feel as smart as I used to. Much of my mental energy went to shallow, repetitive tasks. It felt like the deeper machinery was rusting and freezing solid from lack of use.

But that wasn’t the part that scared me. What terrified me was that I wasn’t even as interested as I used to be. I wasn’t engaged or curious about things. If I read something, or if I thought about something that took too much effort, I’d stop and think, fuck it, I have babies.

This scared the shit out of me. The mental fatigue. The lack of interest in the world. How long would it be before I wore sweatpants in public, with some come hither phrase across my ample butt (“Juicy!”), as I carted my shrieking loin spawns to the grocery store? Would I actually start reading the magazines in the checkout aisle? Would I be fascinated at whether Jennifer Aniston is getting married, or divorced or pregnant? Would I have the mental energy to occasionally bark at my kids to shut up while they pulled hair and bit each other?

I wanted to use my brain. I wanted to feel smart again. I wanted to concentrate. I wanted to learn new things.

We had about three weeks to hustle for childcare. Daycare centers have waiting lists that are months or years long for one child, nevermind two. So we used a nanny agency to find and hire our nanny. It cost a lot of money. But we figured the agency was worth the expense, since it saved us from crossing our fingers and hiring a creepy person off craigslist. We found a wonderful nanny, and we figured the longer she was with us, the more the agency expense would make up for itself.

We were probably on the low-end demographic for families hiring an in-house nanny. We aren’t rich, even with our new double income. Childcare for twins is as nutty expensive as you think it might be. There are no goddamned two-for-one specials when you have twins.

But even then, we did some calculations, and figured that after taxes and childcare, it still made economic sense for me to take the job. Again, my salary was decent, and it would almost double our household income. We paid our nanny about $13 less than I was going to make an hour.

So. I had the usual deductions from my pay; health insurance, 401k, taxes. Our childcare expenses included the agency fee, our nanny’s salary, employer payroll taxes, and accountant fees.

I worked for about four months. I commuted on the bus. My job was downtown. It felt good to be out in the world. And I loved coming home to my little boys’ faces.

buildings

For various reasons, I decided to leave. It was a great experience, and it was an amicable split. I worked a total of 80 days. That’s 640 hours. The difference between what I was bringing home and what we paid for childcare was $1986.23. My hourly wage after all our expenses was $3.10.

Now. We are lucky that we are in a position to live on one salary. Not because that one salary is huge, but because we don’t have a car payment, or a giant mortgage, or student loans, or cable TV, or credit card debt, or huge cell phone plans. We have been systematic about cutting these expenses and living debt free, just so we could live on one salary if we choose to. We are lucky because we aren’t relying on any income I bring in. Because I can’t imagine someone getting by on $3.10. That’s an hour to buy a tube of toothpaste, or a carton of eggs.

I thought about the people with the wrinkled noses, the ones who thought it was more important for me to be home with the babies, than working out of the home, trying to make money and further my career. Isn’t my time at home worth more than $3.10? Especially now, when the boys are so young?

It grates on me, but I almost agree. Almost. I am pissed, more than pissed…I am frothy-mouthed outraged, at the sentiment that since I am the mother, I should stay home and take care of my babies. I wanted to get a job just to say fuck you! to everyone who has ever said that.

But then. $3.10. Whew. Worth it? I don’t know. I don’t know.

It’s about the amount I will spend to get the latest People magazine so I can read about Jennifer Aniston.

Comments

  1. Patrick Coleman says:

    This is a great perspective and I love the angst about sticking it to the people who say a mother SHOULD stay home. Kitty and I have a totally different experience with this, simply because Kitty has always wanted to stay at home and raise kids and be a “housewife.” She feels that same kind of mouth-frothing anger, but hers is directed towards people who suggest it stands against decades of hard fought feminist gains for her to want to be a housewife and not a wage earner. The fact that that’s what she aspires to be — a stay at home Mom — causes plenty of nose wrinkling in its own right. Much like you, we’re working hard to get to that debt free place, and we’re close. Our dream is to be able to live on one salary and be in the place you are now, but our motivations are very different. I find that completely fascinating.

    In the meantime, I’m a stay-at-home working father. So I wear my three-month-old while conducting interviews for news stories over the phone and writing articles. It’s a unique situation, but for now it’s our solution to avoiding the insane cost of childcare.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks for your story, Patrick.

      Stay-at-home parenting is fricken hard work. This post could have had many tangents, and the entrenched gender roles of “Mom stays home, Dad goes to work,” deserves more space than what I gave here. It isn’t the choices we make on individual family levels that bothers me, it’s the finger wagging, the GODDAMNED FINGER WAGGING that comes after you make that choice. “Mom went back to work? Tsk, tsk.” “Dad home with babies? He should get a real job.” “She’s a housewife? Doesn’t she have any ambition?” Don’t you wag that finger at me. I will write about you on the internet SO HARD.

      Staying at home with the kids = LEGIT. It’s hard work. Kudos to you and Kitty. You guys are awesome.

  2. I suggest that you imagined about 75% of the raised eyebrows. Whenever I see someone doing things differently than me, I might raise my eyebrows, because I’m wondering… how does that WORK OUT? Staying home??? Working? Opposite shift of your husband working? Single parent? Wha? I can barely manage our own life! I was thrilled you could work and I’m thrilled you’re home again…because I’m THRILLED that you’re living your life YOUR WAY! And oh my gosh, your babies are almost not babies anymore they are so freaking cute it’s….. wondrous. Thank you for continuing to share with us, the internet.

    • Thanks Jill. There were some specific wrinkled noses and wagging fingers that shall remain nameless. But you bring up a good point, that I am a bit OVERSENSITIVE ABOUT THE WRINKLED NOSES AND WAGING FINGERS. ;-)

  3. Christa Gaylord says:

    Heather, I’m reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) right now. There’s no right answer about staying home or not to parent… It’s a very personal decision for every parent and I highly respect both sides. But one thing I wanted to point out from Sheryl’s words of advice is that if your career is important to you… Think of going back to work as an investment in your future. If you try to calculate how much you are making (or maybe not making at all), it is just discouraging. But going back allows your career to keep moving forward (or up) vs. staying stagnant. Just a thought. Her book is good BTW… :) Your little men are so cute! Thanks for sharing your stories here!

    • Thanks, Christa! I had read some of the reviews and saw some of the controversy surrounding Lean In. I was wondering if I ought to read it. I’ll pick it up.

  4. Relevant article:
    Home Economics: The Link Between Work-Life Balance and Income Equality.

    “And in every state, the average annual cost of day care for two children exceeds the average annual rent. Not surprisingly, low-income mothers are far more likely to stay at home today than are upper-income mothers. Such women are forgoing paid work not because they refuse to lean in but because they can’t earn enough money at their jobs to cover child care.”

  5. I’m so glad you calculated that out. This tells me what I’ve always guessed to be true — that after a family has three kids, the childcare cost becomes *more* than what one stay-at-home parent can earn. (Granted, there are exceptions.)

    The nice thing with you having twins is that should you choose to stay home ’til their school years, you’ve lost only five years in ‘career time.’ That’s not a lot, really. And there are ways to keep up your resume, if you desire.

  6. Aunty Laurie says:

    NOTHING, AND I MEAN NOTHING is more important than doing what is RIGHT FOR YOU, AND YOURS!! People may ask you what you think about what they are doing, but in the end it is all “Noise” and they really don’t care what you think, and go ahead and do what is RIGHT FOR THEMSELVES Anyway… IF They’re SMART!!! I am a Big Believer in Thinking for yourself, That will Always keep you Sharp! Enjoy this time with your boys Heather, they really will be Graduating before you know it!

  7. i admire the hell out of you, you know that, right? i think it is fantastic that you are open to trying different solutions, and even more fantastic when you say “hey, that didn’t work for me/us”. the sad fact is that people are judgemental, and there will always be some yahoo tsk-tsking you. when I encounter this, i heave a giant self-cleansig sigh, and thank the universe that I am not that person.

    i hear from my clients daily about baby-brain-mush. one client came in the other day and said “i’m not even sure i know how to have an adult conversation anymore…” which made me laugh. you are doing great, hang in there.

  8. Good for you Heather.
    My wife Susan and i were in a very similar circumstance 30 years ago. She a new high school teacher, while i struggled to find an architectural intern job back in “that ” recession of the early 80’s. It only made sense for one of us to stay home due to the cost of daycare. I did not have a job that paid more then 4.00/hr the two very small boys & i made a go of it. I then started taking care of a neighbors young son the same age and very good friends with mine. The next five years were amazing; the good, the bad and the unbelievable. I struggled with worry about my career, my boys and what was i doing playing “mom”….. looking back how could i ever have doubted that value. My career is great, my sons wonderful and my wife still a bit jealous of my big adventure.

    If at all possible, stay home. In a few years, have Dave stay home, every two or three years, change places.

  9. Thanks so much for this blog post… we have 6 month old twins and my wife and I have been having this conversation a lot about her going to back to wrap up her schooling and then into the workforce. Is it worth it? Does she want that time away? Can we afford it? Can we not afford it? It’s definitely an ongoing conversation and this helped put the financial aspect in perspective.

  10. Heather, I’m reading this in one browser window as I have others open reading about parking permits at work, the tuition policy at daycare, etc. I’m gearing up to go back to work in a new position with more hours in a few weeks, so I will not be with my kids much during the day any more, though they are used to be being around but on my laptop working. In my case, it is going to cost so much for nursery school and parking and gas (not even thinking about camps for L next summer yet!) but we will still come out ahead because I can do some of the hours at home and because beyond my salary, this earns me more time in the retirement system and Social Security, etc.

    When your kids are a little older and don’t have to be fed and changed so much, it will be easier to get things done (sort of) if you want to work from home. There is a place down here called Pamper and Play where I go sometimes when I have a bunch of work all at once. You can pay to bring your kids, they play in a big open area downstairs with a babysitter, and you sit upstairs in a loft area so you can glance down and see them while you work. There are also co-op preschools where you trade working part-time there for lower tuition. All of these possibilities, do what you need to do and don’t worry about some wrinkled noses, there will always be some, no matter what choice you make! But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you’ll find some way to think at a higher level and get work done with adults, in whatever form that takes! xxoxxx

  11. I don’t think it’s fair that you’re charging all of the baby expenses against your income when making your calculations. Half of it should be charged to your spouse’s pay since baby care is everybody’s responsibility.

    This won’t change the bottom line of your budget but it might change your perspective slightly. Rather than seeing a soul crushing “worth” of 3.10 an hour, you could see it as living the way you want while getting an extra hundred and twenty bucks a week for doing so.

    • Heather says:

      Foible, good points. When I first accepted the job, we were excited because it seemed like we were close to doubling our income. But then with childcare, it was more like 50% more. Then after taxes, etc, it was more like 10% or so.

      I didn’t include my husband’s income because his was the constant. It was going to stay the same, whether I worked or not. So I was evaluating the advancement of my career plus $3.10 an hour, versus being home with the guys while they are little.

      It’s a hard call. And it would be different for everyone. I’m still not settled on it myself. Dave is still waiting for me to get a job that pays more than his, so he can be a stay at home dad.

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