In defence of high childcare cost

What else would you get for the approximate $100 a day you spend on long-day care?

What else would you get for the approximate $100 a day you spend on long-day care? Photo: Getty Images

Recently I have come across many discussions about the high cost of childcare, and for a good long while I have held my tongue, but I have to say I think childcare is pretty cheap.

Well, value for money at least. What else would you get for the approximate $100 a day you spend on long-day care? A visit to the osteopath. Forty minutes with a psychologist. Dinner.

We are handing these people the responsibility for our most precious living things, sometimes for a ten-hour day. They are safe, amused, educated and, if we are really lucky, start taking an interest in toilet training. Frankly, I am surprised the issue of cost even comes up.

This is not to trivialise families who rely on childcare to make ends meet – and there are government subsidies and allowances that address this -- but a lot of those I have heard complaining are in childcare by choice. Perhaps spiraling childcare costs are a good time to question how we use this service.

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Initially, my wife and I did not have a long enough discussion about our need for it. She returned to work for two days a week after both our kids turned one -- because she thought I wanted her to and because I thought she wanted to. The money helped but was not a primary factor because, once you throw multiple kids into the mix, childcare can make parents think twice about whether the cost and effort is worth it financially.

But that is a good thing. For families who have the luxury of choice I think childcare should be at a price point that makes you think twice, because I have never been able to shake the feeling that it is unnatural dropping a baby off for eight hours a day with strangers. I do it, but I have always been the soft one, the one that takes days off sick when they have the sniffles (trying to gauge whether their snot is the right shade of green to be excluded, only to turn up other days to the centre with a healthy child who has to ward off rivers of verdant mucus), the one who shuffles hours around to pick them up early if they ask in the right doe-eyed fashion. I admit I have childcare guilt.

Speaking recently to author and early childhood nurse Robin Barker for an article cemented it for me: she believes a couple of days in long-day care is fine but full-time care is not an ideal experience for a child. And it makes sense, if your kid is in full time care then over a seven-day period someone interacts with your child more than you do. At this point maybe we should be questioning the reasons behind full time childcare: is it a financial necessity, is it due to an inflexible employer, is it to keep up your skills set – or is it just to afford an iPad?

I am not buying into the mother-guilt argument here, if anything I would like to stir up some father guilt; flexibility in the workplace is enshrined in law these days, so come on dads – use it.

And I'm not childcare bashing either because the mental break, the development and little things like the incredible yearly scrapbook our centre provides have been fantastic. But I wonder how many families have just fallen into their childcare arrangement as we did ours.

This hardening of my childcare view has coincided with our two-year-old, Rafferty, taking a set against daycare. We have been lucky with our kids, there has been little crying, but recently Raff has dropped a quivering bottom lip and suppressed tears. When I have the luxury of time (and because of the aforementioned softness), I have left the centre and taken him out for a babycino, a biscuit and a bit of TLC -- but on the mornings I couldn't stay his regular carers have been amazing. Worth every cent we pay and more.

So, if it is not breadline stuff, I would like to hear more dinner party chatter focussing on the creative use of childcare rather than just the price rises. I would like to see less discussion of the monetary cost and more consideration of the emotional cost.

Childcare is a valuable service but it is also a luxury, handing off our kids to go on to pursue financial goals that may not put us in the global “1 per cent” but certainly put us at the pointy end of privilege. It’s just a few short years of their lives and when I see the number of kids hanging on the childcare centre gate waiting for Mum or Dad then I can’t help thinking that a rethink of how we use childcare – and the things we complain about -- would be right on the money.