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Your Family's Need for Childcare

Evaluate Your Results
Once you have figured out the financial benefit from both parents continuing to work, the more difficult part of the equation comes into play. Is the net cash benefit, the missed contributions to pension plans, 401(k)s, and Social Security, and the passed-up opportunities for advancement, plus the other, intangible advantages of working, worth the costs and sacrifices of continuing to work and placing your child with a day care provider?

For some families struggling to make ends meet, the net cash benefit is really the only consideration—they cannot afford the loss of income from one parent staying home to care for the child. In the case of single-parent families, there is not even a second income to give up.

It is hard to know ahead of time whether a long-term hiatus from outside employment would be right for you. For some people, staying home with their children sounds like a vacation. Trips to the zoo and walks in the park with your kids are great—who would not choose a day spent reading to your little one over eight hours at a desk job? The reality for the majority of us, however, is that full-time parenting at home is no picnic. Even being home for several months on a maternity or paternity leave will not give you a clear picture of life as a stay-at-home parent.

Dealing with the Guilty Parent Syndrome
Some parents may be guilt-ridden because they have chosen to work and have placed their children in a day care setting. Others feel guilty because they do not have the choice of staying home. Some segments of our society frown upon mothers working outside the home. Normal families are often portrayed as having a stay-at-home parent, typically the mother. This implies that two-income families are unusual or less desirable. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Children do well in life if they have high-quality childcare, and not as well if they are in lower-quality childcare. This, it would seem, is not a surprising result.

Working parents provide many benefits for their children beyond just the financial ones. Having working parents helps to instill a strong work ethic in children. Seeing their mothers work is a good thing for children. This is particularly the case for girls, who need positive female role models in many areas—including parenthood—to instill that they have choices as adults.

If you really feel that your children would be better off if you were home with them, but you still need your income to make ends meet, consider whether you can afford the compromise of part-time work. Flextime, the rearrangement of an employee's work hours to better suit the schedule of family responsibilities, is becoming a very common perk offered by companies to retain good employees. Job sharing, the splitting of a single shift or a work week by two employees, who each work part of the shift, is another option at a large number of companies.

Most importantly, remember that all children are different and will respond in their own way to a given situation. Many children thrive in a childcare setting where they are exposed to new experiences and have lots of other children with whom to play. Others benefit from having not just a set of parents who love them, but a nanny or another family member with whom they can also interact on a regular basis. The best advice is to follow your instincts in making childcare decisions.

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Copyright © 2005 by Linda H. Connell. Excerpted from The Childcare Answer Book with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

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