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The New Mom, Thanks to Rising Child Care Costs

Photograph by Getty Images

During my first pregnancy, we spent very little time shopping day care centers. After just a few visits, one thing became very clear: We couldn't afford full-time child care. Both my husband and I had full-time jobs, and when we got pregnant we planned for us both to continue working full-time. Now we were facing the reality that, if we put our daughter in child care five days a week, over half of my salary would be sent straight to her daycare.

Working to pay for child care so I could work not only seemed redundant, it was incredibly frustrating.

According to a report released by Pew Research Center, our situation is not unique. The cost of child care has risen by 70 percent in the last 30 years, and the assumption is that this may be one of the factors influencing the drastic rise in women choosing to stay at home over the last 15 years.

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Many of our mothers chose to continue to pursue their career, even after having young children. It seemed possible, for perhaps the first time, for women to "have it all," both a career and a family. Yes, a lot of mothers still chose to be at home, mine included, but the important thing was that they had the option of pursuing a career if that was what they wanted.

The rising cost of child care has forced our generation of mothers to ask ourselves, is it really realistic for us to have a career while starting a family?

In my case, the cost of child care kept me from continuing in the career path I was on at that time. The idea of staying at home full-time actually caught on for me, I grew excited about the possibility of being a stay-at-home mom.

I have witnessed many working women faced with what seemed like an impossible decision. Do I continue in my career or let go of a job I love?

It only took one look at the numbers to realize that staying at home wasn't an option either. Before motherhood, I had anticipated being in the workforce. I had taken out student loans. We bought a house. Living on one income was not a plausible alternative to sending most of my check to a daycare center each week.

I know better than to believe that I am the only one living this reality. In my circle of friends, I have witnessed many working women faced with what seemed like an impossible decision: Do I continue in my career, despite the staggering cost of child care? Do I leave the workforce to stay home with my family, even though it may mean financial hardship for my family and introduce additional stress on my marriage (being brand new parents is hard enough!)? Do I let go of a job I love?

These decisions are weighty. Some working women may feel they are simply trying their hardest to discern the lesser of two evils.

I have watched many families make living on one modest income work for them, and work well. This is an impressive accomplishment and it should be praised. I also have witnessed incredible ingenuity and creativity among families facing the reality that they need two incomes but can't afford child care.

Other families are trying out Mom working full-time while Dad stays at home for the very first time, and we have seen the numbers of dads staying home double in the last 25 years.

What seems to be the most common is that moms are adjusting career priorities and becoming a sort of working mom/stay-at-home-mom hybrid. This was the case for me: I exchanged my 9-to-5 job for a part-time job, five evenings a week. Most nights, I would kiss my husband at the door as I passed the baby off to him and hopped in the car. Meanwhile, I scoured the Internet for freelancing opportunities and a more flexible job.

Moms are showing how creative and hardworking women can be by breaking outside stereotypical molds of stay-at-home-mom or working mom.

Eventually I was able to transition into healthcare, which allowed for me to work two long shifts on my husband's days off of work, and working a third shift when one of the grandmas was available. It hasn't always been easy, but we have made it work and the flexibility of my job outside the house has allowed me to keep working hard at freelancing as another source of income for our family.

I am the most impressed by the amount of moms who are working from home while also caring for their families. A good friend from our pre-kid days started a freelance graphic design company while learning how to parent twins at the same time. We all know that mommy blogging has transformed from a great way to share our lives with friends and family into a viable source of income through advertising and handmade goods. Multilevel marketing seems to be thriving with the help of social media. Accountants, consultants, writers, artists and fitness coaches—these are just a few of the careers I have watched friends and family transition into a home-based source of income after realizing that working outside of the home was not an option.

Yes, it does seem like more moms are leaving the workforce because of the cost of child care. But are they working less? I don't think so!

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If anything, moms are showing how creative and hardworking women can be by breaking outside stereotypical molds of stay-at-home-mom or working mom in order to pursue alternative, flexible sources of income and become whatever type of mom their new family needs them to be.

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