Child care costs and strict hours are crippling working parents, especially the single ones

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Child care costs and strict hours are crippling working parents, especially the single ones

Briana Williams, a young mom and recent Harvard Law grad, found child care costs crippled her bank account after just two months of working full-time.

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Briana Williams, Contributor Published 2:40 p.m. ET Dec. 4, 2018 | Updated 5:06 p.m. ET Dec. 4, 2018
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I started working full-time as an attorney when my daughter was 18 months old.

During the application process, I targeted firms that not only supported advancement opportunities but offered a competitive salary so that I could afford the kind of child care my daughter deserves.

I was no longer the law student who resorted to taking her baby with her to class. I confidently entered California’s fast-paced legal market. I thought the move would allow me to finally enroll my daughter in daycare. I strutted into the workforce with a career that promised me that I could, at the least, afford stability for my child.

Before working for even two months, I was already stressed about my finances.

I didn't have any new household bills and I’d been intentional about budgeting. Yet the more hours I worked, the less money I saved.

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It did not take long for me to isolate the black hole in my bank account: full-time child care.

I know that I am not alone in this situation.

The current child care model is suffocating, with its high costs and strict hours

The cost of child care has increased twice as fast as the median income of families since 2000, according to Child Care Aware of America .

Child care costs exceed $20,000 a year in 22 states , including Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Massachusetts parents pay the most, shelling out $34,381. Such rising costs can essentially cancel out entire salaries — even decent ones.

For single parents like me, child care is less an option than a necessity. If we don't work, there is no money. And, we spend a larger portion of our income on daycare (36 percent) than married couples (10 percent), according to Child Care Aware.

MORE: Parents pay as much for child care as housing, college tuition. What's a person to do?

Besides the high costs of care, the strict pick-up times are difficult to manage.

If I try to work longer hours, I am late for daycare pick-up and am charged $1 per minute after 6 p.m. Even worse, I arrive to the stretched arms of a tear-streaked child who understands feeling neglected and not the pressure of a project deadline.

Some two-income households can afford to have one parent stop working

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It is common for families who struggle to afford child care to decide that it is most reasonable to forego their dual-income altogether. After all, why have two people working when half of the income goes toward paying someone to watch your kids?

Sierra Winslow and her husband Austin both work so that they can eventually purchase a home for their growing family. Like many parents, including myself, it was difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that, though they both work tirelessly to contribute to their household expenses, they remain at a standstill because a large portion of their budget goes to their son’s daycare. Sierra said child care “is more than rent and even more than mortgage would be if [we] did own a house.”

Michael Riggins is another parent faced with the high cost of child care. He and wife Amber decided the solution was for her not to work.

“She was literally working just to pay for child care,” he said. “She may as well stay home.”

Single parents don't have that option

Staying home to avoid child care costs is not a solution for me.

If I decided to remain at home as a primary caretaker to my child in lieu of daycare expenses, then eventually there would be no home to remain in.

The idea that the alternative to the current child care model is to choose caretaking duties rather than work and pay someone else to do it excludes low-income households, single mothers and non-traditional family units. For many, there are no choices when it comes to confronting inflexible hours and high rates.

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MORE: Now a lawyer, single mom Harvard grad Briana Williams' next hurdle is mom guilt

Hoping change will come someday

I am not so naive to think that I can destroy the current child care framework altogether, but it is important to use the awareness of the system’s restrictions to encourage other parents not to give up on the idea of having a long-term career.

Instead of focusing on lost hours, I try to maximize my productivity when I am at the office. I will never be comfortable with paying such high costs for care, but eventually my daughter will attend school and I will not have to worry so much about that part of the budget. Until then, I can at least try to re-organize my finances so saving is still an option.

MORE: Daycare kids are better behaved than those who stay at home

If we recognize these limitations and communicate them, perhaps we start to change the current child care model to better support working families. And maybe even normalize a more child-oriented, inclusive work environment.

Briana Williams is a 24-year-old single mom who graduated Harvard Law School in 2018. Her story went viral after she posted a photo of herself receiving her diploma while holding her daughter. Williams is now an attorney in Los Angeles and contributor to All The Moms.

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Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.