By Dani Jansen
At my six-week post-partum checkup, I remember wondering how American moms could be heading back to work. I could barely sit on a hard surface! My baby still woke up three times a night! I was (and am) amazed at the strength of these moms.
Now, as I come to the end of my year-long maternity leave, I find myself wondering how my friends in cities like Toronto and Calgary afford childcare. You see, I live in Quebec, where daycare is subsidized. I think of people paying upwards of $100 a day for childcare in other major cities, and I know for a fact that we couldn’t afford to have a kid if we lived elsewhere.
So what does affordable daycare mean to me? Basically, it means everything.
Mental health. I’ve written before about suffering from post-partum depression and anxiety. Once I started feeling better, my therapist encouraged me to think about how I could face upcoming challenges. The biggest challenge I could think of? Working full time while parenting. Thanks to an understanding employer and reasonable daycare fees, I will be going back to work at 70%. That wiggle room means my anxiety about being a good parent and a good teacher feels manageable. In fact, I’m looking forward to getting back to work. Mostly. (Does any teacher look forward to grading?)
Choice. We visited seven daycares in our search for the right fit. In Quebec, you can send your child to a Centre de la petite enfance (CPE), which offers reduced-contribution spaces for parents. You can also send your child to a subsidized home daycare. Or, as we ultimately decided, you can choose a private daycare and receive a tax credit to help offset the cost. Our daycare is $36 a day, but we receive almost half of that back every month as part of the tax credit. What’s important is that we were able to choose a daycare that suited our family instead of just trying to find a space we could afford.
Little luxuries. Thanks to the low cost of daycare, we can still afford to get the occasional latte. We can plan a trip east to visit the grandparents this summer. I can sign up for a yoga or dance class this winter. This may sound small, but it isn’t. Those little luxuries are sometimes the only things that see me through our too-long, too-dark winters.
Balance. I’m currently working on the second draft of a novel. I thought I’d get a lot more work done during my maternity leave. (Why, yes, I am a first-time parent. Is it so easy to tell?) I completed my first round of edits on weekends and during the occasional baby nap. But I’m excited this month to edit while the little guy goes to daycare part time. And I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find some time when I go back to work to finish the edits and send the manuscript. (I’m less excited about the inevitable rejection letters.) This wouldn’t happen if I had to work full time just to pay for the baby’s daycare. It’s important to find balance between family, work, health and creative pursuits.
I strongly, deeply and wholly feel that affordable daycare should be available to everyone. Young families are already burdened by increased housing, education and living expenses. Add to that the exorbitant cost of childcare, is it any wonder that many people are choosing not to have children? Or that young families are so indebted? Or that single-parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line? Or that parents (often moms) are forced to leave rewarding careers?
I’ll say it again: affordable childcare is EVERYTHING.