There are a lot of private decisions you make as a parent that you hope and pray never become public, else it makes you look like a bad parent. Like, say, letting them wear the same clothes three days in a row. Or giving them crackers and jelly beans for dinner because you can’t handle one more tantrum. Or letting them watch that third “Sesame Street” episode so you can finish emailing your editor and fold the clean laundry that has been sitting on the rocking chair for four days straight.
And then there are the decisions you make that make you wonder if maybe you truly are a bad parent.
Like, say, for instance, do I really need to send my child to preschool?
I know. I know! I can’t believe I just typed that either. I’m currently hunched over my keyboard, my whole body tense, waiting for the inevitable knock on the door from Child Protective Services.
But let me type just one more sentence before you throw the handcuffs on me…
I Googled local preschool prices.
Can you put the handcuffs away now? If you say yes, then I know you have at one point Googled local preschool prices. If you say no, do me a favor and Google local preschool prices. I’ll give you a moment…
…I know, right!? Unbelieveable.
And for the majority of you who are going along with my gag but not actually Googling anything, let me share with you what I discovered. Because I actually did research. Like a grown up. And like most research (bacon and alcohol are bad for you!), the results were depressing.
According to a 2016 study by the Economic Policy Institute, the costs of full-time childcare for a 4-year-old was higher than the cost for in-state college tuition in 23 states. Including my current state of residence, Massachusetts, which was one of the most expensive. On average, to send my precious little hellion to preschool will cost $12,781 per year.
But I could save over $2,000 if I just sent him straight to college.
And while Riker is exceptionally talented at Apple Juice Pong, I’m pretty sure they expect you to be able to wipe your own butt at college (weird fraternity pledge rituals notwithstanding).
Ever since he turned three, this issue has been keeping me up at night. What kind of monster denies their child a good education? Regardless of how much it costs? Who needs two arms AND two legs when your offspring’s very future is on the line?
Which is why I was so relieved when I started complaining to my very smart and very well-educated friend about my preschool dilemma and she responded that although they’re keeping it very quiet, she and her husband decided not to send her kid to preschool.
“You can do that!? Can I do that? Is that allowed?” I practically yelled back.
She laughed but it does feel like preschool is an unofficial requirement at this point. I have nightmares where I start teaching my son how to write his name and preschool teachers in bright sweaters kick down my door and rip the crayon from his chubby little hands.
“Literacy is only for actual students! Go watch more garbage TV, tiny peasant!” they scream at him before covering him with frowny face stickers.
And the very fact she said they are “keeping it quiet” kind of proves my point.
But I didn’t go to preschool. And I turned out fine, she types while sipping wine through a straw and binge-watching the entire “Dawson’s Creek” series for the 45th time.
And yes, I know there is a long laundry list of benefits from preschool. I majored in education in addition to journalism so I quite literally read the book on it. But I also know that $12,000 isn’t just a “hardship” for us at this particular moment in our economic reality. It’s impossible.
So, I’ve spent the last five months weighing our options. We could always try part-time preschool perhaps, or maybe hunt down a discount early education center, like BoBo’s Preschool Kidz Barn or something.
I could try teaching him myself, but will my efforts, along with library story-time and playing on a soccer team and random play dates at the park and playground, be enough for what he needs to learn both academically and socially? On the other hand, if we do scrape enough money together to send him to a decent preschool, is it worth it if we can no longer afford family trips to museums and the occasional dinner out to a restaurant and airplane tickets to visit our families?
I could go back to work full-time instead of freelance writing, which doesn’t pay much currently. But then we’d have to send his younger sister to a daycare too, effectively doubling our childcare costs. Or maybe my husband could get a second part-time job, just temporarily, to cover the costs. Although, as mentioned above, we don’t have family close by and it’s already hard enough to take care of the kids on my own with the long-ish hours he already works. Not to mention, I need the nights and weekends to do my writing and oh my god, WHY DO THEY MAKE IT SO HARD IN THIS COUNTRY TO RAISE A FAMILY!?
And that, ultimately, is the crux of the issue. Families all over this country are having similar dilemmas, these either/or situations, because there is no longer enough money to go around. Technically we’re considered middle class, but thanks to things like student loan debt and years upon years of stagnant wages and the ever faster rising cost of living, we still struggle. We still rent (and pay way too much for rent but who can afford a down payment on a house?). We own one ancient car. All our furniture is from 2002. We have a savings account but no college fund for either kid. We have health insurance but no retirement plan. Enough discretionary income for the occasional pizza but not enough for a real vacation.
And our financial issues are pretty benign in the long run. Other families are having to make decisions between much-needed medication and decent food. Or getting further in debt to move out of their crappy neighborhood to one with a decent school district and parks not littered with needles. Or finding a third job but then never seeing their kids.
It seems our family, just like so many other American families these days, can no longer afford the American dream.
I suppose I should end this with a joke since I’m a humor writer by trade, but after re-reading what I just wrote, none of this seems very funny anymore.