What — and who — it takes to raise a family
Child care is one of the hardest, most expensive problems for parents to solve. Most employers offer insufficient paid leave, women still shoulder more responsibilities at home and struggle to rejoin the workforce if their jobs prove inflexible, and costs keep rising. Nationally, parents spend an average of nearly $10,000 per child on day care every year, the highest that figure has ever been. To better understand how people are coping, we asked six families — as well as their nannies, day-care providers, extended family members, and “mother’s helpers” — to explain how they’re caring for their children and how much they’re paying to do it.
I came to the U.S. when I was 3, and my parents have been here for 32 years. There are different parenting styles between Asian and American people. For Chinese people, etiquette is huge. Whenever we saw our family, we had to say hello to everybody: “Hi, Paw paw. Hi, Gung gung.” We go down the list and announce everyone’s name, according to seniority, all 17 people at the table. American children are not very polite; they don’t greet people at a party. Jen’s daughter MJ already greets everyone by name, but we have to remind her: “MJ, how come you didn’t say hi to me?” Sometimes she doesn’t want to, and we force her. It’s a tradition I want to continue with Theo.
After I gave birth, I did “the sitting month.” It’s the Chinese custom where, for a whole month after you give birth, you don’t leave the house and only eat certain food: pigs’ feet with vinegar and eggs, ginger rice chicken, soups. Anything cold is off-limits. You’re not supposed to wash your hair or take showers, and you’re supposed to stay warm and wear socks. The idea is that you get a lot of wind in your body when you give birth, so you’re susceptible to cold, and you’re trying to protect yourself from it. My mom noticed that I had a lot more energy than my sister, who didn’t do it.
We live a few blocks away from Yvonne’s parents. At first I was a little hesitant — like, What’s the point of even moving out? Are they going to try to come over every night for dinner or something? They’re more involved with Yvonne’s life than my parents are with mine, but they’re pretty respectful of our time, and they’ve been a huge help with Theo. Like all grandmothers, Yvonne’s mother knows how to get him to eat.
When Theo was first born, we put him in the baby box, and he would move around a lot. To keep him from moving and disturbing his sleep, her parents would put a small object on his chest. I had a mini-freakout to Yvonne. Then I read that there’s now research on weighted blankets, so I don’t second-guess them anymore. They raised two healthy daughters.
Yvonne’s younger sister, Mya Jane’s mother
The other day, my mom was trying to feed MJ before we left. MJ starts crying and screaming, and my dad comes in. I’m thinking, Here we go. Grandpa’s going to open a can of whup-ass. As a kid, my dad was always the mean one. And then he picks her up and says really nicely, “Oh, you need to promise Grandpa you’re going to eat your food or Grandpa isn’t going to take you on your bus ride with him.” It’s him with a way nicer, fuzzy filter.
Growing up, my sister and I used to try to have conversations in English. And they would yell: “No, you’re at home! You don’t speak English!” MJ will attempt to talk to them in English, and they just say in Chinese, “We don’t know what you’re saying.” If I say something about it, my dad will say, “Stop being jealous of a 3 1/2-year-old.”
The first time I had all the kids to myself was really scary — as a new mom, your biggest fear is making sure you don’t drop the baby. When the baby got to 6 months, I ran into a wall of laundry, work projects, all this household stuff. And my girls wanted to play.
I told my husband I was overwhelmed. He said, “Financially, we have everything to cover what you need. At my job, I manage a team. I don’t come home and say, ‘Hey, Eraina, can you help me manage my team?’ I need you to walk out everything you need.” “Walking it out” — it means to look at how to get from point A to point B, to put a plan in place and implement that plan. To project manage. It made me cry — I thought, How can my husband say this to me? But it was true.
I asked, What do I really want? I wanted the day to day with my kids, but what I also wanted was another body to help me when I’m here. One day my husband is in an Uber, and he asked the driver, “Do you know anyone who may do child care?” The driver said, “Actually, my wife and daughter.” So we ended up interviewing their daughter, Rean, who is a student at a local college. Now she’s also a mother’s helper. While my daughter Winnie is napping, Rean stays at home while she sleeps so I don’t have to lug her to do school pickup. She also gives me time to play with my other daughters, which allows me to be present.
I was a single mom to my eldest daughter, Taylor, for 12 years. Taylor is autistic and was born deaf. I had to go back to school one month after giving birth to her, which meant I had to place my trust in a home day care. When she was 10, I left Taylor with a classmate from graduate school and told her, “Don’t let her go take a bath.” I don’t trust people in that regard. It’s not safe. Later that day, I got a call from my school’s admissions director, who told me that Taylor was outside naked, walking into the street. Back then, I did a lot of things I had to do — I trusted others to keep my kids for too long, and now I don’t have to.
My philosophy on relationships and marriage has been: It’s two leaders. We’re the CEOs of a company, and my purview is to make sure I’m utterly crushing it every day at work, and I want Eraina to do the same thing at home.
What I try to communicate is, “We both have a huge responsibility, and mine isn’t greater than yours.” Even when Eraina was home with the girls and not doing much freelance work, I realized how much money she was saving our family because we weren’t paying for child care. Once we factor in what we’d consider to be acceptable child care, it’d come out to $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Then you add in the cost of after-care, commuting in Los Angeles — it’d get really expensive really quick. She could be out making a lot of money, but when you start to do the math, this is a huge contribution.
Rean Jerica Rondez
I’m the second oldest in my family, and from an early age, I was surrounded by young people. In the Philippines, there’s more family to help out, and we also had a couple live-in nannies. After moving to the U.S. when I was around 10, I didn’t have that same bond with a bunch of people and was mostly watching babies on TV.
When I told my friends about being a mother’s helper, they were like, “That’s a thing?” It’s similar to being a babysitter, except the mom’s at home and you help with things other than child care — errands, organizing toys or books. If Eraina’s taking care of bills or feeding the baby, I entertain the toddlers. The Fergusons already had a routine to begin with, so I had guidelines, which makes it easier. I’d ask Eraina, “Do you want me to do a worksheet with Ella or work on her school packet?” “Should I prepare a snack?” I also try to put myself in Eraina’s shoes. When she’s feeling stressed, I know she can’t do it all on her own. I do things even if I’m not asked.
I came back to work at Facebook in a fog after my first child. I couldn’t remember any acronyms. I’d be sitting in meetings, silent, and looking from person to person as they were talking, and I thought, This is what my daughter, Felicity, would be doing if she were in the meeting. Like, she can’t contribute anything — that was how I felt.
When I didn’t have that much on my plate, it felt frustrating to leave Felicity and not be accomplishing a lot. But I had a great manager who was invested in me and was putting meaty projects on my plate. I was sprinting from meeting to meeting and then sprinting to the mothers’ room.
After Carlyle was born, Facebook extended their maternity-leave policy to give birth moms an additional six weeks, and they applied it retroactively to anyone whose baby was born on September 3 or later. I missed it by a week. When the announcement came, I was in the mothers’ room attached to a machine trying to pump milk out. I had my computer open, and it felt like a gut punch. I had it really good, but it felt too soon to go back.
Working with our nanny, Ilsa, we kind of live her financial stresses. So many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and Ilsa is, too. So she may ask for an advance on her weekly pay and then that introduces another mental load, because then we’re trying to figure out, “Well, she didn’t work this afternoon, but we already paid her for it.” We’re intertwined: If she has health challenges or financial challenges or scheduling challenges, it’s affecting us as well. Which is basically like having another family member.
I always say that after the first day of working with someone, you’ve known them for longer than you did during the interview process. Ilsa’s now the third-most-influential person in shaping the life trajectories of our children. That is so insane.
I grew up in a forest village in Honduras, a very poor village. My mom had 16 children, and I don’t know which number I am. When I was 8 years old, I learned how to make tortillas, and my mom sent me to the creek to do laundry. I cooked for my siblings, and carried them, and gave them a lot of love. When my mom didn’t kiss us, I told my sister, “Don’t worry, you have my kisses: mwah, mwah, mwah.”
We were extremely poor. I ran away from home when I was 11 1/2, to the city, and got a job as a nanny. The first money I got, I went to the flea market and bought plastic dishes for my sister and brothers because we didn’t have even those in our house. And then I bought sugar, coffee, rice, oil.
I came to this country, and I said, Well, I want to be a nanny and help people raise their children and teach them to have appreciation for what they have. It is something I couldn’t do with my own children. I had domestic violence, abuse with the father of my children, and I suffered a lot. I have wanted to say to some parents, “You know, you can buy this and let your kids have everything they want, but that’s not everything. The most important thing is to have dinner with them at the table and talk to them about how to appreciate everything they have, because other people, they don’t have it.”
When I met Ali, I felt something so special in my heart about her and Felicity. I said, “Lord, if this is the job you have for me, then this lady is going to call me.” And then she called me! Sometimes I have prayed that God would help me to manage the money that I have, so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for money in advance. My car just broke down yesterday, so I had to ask Ali and Jonny, “I’m sorry, but I need $540 because I need to pay to fix my car. I don’t want to bother you, but I have no option.” They were flexible and gave me $540.
I used to work 40 hours a week, but now that we have the baby and take turns watching him, we’ve both cut down on hours. My job has health insurance and benefits, so I have to keep at least 30 hours so it counts as full time. Child care is insanely expensive, and we don’t have the money for it, especially now that we both took pay cuts — this year, my total income was a third less than last year.
If Chrissy has to work in the morning, she wakes up around 3:30 a.m. and leaves while Camden and I stay in bed. When he wakes up around 6:15, Chrissy usually gets home around then, and she watches him for the majority of the day. As soon as I walk through the door at night, she hands him to me, and it’s like, “Tag, you’re it!”
When we first brought Camden home, we had a friend make a sidecar for the bed with a baby-sized mattress. It’s a pretty tight room, and we crammed as much furniture in there as we possibly could. Now he sleeps in the bed with us, but it got crowded, so we upgraded to a king-sized bed. Since Camden has come around, Chrissy and I don’t see each other often. The other day, I was going through my phone looking for a picture of the three of us and couldn’t find one.
I have four different part-time jobs doing audiovisual work, and I usually get 25 hours a week. I’m trying to do what I can to make as much money in hours that don’t even exist. Right now, all the attention and energy goes to the baby, so it’s hard to focus on the relationship. It’s not quite jealousy, but I think it’s hard for Andrea in that she’s the biological mom, but I get to spend four days a week with Camden, going to the zoo and hanging out without her.
Andrea has always been very particular about her environment. Her room was impeccably clean. Her socks and her underwear would match her shirt. She’s very meticulous with her surroundings and now with her child. She doesn’t want to leave Camden with anybody she doesn’t trust, and she only trusts me.
I’m trying to use my mom influence to get Andrea and Chrissy to find somebody else to watch Camden for a few hours. Andrea is hesitant. But I say, “You’ve got to find somebody so you can have a date night.” Otherwise, it will wreak havoc on your relationship. When I was married, one night a week, usually on Wednesday, my husband and I had a standing babysitter, and we would go out to dinner or a movie so that we could maintain our connection. After we got divorced, I kept up that tradition. I had a girlfriend who’d come and watch the kids, and I’d go country line dancing because that’s something I can do by myself. It gave me some me-time, so my whole life wasn’t going to work and being a mom and housekeeper.
We found out I was pregnant my second year of college. Our aunts, uncles, cousins would ask us, “What’s your plan now?” They believed that once you become a parent, you’re done with school. Your life is over. They told Art, “It’s time to work.” They told me that I have my motherly duties.
We’re the oldest siblings in our families and the first to ever finish university. I told my parents that I was going to continue my education no matter what. I’d been struggling at school — dealing with anxiety, having to push through classes. Even before Emma was born, she brought my spirits up. We were worried financially — about diapers and textbooks and clothing — but I also felt like I believed in myself more. After Emma was born, I stayed at my parents’ home with her while Art went back to school. I’d feel a little jealous sometimes, like, “Oh, Art gets to go back to being a student.” But he was able to test the waters for us.
After I went back to school, I had this class that went from 7:30 p.m. to 8:20 p.m., and Art would drop me off, park behind the classroom, and stay there with Emma in the car. Sometimes if she was sick, I’d put her in my carrier and bring her to lectures. If I had to breastfeed her, I’d bring my huge blanket. I felt out of place, like I had a big “mom” banner on my forehead. I was constantly trying to find other parents on campus — if I saw somebody with a stroller, I’d be like, “Hey!” I’ve made two mom friends.
After our daughter was born, I got a job working at the campus bookstore, and, on weekends, I found a part-time job working with cleaners. I was trying to set the family up — could we rent a room for all of us to fit into? Who would help take care of Emma? We talked to the Early Childhood Education Center on campus and asked what the waitlist looks like, and I would regularly check in with them, like, “Are we still in line?” It took a year to get a spot.
Emma’s day-care teacher
I’ve been working with children for 17 years. For a long time, I worked in a camp where migrant workers and field workers lived, and they dropped off their children when they went to work. These were seasonal positions, and the children’s parents would go from town to town, from Merced to Arizona to Washington, following the produce. Sometimes the family would be with us for six months then never come back.
The place I’m at now is for the children of anyone affiliated with the campus — undergrads, faculty, parents, and staff. Emma was an infant when she started here. Every year we switch rooms from infant to toddler to preschool, so we follow the child as they get older. Emma’s a firecracker and a love bug. We have children who still don’t know how to put on their shoes, and she’ll help them.
I don’t like “single mother” as a title because there are so many definitions. It can mean you are divorced or that you did it alone on purpose. In my case, I have somebody who wants to be here but won’t be for a while. The father of my child is in Cuba. He’s a Cuban citizen, and we’re working on reuniting. My parents are in the Philippines, so it’s mostly me who watches my son, but throughout the week, he has adopted aunties — my friends, some of whom were on my birth team, some of whom are artists with more flexible schedules — who come by. I’m currently unemployed and searching for jobs. They watch him so that I can exercise and get out of the house.
When I revealed I was pregnant, I put out to my friends and community, 99.9 percent of whom are women, to say, “This is what my situation is.” I was alone, and I wanted to be surrounded by people. But it was hard to ask for help. I had this fear that I’d be asking for too much.
I feel like I’m raising Isagani more publicly than some people would feel comfortable with, but I don’t have this private nuclear family I can shield my son with. We have a Facebook page that I call the virtual village where I post pictures every week, so that everyone can feel like they took part in his growing up. It has 156 people on it.
Isagani’s godmother and auntie
I have a key to Aimee’s house, and at least once a week I try to go over there and help her out. Sometimes when I show up, she puts on her gym clothes and goes to a dance class or the gym. Or I’ll play with Isagani in the living room while she takes a nap. Or I’ll keep them both company and hang out — eating together, talking about his milestones, like, “Oh, today he rolled over.” I love holding him and bouncing him on their big medicine ball.
Even when Aimee was in the planning stages of getting pregnant, I jumped in and said, “I’ll help you.” The one thing I was hesitant about saying yes to was when Aimee asked if I would be Isagani’s legal guardian and sign papers. I said no, unfortunately — my schedule is crazy, I travel a lot, I have my own life, and I was afraid of not being able to be there as a real guardian.
I was even a part of Aimee’s birth team. I didn’t know anything before, but during that process, I realized that I have this natural propensity to serve a woman in labor. It might seem like a scary environment — a woman in extreme pain nonstop for days — but I’m able to stay super calm.
Aimee and I live around the corner from each other in Oakland. Three and a half years ago, I gave birth to my son, Myles. Aimee had been wanting to become a mom, and in my first months at home, she’d come and hang out with Myles or sit by my bed and watch me nurse.
One reason I waited so late to have a kid was that I saw other friends having kids and how hard it was. But I have my mom, my husband, my husband’s mom, my husband’s sister and brother, and a bunch of other family around. We all deserve to have someone with us.