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The trials and tribulations of working parents

Affording the high costs of daycare

By Brian Kreissl

My wife and I basically work opposite shifts and share one vehicle in order to avoid paying daycare costs for our daughter. We do this because daycare is so expensive and because we’re lacking in any real support network to look after our daughter when she isn’t in school.

Neither of us has family living close by, so we’re pretty much on our own. And even though we would need daycare for only a few hours most days and during school holidays if my wife were to work during the day, many daycare providers consider that a space anyway and would therefore charge full price (or close to it).

My wife works mostly night shifts in a group home – mainly on weekends. However, on Monday mornings and occasionally on other days she comes home around 9:30 a.m., and I take the car and go into work a bit later. I also occasionally work from home and take transit fairly often because we only have the one car.

It isn’t a perfect arrangement, but it actually works out quite well for us right now. The good thing is my wife normally gets to have at least some sleep at her work; she is there mainly to keep an eye on her clients, support them and ensure nothing goes wrong. Both of us get to work full-time (even though my wife is officially classified as part-time), we have no daycare costs and at least one of us is always there for our daughter (and our dog, for that matter).

But there are definite sacrifices. It sometimes feels like we’re passing ships in the night, and it does have a negative impact on our social lives.

It can be very difficult to deal with our logistical challenges we face as a family – particularly with one car living in a not very walkable or transit-friendly suburban location. Because of that, I often have to rush home or face a long and expensive commute by transit if my wife needs the car or my daughter has an activity to attend.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I realize how lucky we are not to have daycare costs. My wife lucked out in landing the job she has, and I’m also very fortunate to have such a flexible and understanding employer and manager.

While we’re hardly rich, between the two of us we probably have an above average household income. And we actually live in an area of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where house prices are comparatively reasonable.

Hard to make ends meet

Having said all that, I have no idea how most families with young children actually manage to make ends meet. Even considering we only have one child and we aren’t exactly destitute, I literally don’t know how we would manage to afford daycare without major sacrifices.

How people of relatively modest means with three or four children actually manage to survive is beyond me. Even with both parents working full-time, it must feel like one of them is working just to pay for daycare – and that’s not even considering the added costs of running two cars.

Obviously, some people with young children can rely on their parents or other family members to act as daycare providers. But with so many people delaying retirement these days or being uninterested in basically looking after their grandchildren as a full-time job (in many ways, who would blame them?), that isn’t an option for most working parents.

Some families do have one parent scale back their careers to raise their kids. However, it doesn’t seem fair to have so many bright, career-minded and ambitious women in particular put their careers on the back burner because of a shortage of affordable quality daycare.

But not having children isn’t the answer either. Having children is healthy for society and the economy. We can’t have a rapidly aging population where there simply aren’t enough working people to support all of the retirees, nor can immigration be the source of all new entrants into the labour force.

While it is good government policy to encourage people to have more children, they aren’t as likely to do so without reliable and affordable daycare options. I personally believe governments and employers should do more to help working families, but what should that look like?

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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