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.
In order to show you 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.
Michelle Dewalt of Washington with her two children.
Name: Michelle Dewalt
Children’s Ages: 3 years old and 7 months old
Location: Shoreline, Washington
Annual household income: $60,000
Monthly take-home pay: The couple takes home approximately $4,200 per month. Dewalt’s husband brings in about $3,000 per month, and Dewalt brings in another $300 each week as a part-time nanny.
Child care costs: The family pays $215 a month for three weekly sessions of 2.5 hours at a child care co-op, which also requires Dewalt to work a regular shift.
Child care plan: Dewalt is the primary caregiver for her two children. Because her husband works four 10-hour shifts a week, he is also home one weekday to help. In addition, Dewalt’s parents sometimes assist with child care.
“I rent from my parents, and that has worked out really well for the most part. They turned their downstairs basement into a mother-in-law [apartment] a few years ago. When we got pregnant in 2020, my husband and I knew that we were going to probably need help. It just kind of worked out that their renters at the time were moving out, and so we moved in towards the end of 2020, right around when our [first] son was born. And we haven’t left. Having grandparents around — it’s been invaluable.”
“We go to [a child care] co-op three days a week, 2 1/2 hours each time. I accompany [my 3-year-old] usually two days a week. Technically, I’m allowed to drop him off one or two days a week, but we haven’t really gotten to that point yet, of him being ready.” Aside from these hours at the co-op, both of her children are always with her, even when she is caring for other children as a nanny.
“[The kids I nanny for] come to my house, so it’s actually worked out pretty well for me. If it was more of a full-time nanny job, I’d go to the family. They’re part time, and they’re friends of mine as well. It’s just a little bit more informal.”
Work arrangements: “Currently I’m a stay-at-home mom but also a part-time nanny. I nanny part time for two families. One family I’ve been with for, off and on, about four years. I was also a nanny for a friend of mine last year, and then they had a kiddo at the same time as [me]. So I’ve been nannying part-time, one day a week for their youngest daughter with mine. That’s been going well. I work part-time about three days a week right now.”
Dewalt worked as a nanny before becoming a parent herself. She has also held jobs at a day care center, as a dental assistant and at a toy store. Her husband works full-time for a recycling company, making about $45,000 a year.
“When I became a parent I knew that I wanted to try to do some nannying on the side part time. It just made the most sense. A lot of families are okay with you bringing your kid with you if you can find a similar age. Things changed quite a bit because of COVID. I wasn’t as comfortable doing that once he was born [during the pandemic]. So we took about a year to decide for me to go back to work. And in that time, we used up a lot of savings.”
“I knew I’d have to go back to work. Thankfully, a friend of mine needed child care, so that just kind of fell into place and I didn’t really have to look for a job. I don’t think it would have been that hard, but I always knew I’d have to go back to work along with having a kid, [to] try to find something flexible, part time.”
“Because I’ve been doing it for friends, I haven’t been charging as much as I normally would. I need to make more, I just haven’t bit that bullet yet. And [the baby, who is nursing] doesn’t take a bottle very well.”
“I think I was counting a little bit too much on my parents to watch the kids when I needed to work. My mom has set boundaries, which is great. I don’t want to take advantage of my parents’ time or generosity in any way. But I think I was hoping that they would have a little bit more time, and so it’s been a little trickier than I expected to have either enough downtime to do searching for jobs or actually having the availability with jobs.”
“Moving forward, I’d like to have a situation that is part time but allows me to work at least three or four days a week. Afternoon is the easiest time for me to be able to manage, and it’s easier for my parents, often. My husband usually gets home around 6:30 p.m., so he’s able to take over. Ideally, I get a job that I could take the kids with me. Something like working at maybe a play space [where] they would be okay with having the kids at least for an hour or two before I could hand them off.”
“I could ask for more if I was a nanny, based on my experience, but when you have kids, you kind of have to prorate the rate if you want to ask to bring them along. I don’t have a college degree, so that really limits what I’m able to ask for any other job, or at least what people are willing to consider me for.”
What would help their family: “I thought about trying to get [the 3-year-old] into a full-time preschool, but I’m not sure if we qualify for subsidized care. And that’s what we would need. I have friends who have their kids in full-time day care, and for one child they’re paying $2,500 to $3,000 a month. I’d definitely like to get him into something more full-time next year, but I just don’t know how feasible it would be. If I did get a full-time job and put him in full-time preschool, then we would probably not qualify [for subsidized care] and so I would just be paying for child care. It wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t even think we’d break even, to be honest.”
The Washington state Early Childhood Education And Assistance program offers free preschool for children ages 3-4 to families whose incomes are at or below 36% of the state median income. For a family of four like Dewalt’s, the gross income (pre-tax) limit would be $3,450 a month.
“Universal preschool would be incredible, instead of having something you have to jump through a million hoops to sign up for. To have preschool that is guaranteed, subsidized, without having to necessarily prove income, would be just marvelous, even if it’s three days a week. Inexpensive or free or subsidized child care, guaranteed, would be the most amazing thing ever. Beyond just grandparents, you know? It’s not fair to grandparents, it’s not fair to moms. It would save a lot of mental health, I think, for parents to have more of a system like France does. Knowing that there’s child care provided, that my kid is taken care of in a safe, well-funded, appropriate environment, would take a huge weight off my shoulders.”
“As a child care provider, to stay in a position, it would need to have substantial pay in order to make it feasible for me to leave my family. One of the day cares that I used to work for actually provides free tuition for their kids. So that has allowed several friends of mine who work in that preschool to have their kid in that preschool. They’ve retained those teachers.”
“I would love to provide child care for more families. It’s a matter of being able to take my kid with me, or making sure that they have quality care. I think that’s a very feasible and important way that the day cares could keep their employees a lot longer. So potentially, I could do that. I could go back to work at that preschool — it’s just a matter of spots available, because there’s just a limited amount.”