Why Childcare is One of the Best Business Investments I’ve Made

Writing (many, many) checks to nannies and daycare were a calculated cost of doing business.

Writing (many, many) checks to nannies and daycare was a calculated cost of doing business.

This story I wrote for the financial website Daily Worth more than a year ago popped up on Twitter yesterday, so I went back and read it, and the comments it received, again. Two things came to mind: One, I stand by my assertion that the $80K or so I spent on childcare (this doesn’t count the summer-camp fees I still pay) before both my boys were in school was a straight-up awesome, measurable investment in my business that allowed me to be successful (and sane) with work. And two: the persistent belief that kids are always better off at home, or that daycare is always a lesser option, or — especially pertinent for this piece’s subject matter — that parents who work from home should figure out how to do so without childcare, frustrates me still.

Here’s the piece:

In the seven years that my sons were in child care—a period that began when my oldest was three months old and ended when my youngest hit kindergarten—I shelled out upwards of $80,000.

It was worth every penny.

Handing over that last check, I felt as if there should be champagne, or at least balloons falling from the ceiling. Because child care will remain one of the best investments I ever made.

Moms who work from home and use child care often get judged: Can’t she work around the baby’s schedule? Isn’t she throwing her money away? Isn’t it a teeny bit selfish?!

For me, child care was never an indulgence but an investment in my business, no different from a decent computer and reliable Wi-Fi.

And it also made me a more relaxed mother. For his first five months, my youngest son was home with me as I launched my freelance career. I had to work—that wasn’t an option. But did I have to work with my baby in a swing, ticking like a metronome behind me?

That $80,000 sounds steep, but I wonder: How much less money might I have earned if I hadn’t spent it? It’s worth pondering…over a glass of champagne.

I’m accustomed, in my history as a working mother, to the ‘tude that, surely, I’d be happier if I “could” stay at home and not work (which isn’t true; I agree it’s a personal and familial choice, but that choice would have killed me, personally). That’s Mommy War stuff that makes me tired and stressy, and that I wish would go away already, so I’m not re-treading that ground.

But the other bias — that somehow a mom who is self-employed, at home, should keep things low-key and work with the kids toddling around also persists.  There’s a sense (and I may not hear it in so many words, but I hear it nonetheless) that the whole point of working at home when you have little ones is so you can keep the little ones with you, and somehow be both a working- and a stay-at-home mom in one.

The argument also goes that you can find work-at-home gigs that allow you to work at night, on weekends, when your partner’s home, during naptime. There’s another argument that says that if you’re starting out a freelance or home-based business, you may not be making enough to justify childcare. Both arguments have a flaw, even though they are reasonable assumptions at first. You can’t do enough focused work, or earn enough to justify childcare costs, if you don’t start out with a smart investment in at least some childcare. It’s like trying to start an at-home sewing business and figuring you can do it with your broken sewing machine “for now” until you make enough salable pieces to afford a new machine. It’s a chicken/egg thing, but in this case, if the chicken is your career and the egg is the investments you make in it (such as childcare), it’s clear you need the egg first.

Any work-at-homers out there care to chime in? What did you invest in to help your business grow?