I remember having a conversation with my hairdresser several months ago about how different it is to raise a family these days. Growing up in Vietnam, she’s one of about nine kids. Nine! She told me that the kids were largely left to their own devices and the older siblings would take care of their younger brothers and sisters. That kind of dynamic, especially with that many kids, is largely unthinkable by modern western standards. And a lot of that has to do with high childcare costs.

Many people are getting married later in life (myself included) compared to previous generations, and many couples delay having kids (if they decide to have children at all). Especially in cities with a higher cost of living, trying to absorb the additional cost of raising a child can be remarkably challenging. And scary.

What Do You Do?

Curious about the typical childcare situation in other families, I turned to social media for some insight. When I posted the poll on Facebook, I offered four options that I thought encompassed the majority of cases. I allowed users to select multiple options as applicable (several did), and I also allowed them to add new poll options if their situation was different (no one did).

The four options were:

  • One (or both) parents stay home full time
  • Staggered parental schedules
  • Daycare, nanny or equivalent
  • Help from extended family (grandparents, etc.)

Which childcare solution do you think received the most votes? Which dynamic best describes the situation in your family?

The Most Common Childcare Solution

Going into this, I had anticipated that daycare (and other similar situations) would be the dominant choice. As it turned out, only about 21% of the votes went to daycare. The most common option, at about 35% of responses, was that one (or both) parents stayed home to care for the kids full-time.

To be fair, and in full disclosure, I posted this poll in a Facebook group populated by dad bloggers, so my sample is likely somewhat skewed. I can’t say for certain, but I’d imagine the percentage of stay-at-home dads in this group is higher than the general population.

Preschool and daycare

Perhaps the most striking observation I can glean from my highly unscientific study is that no single response overwhelmingly stood out from the rest. In addition to the 35% with a stay-at-home parent full time, and the 21% of daycare users, about 28% took advantage of staggered work schedules and 16% have help from extended family. Realistically, most families end up using some sort of combination of options.

How We Make It Work

Speaking for our own situation, I work from home full time, so I almost qualify as a full-time stay-at-home dad. That said, I do try to get most of my work done while my wife is home (staggered work schedules) and my mom watches over Addie a fair bit too (help from extended family). Outside of the couple of hours that Addie spends at preschool twice a week, we don’t rely on any outside daycare or nanny.

Prior to parenthood, we were told so many times how babies are expensive. And they can be, but they don’t have to be if you’ve got a good support network and you make some frugally-minded decisions. At the same time, I recognize that our situation is one of privilege where I can stay home full time and we can rely on my mom to help out. Not everyone is so lucky.

Fellow dad blogger Nick Downey is able to save on childcare costs by working a different schedule than his wife does. Dual incomes are a necessity for a lot of families, so they make it work. However, this leads to a different problem: “My wife works mornings, I work evenings. I haven’t seen her in about 4 years.”

Making the Tough Sacrifices

In a separate thread on Facebook, several parents were comparing childcare costs in terms of how much they spend on daycare (and after school care). From those who responded, the typical range was somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500 a month, resulting in an annual expenditure of about $15,000. In some cases, this was pushing close to $20,000.

If you were to extend this to a couple of kids in full-time care, you can see how it becomes increasingly compelling for one parent to stay home full time. We have to remember that you’re paying for daycare in after-tax dollars. To get to about $40,000 in net income (to cover two kids), you need almost $50,000 in gross income.

It would be both utterly unfair and completely unrealistic to rely solely on the powers of Supermom to make this whole child-rearing thing work. The truth is parenthood can be very draining — physically, emotionally and financially. But you have no choice but to figure out how to keep things moving forward.

What does the childcare situation look like in your family? How do you make it work?