Ask any American with young children what their No. 1 household expense is, and you’ll hear the same answer almost every time: child care. Each family finds its own way to manage. Some parents are pushed out of the workforce. Others work jobs they wouldn’t take otherwise or hold down multiple jobs in order to meet their families’ needs.
To show how real families are navigating this child care challenge, HuffPost is profiling parents around the country. If you’d like to be featured in an installment, email us at email@example.com.
Occupation: Texas sales manager for a group of small craft distilleries
Children’s ages: 7 months, 2 years and 9 years (oldest child is Gomez’s stepson)
Annual household income: $90,000
Weekly take-home pay: $1,500
Child care costs: $200 per month
Work arrangements: Gomez and her husband, Jesus, met through work. “How we met was in the (restaurant) industry. Now, due to child care issues, he actually is a stay-at-home dad. He has been for about two years now.
“When I was pregnant with Aly Rose, our 2-year-old, his son did not live with us full-time. We had him on the weekends. And at the time, he was working at a restaurant. The hours were crazy. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to swing caring for children. So he quit working in restaurants and started working for a wine distributor that offered a lot more flexibility.
“We tried to make it work with our schedules. But he ended up getting a new boss that just made his schedule a lot more demanding, and so our schedules really didn’t align. We put Aly Rose on six to eight different waiting lists for day cares before she was born, and then a couple after. I’ve only even gotten a call from two of those places.”
Aly Rose is now 2 and a half. “She was born in July 2021. She ended up in the NICU for three weeks, unexpectedly, and so we brought her home the beginning of August. We tried to make it work schedule-wise until he ended up quitting his job December 1, 2021. My parents actually came down and watched the kids for three weeks prior, just because it really wasn’t working like we hoped. We had looked at other day cares, and any other option that we could at the time, before we made the decision for him to quit his job: Angie’s List, Care.com. People didn’t have availability for like seven to eight months. There were two (day cares) that said that they were going to have openings within six months. But they were 3.1-star, 2.3-star — and they were the best-rated in the area. We thought, do we really want our kids to have a 3.1-star life? That’s almost failing. He had been managing people for so long, and he was kind of tired of it. I’m very career-driven, as well as family-driven. He gave me the option for him to stay home.
“To go from two pretty decent incomes to literally cutting our income in half was hard. We tried to mentally justify it with, ‘Oh, but look how much we’re saving on day care’ and all of this, but at the end of the day, you’re still at a loss. It’s a blessing now, because his son has some special needs, he has autism. Now he’s able to live with us full-time, and Jesus has more time that he can dedicate to taking him to appointments, managing his care from home as well as taking care of the kids. It’s been a little over two years. I have a higher-paying job, but it’s still not enough to offset him having no income.
“My employer covers my health insurance, but the plan that they offer for my dependents and spouse is like $1,200 a month. So we chose to get a plan through the marketplace for his use and the kids. It’s not much cheaper. It saves us a couple hundred a month, which, at this point, anything helps.
“The thing about my job is, it’s pretty flexible. I typically have some calls in the morning and some admin stuff that I do, starting at nine. I usually have a couple of free hours in the middle of the day. Then I leave my house to go out to visit accounts starting around four o’clock, and there’s nights I don’t get home till midnight.
“Even when I get home early, he’s put three kids to bed. The only thing he has energy for is to sit on the couch. We open a bottle of wine. We just veg out for an hour until we both say, ‘OK, let’s pry our eyes away (from the TV) and go to sleep because we’re going to be up in two hours.’”
Gomez anticipates that Jesus will return to the workforce once all their children are in school, about five years from now. “He has his associate’s degree and he’s talked about getting his bachelor’s degree in an online program, but there’s just no time. Every time we try to prioritize something, even just as small as going to the gym — if I have a call in the morning, by the time that he wakes up to go to the gym, then both babies are up. So he’s probably going to put off going back to school at least for another two or three years.”
Child care plan: “We did start Aly Rose in a ‘mother’s day out’ program in January of this year. It runs two days a week, five hours a day. Luckily, it’s right down the street from our house and gives Jesus a little bit of relief. It’s $200 a month, which is OK, in my mind. Pretty affordable compared to other day cares. But it is a very short window of time. He drops her off after he drops his son off at school and picks her up before he picks him up, but it gets him a good four and a half hours of ‘one-baby time.’
“We tried to (drive for) DoorDash or Uber Eats (to make) enough money to pay for her day care. If I get home and there’s a bonus program on DoorDash, I’ll go out and drive for DoorDash for three or four hours.”
The family is looking at preschools for Aly Rose next year, but options are limited. Their income is too high for subsidized programs, and other programs are located far from home and offer only a few hours of care several days per week. They plan next year to send their younger daughter to the same “mother’s day out” program, which is housed in a church and runs on a school calendar. It’s for babies who are at least 1 year old and walking.
“Both of us are happy that we’ve made it work. It’s a struggle financially, and I mean, I’m sure it will be forever, with the cost of everything going up. Yesterday he said, ‘I need adult time, I caught myself talking to your cousin in a baby voice.’ And I leave the city of Dallas and I work out of market throughout the rest of the state one to two weeks a month. So he’s here full-time. You couldn’t pay me money to stay home with with my kids. They’re great kids, but I just need that adult interaction. There weren’t really a whole lot of good choices.”
What would help their family: “There’s no one mandating day care pay, and those are the people that are caring the hardest for our children. Not just educating them, but literally cleaning up after them and carrying them around and helping to potty-train them and do all of the things that parents are trying to do, but for 12 bucks an hour. Day care pay regulations would be super helpful.
“Also, there’s no mandated parental leave, which is insane. I had six weeks with both children, and with Aly Rose I only had two weeks of maternity leave. The rest of it was short-term disability, meaning I didn’t even get full pay. We’re not planning on having any more children because we can’t financially — that’s another two years before Jesus can go back to work and we can try to pay off some debt we’ve accrued over the last few years.
“I went back to work both times before I had my six-week checkup. I hadn’t been medically cleared to lift things, and I had to go back to work. Having a little more time, parents have the ability to bond with their kids. In our case, we thought we could make child care work between the two of us. (Paid leave) would have given us a little more more leeway and breathing room to figure out a different plan. But I had already gone back to work, and there was no spare time to figure out a plan B or C.
“I might not have it all, but I have it better than a lot of people. OK, yes, we’ve racked up a lot of debt. And yes, it sucks that my husband is stuck at home with the kids all day and we don’t have that income and we’re not able to save money. It’s always hard for me to to be like, ‘I want subsidized anything,’ because we have it pretty good. Do we need help? We do need child care. We both slept an hour and a half last night with a sick kid, (and) our 2-year-old doesn’t sleep ever. If we got a day care facility for the kids, we could have taken a nap this morning. Been refreshed enough to actually care for our children, instead of, to be really honest, they’re probably going to end up in front of Ms. Rachel this evening, because we’re gonna be too worn out to do anything, and I won’t be home till midnight.”