Jewish Childcare – Sorting The Options

With both mom and dad in the workforce, young Jewish professionals are faced with an important challenge – what to do about childcare? Grandma? Live in? Au Pair? Can I afford it? Yonah Wolf sorts out the options.
As a young Jewish professional with a budding family, it seems that every conversation that I have with my peers revolves around two things – our children, and the high cost of living as a Jew in our area. (Sometimes we combine the two, and talk about tuition costs). Although many women in our parents’ generation (and even more so in our grandparents generation) were stay at home moms, their numbers are dwindling, as we and our spouses find the need for both of us to work to enable us to live comfortably – if not just to make ends meet. With home prices in a ‘walk to all’ Jewish neighborhood exceeding $500,000 in many neighborhoods, and tuitions topping $10, 15, and even $20,000 in some cases (and that’s just for 1st grade, let alone college) many couples are finding a greater need for two incomes. With both mom and dad in the workforce, our generation is faced with a new dilemma – what to do about childcare?

First, does it pay?
The first question you need to ask yourself does childcare pay – literally. Although it may be obvious that childcare doesn’t pay if it costs almost as much as one of your salaries, there are many other things that you need to consider – like taxes, logistics, and time. For example, if you make $80K and your spouse makes $50K and child care costs you $30K, it may seem worth it for both of you to work for that extra $20,000 a year, but when you account for the income tax differences between the two (between $10 and $15K), it almost becomes a wash. Granted, some of you may need even that $5,000, that’s why you need to take a look at your individual needs and/or other possible career changes or flexibility in your position, to help you best meet the need. For example, that same couple above might be better suited to having the $50K earner to work 3 days a week at $30K and then pay for childcare for just three days a week. I also appeal to the men out there – if your wife is an attorney making $160,000/year and you are a school teacher only earning $40,000 a year, you may want to consider becoming a stay-at-home Dad. Once you get over the stigma you will find it rewarding and will better appreciate your children. The Internet has also made it even easier to start a business at home – be it day trading, selling merchandise, or simply offering services you can perform in your own home via the web, you may find this to be an opportune time to start your own business.

Of course more and more dual-income couples are comprised of two professionals, and the economics here don’t come into play, because both of you make significantly more than the cost of childcare, and given the expenses you have (mortgage, car(s), tuition) you definitely need the money – that being said, how do you choose childcare that works for you?

What are my options?
There are several childcare options available, each with its pros and cons, and each fits different needs and lifestyles. Here are some of the most common options, and some brief information about each.

The Grandma Option
There have been a whole host of studies done on the value of childcare provided by a family member. If one or both of your parents or in-laws don’t work, and they’re willing to act as a nanny, this might be a good option for you. Your children will have an opportunity to bond with their grandparents, and will be given the type of love and attention that can only be provided by a family member. There are, however, some possible downsides to this option – such as when grandma or grandpa wants some time off. Another deterrent is if your spouse may not want either your parents and/or their parents raising your children for ideological reasons. But if it seems to fit for you, this is probably one of the best options out there.

The Day Care Option
Day care is a great option that will enable your child to interact with other children at a very young age and develop the necessary social skills that they wouldn’t get if they stayed at home with a relative or a babysitter. Because day care centers have full-time dedicated staffs, you will never be left in the lurch — as you would be if your babysitter got sick or quit. Day care also has toys and activities that you may not be willing to bring into your home (like finger paints, for example) However, you will need to have job flexibility or a backup plan if your child gets sick – very few day care centers have accommodation for sick children, and many have policies that require a child to be fever-free for 24-to-48 hours before they can come back to daycare after being ill. In addition, where you might raise your babysitter/nanny’s salary a small percentage as you have more children, you will need to pay the same tuition for each child in day care – i.e. two kids effectively doubles your day care costs, where you may pay a babysitter only 20-30% more. That being said, day care might work if you only need one child in day care (either you only have one child, or all of your older children are in school).

Several large companies will offer subsidized on-site or near-site day care for their employees, while others will offer a limited amount of emergency day care as well (for example, friends of mine at a large bank get 10 children-days of day care per year). Supposedly, some of these centers will even accommodate sick kids too. (Although I don’t know any offhand) It definitely pays to check with your HR department to find out if such plans are available to you through your company. Having a child on site means that you also have the opportunity to check in on them during your lunch break as well.

The Live-In Option
Having a live-in nanny is not for everyone. First and foremost, you need to have the space for them; secondly you need to understand that they are sharing your home with you, which will require you to sacrifice some of your personal privacy. However there are significant advantages to having a live-in. One of the key benefits is that during the week, you will never have to worry about your nanny coming late to work, because he/she lives with you. You can also stipulate that the job includes occasionally babysitting ‘after hours’ so that you can get a chance to go out once in a while at night without having to hire a separate baby sitter. Of course the downsides to this include losing privacy in your own home. No longer is walking around in underwear acceptable. You have also become someone’s full-time employer which means that you have a whole other host of things to do – like determine their vacation, pay day and method, and agree upon their working hours. All things being told, this works great if you have the space and can handle the privacy issues.

The Live-Out and/or Pay-by-the-hour Option
This option includes babysitters that work for you full-time or part-time but don’t live in your home. Obviously you don’t need to house them, nor do you have them invading your privacy at night. The part-time option works well if you work part-time or if you only need part-time help (i.e. your kids are all in school, but you need someone to watch them between the time school gets out and the time you normally get home). In most cases their pay will be slightly higher per hour than that of a live-in. If you are going to go this route, make sure to get someone reliable, because if he or she doesn’t show up on time, you will need to explain to your boss while you were late.

The Au Pair Route
Au Pairs are essentially foreign college students looking to spend a year or two in the USA where they can earn some money by working in childcare and go to college during their off times. They are limited, in most cases, to 45 hours of work per week and a maximum of 10 hours a day, they also live with you full-time, including weekends, and depending on your arrangements with them, may also need access to a car when they’re off duty. Unless you leave the house at 8:30 and come home at 5:30, an Au Pair is probably not the best childcare solution if your children are home all day long. But if your children are in school and you need childcare coverage for a couple of hours each day, or if you work part-time (say 3 days a week) and you want your child to be exposed to someone from a foreign country and/or culture, an Au Pair might be a good option (you can even request a Jewish nanny or one from Israel too!) One more thing about au pairs – they are only here for one or two years, which means that you shouldn’t expect them to become a full-time, long-term nanny.

With the exception of some speculative math at the beginning of this article, I haven’t really included any costs here, and that is with good reason: Childcare costs vary significantly between the type of childcare and your location, and where your nanny lives in relation to you. Just from straw-polling my friends, I know that they pay significantly less for childcare in Bergen County, NJ then we do in Westchester, NY, not more than 15 miles away. I also know that individuals who moved with their nannies up to Westchester from Manhattan pay significantly more that those who first hired their nannies up here. This means that you will need to do some research and/or shopping to get a good idea of your costs.

Determining which is the best fit
Ultimately, you and your spouse need to find the childcare situation that works best for the two of you and you childcare needs. As I’ve outlined above, different kinds of childcare work best in different situations, and clearly the childcare needs of a couple with their first child vary tremendously from those of a family with 3 grade-school-age children that come home 2 hours before mom and dad. In closing, I hope that I have provided you with a starting point to figure out what your options are and move you one step further towards making that determination.

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