The idea of a “group” is central to Abstract Algebra, a subject we teach to our math majors. In such a group, all members act in similar ways under a given operation, and all results from that operation are also members of the group. For example, integers, when added to integers, form new integers (but integers, when divided by integers, may not form new integers.) I found myself thinking of groups this past week when I learned that my neighbor was, in essence, switching groups. While she had been a “stay at home mom” for the first year and a half of her son’s life, she is now joining the ranks of “working mothers,” mothers who are members of the paid labor force. This is a group that now includes over seventy percent of mothers.
I was happy to hear that she found a job, and found one rather quickly, given the current state of the economy. With a Master’s Degree, she had actually taught for us once, but that was only for one class, and she was looking for a more permanent position. I was disappointed that I could not offer her one, but I also knew that she wanted a position with more stability than I could offer her. When I heard that she had found a job, I quickly congratulated her and wished her well. And then the conversations began about how she was going to do this.
The first thing we discussed was day care. What day cares did I recommend? I could provide some information, since my daughter has attended several different day cares, in different capacities. One she went to when she was young and needed day care during the workday, while another she went to as part of “aftercare” from her first school. And then there was a day care that offered a summer camp, which she attended for several years. Adding to that the day cares that I had looked into before I found our own day care, I was able to give her information about quite a few day cares in the area.
As we discussed the issue, some of the trade-offs involved in day care became apparent. There seemed to be a trade-off between quality and convenience. I remember the feeling of walking into what became my daughter’s day care, seeing the brightly painted walls and smiling teachers, and wishing that I could enroll there myself. After seeing that, I chose quality over convenience, and drove her twenty minutes in the wrong direction to get her to her day care before work started each day. I was lucky that my first class did not start until ten in the morning, so getting her to day care was not a problem for me. However, convenience was a big issue for my neighbor, and a constraint that she needed to address.
She was surprised that most day cares do not provide food for the price of tuition, which one might assume comes with the often hefty price that is charged. However, with so many children who have allergies, I could easily see that it had to be a parent’s responsibility to provide food that a child can safely eat. I remembered my desire to buy my daughter’s teachers a collection of cookies on her last day one year, and being told by the bakery that they could not guarantee that chocolate chip cookies, or the tools used to make them, had never come in contact with peanuts. I gave them something else, instead.
And then there is the issue of cost. The director of my daughter’s day care used to say that she was preparing us for the sticker shock of college. While I know that day care can be expensive, I don’t think it is as expensive as college is. Still, dealing with issues of day care reminded me that not only is parenting not for the faint of heart, it is also quite expensive.
I gave my neighbor all of the information I had to share, but I still think she was slightly overwhelmed by the decisions she needs to make in the next few weeks. And so, I ask my readers; what advice do you have to share with a woman who is re-entering the paid labor market after being out of it for some time?