What have you sacrificed for daycare?

In light of today’s news that Toronto parents camped out overnight to get a daycare spot, Sandra ponders the strain — financial and otherwise — that we all face at some point.

Sandra E. Martin 0

Photo by njxk via Flickr.

Not too many news media outlets have picked up on this story, but parents who tweet certainly have: A number of Toronto parents are so desperate to secure a daycare spot for their kids that they camped out overnight by the doors of Howard Park Children’s Centre in the city’s High Park neighbourhood. There were only six spaces available — hence the extreme measures.

Even if you’ve never gone to such physical lengths to figure out your child’s care situation, you’ve probably gone outside your comfort zone in one way or another.

For many, it’s financial. I’ll never forget my friend Mary’s reaction when I told her how much I was paying for Bronwyn’s daycare, back when she was a toddler. The monthly sum, seven years ago now, was more than my mortgage payment. “I couldn’t imagine that anything would cost more than my mortgage!” she gasped. And our daycare isn’t even among the most expensive in the city. Because it’s affiliated with a college’s Early Childhood Education program, we pay a little less than many. It isn’t uncommon for parents at licensed centres to shell out $2,000 a month or more for a spot in the infant room.

When Isobel came along, Bronwyn’s fee dropped a bit, as she had just started half-day kindergarten, and the ratio of kids to caregivers, by law, can go up a bit. But having two kids in daycare, especially when one of them is an infant, is a financial killer. That was the only time Matt and I leaned a little on our line of credit during occasional months when, say, we had to pay property tax and renew our automobile licence and there was an emergency repair to cover.

Now that both girls are in school — Bronwyn for full days, and Isobel every afternoon — our daycare bill is a little more manageable, but still mortgage-payment steep. We pay more than $1,400 a month in total (the amount varies with the number of calendar days in the month, and whether there are PA days or school breaks involved). We don’t have the option of choosing after-school care only for Bronwyn (which would save us a few bucks, as either Matt or I could certainly drop her off at 8:45 a.m., then head to work). We don’t have the option of taking summers or vacations off. In fact, fellow daycare parents who wish to put their kids into specialty summer camps end up double-paying — they have to foot the regular daycare bill, and the cost of camp, or they’ll lose their daycare spot.

I’ve talked to other friends who couldn’t afford a licensed centre, or who couldn’t get a spot, and put their kids in care they were less than 100 percent happy with, either because the location isn’t convenient, or the caregiver wasn’t as proactive as they would have liked or the kids were allowed to watch TV …the list of compromises goes on. A few former daycare parents have started dropping off their kids at 8:15 a.m. or earlier, to hang around the playground or in the halls. Some of the kids are younger than Bronwyn, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. But I lean a little on the worry-wart side, and am lucky enough to be able to suck up the cost for another year and a bit until Bronwyn is in Grade 6. (I think we’ll keep Isobel in the program, though; it’s a lot to ask a not-quite-11-year-old to be in charge of her not-quite-seven-year-old sister to and from school every day.)

Have you struggled with your daycare situation in one way or another? Maybe you found a solution that would help other parents. Either way, please share your experiences with us here.

Photo by njxw via Flickr.

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