Summertime is an expensive time for Northwest North Carolina families, and even families above the poverty line feel the burden of childcare and must come to creative solutions to cover their basic needs.
The following is a guest blog post written by Zac Shuford of Guilford County. Zac is a mechanic and a father, and talks about the incredible expense of childcare during the summer, and how it impacts families struggling to make ends meet.
I walk with my hands up in front of my face. Up the four stairs in my garage to the door into my kitchen. Pushing the handle down with my elbow, I swing the door open. The floor is mostly clean, just a few abandoned toys and some dust bunnies making friends in the corners. The sink, on the other hand, is full of dishes from today and yesterday. I turn and wash the grease and oil off my hands right on top of them. “I’ll get to that.”
I say that more than I want to.
Sometimes it seems like this scene plays on repeat. I leave my job, where I work on cars all day, to pick up on my domestic job of raising my boys as a single dad. Once that job is stabilized with the lights off and covers tucked, I’m on to my third job of fixing cars of friends, neighbors, anyone who is willing to trust me with their time and safety. Some nights I crash into bed past midnight, knuckles bruised and knees sore. Truly, I’ve been one of the lucky ones.
I passed a man on the street the other day holding a sign that said “SINGLE DAD. JUST NEED A LITTLE HELP.” Moments like those make me thankful for the grease, the sweat, and the exhaustion that accompany my solo journey as a dad of two. I am lucky for the chance to work.
If I didn’t have the support and trust of so many, I don’t really see how I could keep going to my day job. I don’t have any family in town, and all the friends I would trust with my kids have kids and jobs of their own. If I don’t send them to daycare, I have to bring them with me to work; hardly a permanent or stable childcare solution.
I’m lucky to have the extra work like I do right now because, since the school-year ended, my daycare costs for my two sons shot up from $190 to $240 a week. Don’t get me wrong, I love their daycare. I’m glad to support them and keep them doing such a great job, but on an already stretched-too-tight budget, $200 a month is a haymaker.
Add on top of that the lunches that I have to make them every day – freezer packs, ziptop bags, and lunch boxes – and suddenly I am really looking hard for a way to make more money to cover it all. One income simply isn’t enough and I make $19 an hour – more than double the minimum wage that millions of parents are trying to raise their families on. We haven’t had to skip meals like in the past, but I have gotten some nasty letters in the mail threatening to end one service or another. My health insurance, Netflix, long road trips on the weekends: all absorbed by the increased summer care for my boys.
So I scheme, cajole my friends into bringing oil changes to me. I fill out calendars with cash flow analyses, careful to account for every foreseeable expense. It is one thing to know what you have coming in and going out, but I’ve found that if I’m not careful, I can still dip into the red very easily. One bill comes out a day too soon and I’m in serious trouble.
All of the stress translates into less emotional bandwidth for me to be a parent, too. I have noticed an increase in poor behavior from my boys recently, the kind that is cured by more devoted and caring attention from their parent. Truth is, it’s hard to give that attention from under a car. I keep telling myself that things will get better soon.
Just the other day, I found out that the little I could put away from my tax return, coupled with all I have earned by day and by night, is going to be enough to get me to the Promised Land, August 27th: the first day of school. My carrot has been, “If we can just make it to the end of the summer, we’ll be alright.”
I really can’t say it enough: I know that I am one of the lucky ones. In every corner of our country, there are families who have lost so much more than Netflix and health insurance over the prohibitive cost of daycare. Every day, mothers and fathers are making impossible choices as they choose between advancing their careers and balancing childcare costs– so often it becomes more affordable to leave the workforce so that they might be able to pay rent and afford groceries. Many, many families have skipped meals to create the monetary buffer that keeps them from overdraft fees. So many of us live with a numerical buffer; they live with a buffer made of hunger.
For those who are doing all they can, it is so vitally important that there is help available. Food pantries, like those in Second Harvest Food Bank’s network, can fill that buffer for families so that they can continue improving their lives. The Summer Meals Program is doing excellent work bridging the gap for qualifying kids, 18 years old and younger, by providing breakfast, lunch and a snack. SNAP, WIC, and food stamps, among other assistance programs, are all integral in the lives of families on the edge.
Removing the fear of hunger and the uncertainty of when the next meal will be can have a domino effect, leading to greater success in all areas of life. If there is a cost-effective solution, a way to strike at the core of many poverty-related crises, it is through ensuring that programs like these don’t fade away and fighting for them to grow in their outreach. My family falls just outside of the line to receive assistance. I know if we did qualify, my devotion would not have to be split between feeding my kids and engaging with them.