Childcare for Dual-Career Couples.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


My children are 13, 11 and 8. In other words, practically grown-ups. Finding daycare, nannies, and babysitters is a distant memory. Actually, more like a nightmare. Wait lists, reference checks, interviews, worries about missing pick-up or a nanny calling in sick on the day of an important business trip, these stresses all lodge blessedly in my parenting past.


Hiring and managing childcare providers was one of the only aspects of parenting young children that I truly, consistently despised. It was an important factor in deciding not to have a fourth child. It was a source of near-constant marital friction.


And not because childcare is so expensive – although it is. National childcare finder estimates that over 15% of families’ household budgets are spent on daycare and babysitters; and 50% of the total childcare expense comes in summer, when school is out and it’s harder to find consistent, temporary childcare.


No, the childcare knife in my gut was more complicated than dollars and cents. Being dependent on someone else to care for my children so that I could work made me feel more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt. As a new mother, I simply could not, would not leave my kids with caregivers I didn’t trust 100%. Yet I couldn’t go to work for a single minute without childcare. I felt squeezed between razor-sharp maternal love vs. employee duty.


My husband was one of the only people I trusted 100% to take care of our kids. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing or able to cut back his hours at work – due to the norms of his industry he felt pressure to show how committed he was to work even though he had young kids. Additionally, he saw the cement-like childcare burden as mine to shoulder alone. I researched, found and kept good caregivers and daycare centers. I also handled drop off and pick up for all three children since he felt he had to be at work early and stay late in his male-dominated, stay-at-home-wife-dependent industry (let me note that I worked fulltime in the male-dominated, high-pressure world of daily journalism).


God knows we – like most new parents -- needed more help. We had three children born in a five year span, two intense careers, and no family in the area on a consistent basis. Many women might be grateful to have a husband willing to spring for live-in, round-the-clock care including a second shift of nannies. But I hated that my husband always saw the solution as "hire more help." It still bugs me.



great post. Even if the answer is hire more help, it sounds like your husband expected you to be the one who put the considerable legwork into finding that help.
We are fortunate to have a great daycare for our kids, but my husband drops off every day, allowing me to get in to work early, and I pick up. He took my sick son with him to work last week, and today I picked up my head lousy daughter. He might get a few raised eyebrows in his male dominated industry (computer chip design, it doesn't get more male than that!), but he is prepared to break the mold to support my career. It hasn't held him back either. Interestingly several of his 'male with stay home wife' colleagues are rather envious that he has a wife who pulls in a large salary, and would gladly take more care of their own kids if their wives could bring home the dough (or so they say). Anyway, I love him for it, I got very lucky.


amen, sister. sometime I think my husband and I will get divorced over this issue ... alas.


Good article. As a dual-income family with four kids (8 years and younger), we deal with the daycare and schooling issue often. I definitely shoulder most of the responsibility in this area and I don't see this changing in the furture. As my measly way of saying, "Well you should take responsibility for somebody around here," to my husband, he has to take care of the dog 100%. Ha.


Great post. I think this situation applies to so many people. It is a constant struggle to find that work/home balance.


Whew - even reading this article stresses me out. We have two sons - 16 an 6 and have been dealing with this for a long time in our household. Luckily, things work out. When one of our jobs is less flexible, the other's is more so and we've managed so far without major events. For awhile, daycare was more my issue, but in the last year or so, it's been my husband's role to take the lead. Hire more help is only an option if there is good help available that a family can afford. Creativity, flexibility, and sheer strength and willpower make it all work. Nice article, Leslie. Thanks.


I am old school. My husband always made more money than me in my career. I worked for a year before he agreed that I did not need an allowance as I work. (We are not rich either-he was making 52K at the time. In his world, men work, women work because they wamt to or because they do not wish to be with their children 24-7 as his mother did. In my lucky world, married women are not working to pay the bills nor is their salary taken to pay the bills except for daycare) If this is the deal, of course women must responsible for daycare. Their job at marriage was to have children and take care of them. Since they are not doing it, of course they must provide a suitable replacement. Author should bless her husband for wanting to put his money to hire better help instead of complain. I have friends who make an excellent living- atty, manager, accountant who have had the third kid---and childcare becomes a crazy expense. I hit it at second kid when my babysitte4r quit to have her own children and complete college. 95% of the people I interviewed wanted more per hour than I made. My personal favorite was the one who wanted $15/hr and a car.To be PC incorrect--If you choose to have children and hire a nanny, WHY are you having kids? You obviouisly do not want them enough to hang with them because you are doing 12 hours days and most young children are in bed by 8:00 pm so what tiem are you spending with them? That quantiy vs quality is some BS the rich working woman put out 15-20 yrs ago. Read your newspapers. Rich kids do have it bad.


Wouldn't it be great if USA could somehow recreate the thought process that Denmark & other scandanavian countries went through to put REAL childcare options in place for all?

In Denmark for instance, parents have universal access to very inexpensive & high quality daycare from 6 mos to 6 years of age. Wow.

Seems that Leslie Steiner is saying that she (and many of us!) expend tons of energy trying to persuade our friends, spouses, & other mothers to see the various "no-win" tough aspects of childcare for working parents, but we're all spending our limited energy in the wrong place.

Rather than lobbying each other, lets lobby for real. Similar to what advocates.

So here's a quote from a representative paper on the topic of Nordic child care models:

"The high labor force participation rate of women has gone hand in hand with the expansion of the welfare states in the Nordic countries. The large increase in public services directed to child care (besides extensive services related to care for the elderly and the disabled) implied that
women were able to leave the home and enter the labor market, often employed in the public sector in care jobs, but now for a salary instead of doing unpaid housework. The expansion of the welfare state has increased the tax pressure in these countries to the highest level in the world, but despite high tax levels, the Nordic countries are among the richest in the world."

Here's a link to the whole paper:

And to another good paper:

And one more:

Jennifer Brandt

This post really resonated with me. I have always felt that making childcare arrangements (or merely thinking about it) has been considered "woman's work." Now, as a single, full time working mom, I completely feel that burden and worry, as you said that my son won't have a "model division of labor." The every-mom- for-herself approach has got to come to an end...