I Didn't Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom, But I Couldn't Afford Childcare

Kimberly Zapata

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I’ve always been a strong, independent, and hard-working woman — because I had to be. My father died in the fall of 1996, days before Thanksgiving and weeks before my 13th birthday, and his passing had a profound effect on me and the course of my life. I stood up, and I bucked up. As the eldest child, I felt responsible for me and my family. And that feeling never wavered.

I got my first job when I was 16. I dropped out of college to work full-time when I was 20. But I wanted more than a paycheck. I had dreams of being a journalist; I wanted to travel the world and write about people and places. Sort of like Anthony Bourdain, but with a pen and pink hair instead of cigarettes and a six-pack? I wanted to write a book. Heck, I still want to write a book. My mind is full of colorful quotes and characters, and I’m constantly dictating book notes on my iPhone.

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At 30, I finally went back to school. At 34, I secured something of a dream job — a writing job in NYC, just off of Broadway. But when I gave birth to my son, everything changed. The cost of childcare in New York — in this country, even — is simply not conducive to being a working parent (unless, maybe, you work in finance).

After two degrees and 10 years in the industry, I left my full-time job to care for my children.

Of course, my reasons for quitting were complex. I did feel guilty being away from my youngest. He was four months old, and my job and commute meant we only saw each other for a few minutes per day. I was angry I couldn’t spend time with my oldest. She was struggling at school and needed oversight and guidance.

But the main reason I left was financial. I just couldn’t afford childcare. After all, in 30 U.S. states, childcare officially costs more than college

working mom at home with babies
working mom at home with babies

It was an ironic outcome of the supposed American Dream: I’d done the work, gotten multiple degrees, landed the big-city job, and yet I still couldn’t afford daycare — or any type of care — for my kids.

And I’m far from alone. According to the Center for American Progress, the “childcare crisis” is keeping millions of women out of the workforce. In fact, the organization’s 2018 survey revealed mothers were 40 percent more likely than fathers to “feel the negative impact of child care issues on their careers, and too often these individuals felt they must make job decisions based on child care considerations rather than in the interest of their financial situation or career goals.” What’s more, over the past two decades the cost of child care has more than doubled. 

For me, putting my two young children in daycare would have cost me more than $30,000 each year.

Factor in rent and food and my commute and nothing else, I was just breaking even. Paying someone else to raise my children full-time so that I could make a profit of a couple hundred dollars each month? It just didn’t make sense.

So I left my heart and dreams on Fifth Avenue. After 13 months at my job, I said goodbye to my colleagues and friends and became the stay-at-home mom I never thought I’d be.

It’s not all bad. Because I am at home I am able to help my kids, and hold my kids. I was there to hear my youngest utter his first words. I watched him take his first steps. When he fusses, I am able to console him. I am also able to give my daughter the educational support she needs, which became particularly useful this spring — when the world shut down due to COVID-19

I’ve also been able to find some remote work. I still write for a living, just less. I cover news stories and, more or less, am able to fulfill my personal ambitions. But my experience proves something needs to change. From the cost of daycare and a college education to the lack of paid leave and parental support in the workplace, a lot of things need to change in this country. And that change needs to come from the government and society in general — because childcare isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a woman’s burden to bear alone.

Women should chose to stay home because they want to, not because they have to.

These stock photos of moms working from home are…not what the real thing looks like, that’s for sure.

Launch Gallery: These Stock Photos of Moms Working From Home Are Totally Unrealistic

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