Daycare is worth every penny

by Government Worker FI | Last Updated: January 15, 2020

I participated in my first Twitter battle last week, launched by this Tweet.

Image of a Tweet stating the cost of childcare was over $45,000

I limited my participation to a few Tweets I deleted shortly after posting and instead blocking the person I replied to. Nobody wins an argument. (that’s an affiliate link) It’s just hard not to hit reply to blatant nonsense sometimes.

While I chose not to interact with the Twitter trolls, it appeared that most of the arguments came from people without children. I learned that people without kids believe they know how to raise children better than actual parents. Their arguments were basically:

  1. Stephanie made a bad financial decision because she spent “too much” of her income on daycare
  2. Stephanie was missing out on a great opportunity to bond with her children

Although my numbers are different, Stephanie and I both spend well over five-figures a year in daycare. And she has written two great articles about how daycare spending has affected her finances. (We also wrote very similar articles about how “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” often leaves out a lot of details. We are basically twins).

Clearly not everyone understands why we willingly part with massive sums of money each year on childcare. I felt like I needed to write a post talking about what a great value daycare is to explain it to people who have never paid for it. (Although I still wish I had the opportunity to take federal employee paid parental leave)

Daycare is worth every penny because sometimes parenting is tough

The comments that made me most angry on Twitter were the comments that implied that spending time with children was a magical experience where you sat home with your kid and played educational games and imparted “your values” to them. 

I’m not even sure what my values are sometimes, so I’m not sure how I can teach them to children. I’m sure if I had to list values, I’d write down some rote bullshit like “Jesus, hard work, Jürgen Klopp’s joie de vivre, and the one time I scored a ‘Callahan’ in ultimate Frisbee.” But most of the time when I parent I walk around with my head down looking at my phone, or daydream about eating nachos, or wish I were at the gym, or really anywhere. Unfortunately, those habits are probably the values my kids are actually learning by watching me. 

If I had to list values, I’d write down some rote bullshit like “Jesus, hard work, Jürgen Klopp’s joie de vivre, and the one time I scored a ‘Callahan’ in ultimate Frisbee.” But most of the time when I parent I walk around with my head down looking at my phone.

Sometimes parenting can be a soul-sucking nightmare. I love my kids. They are well behaved. We get complimented all the time about what a “nice family” we have . That all feels like a fancy veneer or a candy-coating over the chaos that is a family of five. There are many times I feel trapped in the house with “little emperors”. They run around, make insane demands, and then hurt themselves or others when I say “no”. 

As much as I want to be a super kind, compassionate Dad, often parenting makes me retreat into a protective shell when I’m around the kids. There is no value-transfer taking place. It is simply me just emotionally sheltering myself.

There are many times I feel trapped in the house with ‘little emperors’. They run around, make insane demands, and then hurt themselves or others when I say “no”

Daycare is worth every penny because it makes me a better parent

Ironically, daycare makes me a better parent. While I’m sure whoever said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was writing about romanitc love, it’s also true for fatherly love. I can’t think about how many times I’ve remarked to my wife that, “we have good kids… when they are asleep”. It’s a similar story while I’m at work. When I’m outside of the pressure-cooker that is parenting, I’m able to reflect on all of the reasons I love my kids. That in turn makes me want to put more energy into our relationship when I am with them.

Mr. Burrito Bowl did a great job of describing what a disaster parenting can be when you’re in the moment. As a father of three, I can relate to that sentiment, I only want to add that the chaos gets more intense when they can talk and have opinions about their world. My kids constantly interrupt each other and then get angry at each other over the interruptions. Hasn’t anyone in my family noticed that it’s been years since I’ve even said a single sentence at the dinner table?? (No! They’re all too busy shouting over one another about who they sat next to at lunch).

“Just a shell”

Rat Race Reject described parenting as feeling like the outside shell of a croissant. 

Tweet from rat race reject describing parenting as making her feel like the empty shell of a croissant.

What parent doesn’t understand that feeling? When spending time with my kids has gotten to the point where I feel like an empty-shell of a croissant, I’m not able to generate magical learning experiences with them. I’m just trying to hold it together without screaming or crying until I can get a break. Sending the kids to daycare/school allows me to step back, remember who I am (outside of my role as a parent) and then bring back positive energy when I am with them. 

Sending the kids to daycare/school allows me to step back, remember who I am (outside of my role as a parent) and then bring back positive energy when I am with them.

When I don’t get those breaks (when school is out or I’m with a sick kid) I desperately miss them. When I do get breaks and am able to come at parenting with more energy- that’s where the magic happens.

kids in front of the field museum
Magical family time. A rare occurrence.

Daycare is worth every penny because it is an investment in their education

Kids learn a lot between the ages of 1-5. They learn how to walk, run, climb, and ride bicycles. My daughters grew from barely speaking three words to talking in complete paragraphs during that time. In fact, kids probably learn more between the ages of 1-5 than they do from kindergarten through high school. 

Daycare is worth every penny because it is an investment in their education. Could I teach my children basic self-care skills? Sure. I could. But I don’t have any training in doing so. And given my frenetic life as a parent, I don’t prioritize teaching self-care to my kids. It’s hard to calmly teach proper social etiquette when one of your kids is hitting your other kid with the toy she just stole. Daycare teachers are trained to deal with tiny sociopaths. Most parents are not. 

Daycare teachers are trained to deal with tiny sociopaths. Most parents are not.

Our Daycare Experiences

My children went to daycare for five years before starting school and they flourished once they reached “real” elementary school. They knew how to use scissors. And they knew how to get their snowpants and other winter gear on by themselves (surprisingly difficult, but necessary in the icy North in which we live). My kids made friends easily and they thrived academically. They did so because they had great teachers to guide them to the first day of Kindergarten. Yes, my wife and I were two of those teachers, but there were also Mrs. Penny, Sandy, Jolene, and Randi who provided them with awesome play-based learning activities every day and taught them how to solve their own problems.

(As I’ve admitted before my style of ‘teaching’ my kids to solve their problems is basically just to make them feel worse about their shortcomings until they get angry at me enough to show me wrong.) If I were my children’s only teacher I’m sure we’d all be in intensive therapy.

So yes. Daycare is an investment in my children’s education. It’s not the only way to teach pre-school aged children. I’m all for DIY if you want to DIY. But we’re happy to pay for professionals to educate our children. 

Here is an analogy. My wife and I *could* teach our daughters to play the piano. However, we hire a piano teacher to do so. The children are learning from a trained professional. We fight less with the kids about practicing because we’ve separated the role as parent from the role as educator. And the children have another adult in their lives that cares about them. Hiring a piano teacher doesn’t make me less of a parent. Neither does hiring a teacher for my youth under 5 years old.

What are your daycare thoughts? Let me hear it!