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Column: With all the parents working, society is in an expensive pickle
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

As a child, I expected I’d grow up to be a stay-at-home mom just like my own.

There were other options, but I was a follower — a follower of rules, a follower of the examples in front of me. 

Maybe most kids grow up expecting to follow in the footsteps of their parents.

For many years, the only options for little girls were homemaker, nurse, teacher or secretary.

I enjoyed more freedom than that and obviously didn’t grow up to be a stay-at-home mom. 

Women now can choose to stay at home raising children or they can choose to pursue — with just as much ambition as men — any number of career paths. 

While many women make that choice to work, many others can’t afford to make the choice to stay home. Living on the salary of just one working parent is difficult with skyrocketing student loan costs and rising home prices. And for single-parent households, it’s not easy to find a job that pays for the rent and the child care, but not working clearly isn’t an option.

The more traditional family unit of breadwinner, homemaker and children hasn’t disappeared, but it now may be the exception rather than the rule.

Women have skills well beyond mending clothes and baking biscuits (click over to Johnny Vardeman’s column to read more about that). They deserve the same career options afforded to men. But with both men and women pursuing their careers, that leaves many family units depending on expensive child care and struggling to maintain the household chores that once fell to women.

Someone’s still got to take care of the kids and do the dishes.

We’ve advanced into quite a societal pickle. And it’s an expensive pickle.

For those of you removed from the challenges of modern day child care, here are a few facts.

On the low end, child care is more than $100 a week for one child. For high quality child care, it can be as much as $250 a week, again for one child. So, let’s say you have two children — you’re paying at minimum $800 a month for child care. Let’s say you have one kid in full-time child care at a premium facility and one in after-school care, that bill might run you $1,400 a month.

That’s comparable to a rent or mortgage payment or to a private school tuition of more than $15,000 annually. It’s often not costly enough that it makes financial sense for a parent to stay at home instead of bringing in a second income, but it’s certainly costly enough to hurt.

While some look fondly on the “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family, that wasn’t always the standard. Before the 1950s, extended family often played a bigger role in child care.

A recent piece from The Atlantic details some history of the family according to 

Steven Ruggles, a professor of history and population studies at the University of Minnesota. “According to Ruggles, the prevalence of extended families living together roughly doubled from 1750 to 1900, and this way of life was more common than at any time before or since,” according to The Atlantic opinion piece. Interestingly, the average age of marriage dropped as society moved away from this family model.

The piece notes that modern society is good for individuals but not families. While adults can pursue their careers, children are less sheltered in some ways. 

If the nuclear family fails for some reason, whether that’s divorce, sickness, death or some other challenge, there are fewer options to lessen that burden.

Expensive child care and far-flung relatives don’t seem to add up to a sustainable way to raise kids. It’s certainly not ideal.

In the world of foster care, the nuclear family has failed in some way and the Division of Family and Children Services looks to extended family to provide care. Sometimes that’s an option, oftentimes it’s not, and kids enter the very expensive foster care system. In that system, society pays for that child to be cared for, including per diems for the foster parents, clothing expenses, that pricey institutional child care and more. 

Societal problems are the trickiest to fix. And this one affects us all.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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