The cost of caring

Mothers feel pressure from pandemic on childcare, income and education

Laura Jean Schneider ljschneider@ptleader.com 
Posted 9/1/21

Christie Boyd, who works just under full-time at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, is a recent transplant from Ashland, Oregon. 

Her husband and two children, aged 4 and 7, have been …

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The cost of caring

Mothers feel pressure from pandemic on childcare, income and education

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Christie Boyd, who works just under full-time at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, is a recent transplant from Ashland, Oregon. 

Her husband and two children, aged 4 and 7, have been in Port Townsend for a little over a year. She brings 14 years of teaching experience to the community, and loves her job. 

But Boyd is not resplendent with superpowers. 

She cannot be both in the classroom, attending to her students, and at home, caring for a 4-year-old, and gathering all the loose ends of life together in a neat knot.

Not on her own. And it’s an epic and exhausting struggle to balance life’s daily demands amid an ongoing global pandemic.

Last year, when COVID hit, Boyd’s husband was employed as a full-time construction worker, and she was able to keep her job as a teacher.  

“We were both really lucky to have jobs,” she said. 

They were fortunate to find a caregiver they liked, she said, but not for long. Boyd was left in the lurch when her at-home help announced she was leaving on a fishing boat in less than two weeks.

They simply couldn’t find a replacement they could afford, and ended up relying heavily on Boyd’s mother for help.

Interviews with possible caregivers left Boyd discouraged. 

The pervasive attitude, she recalled, seemed to be, “I can do better than this.”

“We paid less for childcare in Ashland,” Boyd recalled. 

“People know they can get more here,” she added.

She hasn’t found anyone who will babysit for under $15 an hour, including high school students.  The nanny who left them stranded charged $16 an hour; Boyd’s husband took home $18 an hour. 

The couple wondered whether it was worth it to have him working full-time for just $2 an hour. 

Ultimately, they decided it was, for another reason.

“For your own sanity,” Boyd said.

MAKING LESS, DOING MORE

Like Boyd, a lot of moms have ended up working from home and teaching their kids. 

When schools switched to virtual classrooms, she taught from home. It made sense that guiding her barely 6-year-old through online classes would be her responsibility.

But finding equilibrium was often nothing short of nightmarish. 

The restlessness of the kids was palpable, she said, they were anxious for connection.

Boyd described the atmosphere of her house as a swirl of stress. 

There was her own work, kinder-schooling, and the overall panic adding a particular slant to everything. 

As a teacher, it was difficult to see her daughter constrained to Zoom school for four to five hours a day, starting to “hate school before she had a chance to love it.” 

With summer came some respite, but as the upcoming school year loomed, with no childcare in sight, Boyd’s family made a radical decision. 

Her husband will be working three days a week this fall, instead of five, using the wee hours of Thursday and Friday to study for his home inspector’s license. Then he’ll wrap up in time to pick up his son at 1 p.m. and his daughter at 2:40 p.m.

“We have a little bit of a financial buffer,” Boyd said. 

In the meantime, they are all counting on the extra income her husband will make in the future to eventually equalize their income. 

Boyd empathized with fellow moms of young children who aren’t as fortunate as she is.

“Mothers out there are not working because we don’t know what’s happening this year,”  she said. 

And if schools close from in-person classes once again, women will need to quit their jobs to be at home anyway. 

“Everyone needs some kind of childcare,” she added.

“The emotional labor of caring for kids has fallen on women,” Boyd said.

THE COST OF A PAYCHECK 

Meagan Ryan, a stay-at-home mom to a 3-year-old daughter in Port Townsend, agreed.

“Childcare options in Jefferson County have always been incredibly slim,” Ryan said. 

She’s not exactly surprised at the growing wait lists at every daycare provider in the area.  

Ryan noted that since the start of the pandemic, there hasn’t been any childcare growth in the community, either.

Ryan said she has enjoyed being with her daughter at home during the pandemic. But after three years at home, she’s is excited to rejoin the workforce.

“The main challenge that this presented was the lack of childcare for my daughter,” she said. 

“Preschool hours are limited and do not coincide with my new work hours,” she said. 

“All the preschools in Jefferson County have a wait list. So, not only would I have to find someone to pick her up from preschool and drop her off, but I would need to find one that would even take her.”

Ryan doesn’t have family to help with her daughter. Now heading into the fall, Ryan and her husband estimate that their mortgage and childcare will be their “two main bills, which are similar in cost.”

“I think childcare is a huge issue with working families,” she said. “Why would I take a job that pays as much as my childcare costs?”  

NO ROOM AT THE INN

Helping Hands Child Care, a daycare in Port Townsend, has a waitlist of five to 10 children, Janet Nolan said Thursday. 

“It’s impossible to know how many people are going to stay on the waitlist,” she added, with the flux in parents’ jobs and schedules. 

Firefly Academy Preschool, also in Port Townsend, had a few spots open up just this week for exactly the same reasons, said Laura Faber. 

“There was a big waitlist for summer,” Faber said.

There was also an early fill-up for fall.

Childcare for 2-1/2-year-olds to 6-year-olds starts at $600 per child per month.

Daycare owner Mallory Cassell repeated the warning she has had to tell some parents: “I don’t know if you’ll ever find a place for three kids.”

“I tell everyone I meet who likes kids they should start a daycare,” Cassell added.

Her facility in Chimacum, Dragonfly Daycare, has been full for the nearly three years that she’s been in business. 

The soonest opening?  

September 2023.

A representative for Cedarbrook Early Learning Center in Port Hadlock-Irondale advised women to get on an infant care waitlist “as soon as you know you’re pregnant.”

There is currently a solid six-month or more wait for almost every age group, from infant to school age. It’s the highest demand that Cedarbrook Early Learning Center has ever had.

Looking for independent sitters? A quick search of care.com, a vetted childcare provider website, showed seven local caregivers with a median fee of $24 hourly. Washington states’ average hourly median wage is $21.77 an hour, and the minimum wage is $13.86 in Jefferson County.

SINGLED OUT

Emily Pryor has been a nurse for 23 years and a mom for over 14. She juggles a full-time job and three school-age children. 

The pandemic has affected her family uniquely; once folks found out she was in healthcare, no one would watch her children. 

Her employer, Jefferson Healthcare, offered to pay 50 percent of employee childcare cost, which has been “incredible,” Pryor said. 

“I would like to see [that] forever.”    

Currently, with her employer covering half of the family’s childcare costs, she pays $700 out of pocket, and $2,000 a month for rent. The money she’s saving on childcare is going toward food. 

“The cost … is crazy,” Pryor said.

“If you want your kids at home, there really aren’t options,” she said. 

“Last summer, I had some teenagers, I would pay them $80 a day.” 

They fed her kids candy and kept the TV on all day while they watched YouTube, Pryor recalled. 

“It wasn’t enriching,” Pryor said.

There was some talk of co-caring with other parents, but that did not work out, she said. 

Pryor credits the YMCA as the most important local childcare resource, and “her only choice.”

The staff has been positive, and connects well with her 7-year-old daughter.  

Still, it’s expensive. 

“I pay for five days a week, even when she’s not there,” Pryor said. 

Pryor works four, 10-hour days.

Even before the pandemic, Pryor felt she was living paycheck to paycheck. 

“As a single mom, I’ve felt like that for a long time now,” she said softly. “You can’t really get ahead, because you never have any extra at all.”

Ultimately, though, the weight on her mind is keeping her children safe. 

“I’ve heard of kids living out of cars or tents [here], which is no place for a kid to be,” she said.

“Do you have childcare for them is a number-one thought.”

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