People say kids are expensive. I didn’t believe them!

Eschewing all the various and expensive detritus that comes with a new baby – the swings, cribs, strollers, car seats – we got what we needed secondhand or from friends. I think we spent $300 the first year she was alive. No big deal. I was shocked when we did our taxes, because we made eight bucks that year (thanks, EI!) but I never felt poor.

But then, childcare.

For us, the math was pretty easy. I could stay home, work super-part-time at my self-employed job of dreams, or go back to my full-time job and take home about $400 after taxes and daycare costs. Not a tough choice. Not so for families not blessed with two parents who can work, family close by to watch the kids a couple hours per week, or even (this one is important) the desire to stay home with the kids.

The enormous cost of childcare in this province – second highest in Canada, in fact – means that people who would rather be back in the paid workforce often struggle on one or zero incomes. This is to say nothing of parents putting careers on hold for periods of years simply because daycare costs are enormous.

It bears mentioning that the math we did in our family never considered the possibility of my husband staying home with our daughter – as the higher earner in our family, he will keep working the same as before, meaning his status as such will likely remain unchanged.

This might partially explain the persistent gap in wages between genders: women earn 66.7 cents on men’s dollar when part-time workers, as many post-maternity women find themselves, are included in the equation.

When so much of one’s personhood is subsumed by the mantle of “parent,” the inability to choose freely here affects families’ well-being both economically and emotionally.

I am happy with the way the calculations have worked out for us. But I know no small number of women who have felt they did not have a choice in leaving their jobs to do unpaid work at home with their kids.

This is not optimal for those families, the overall happiness of our society, or for that pesky provincial economy that seems so insistent on going down the toilet. What if all those people were earning salaries and paying taxes, and jobs were being created in subsidized daycares to boot?

It’s not an impossible dream; other provinces have successfully implemented programs to bring down the cost of childcare and make sure that folks who want to go to work, can. The choice to work or to stay home with kids is one best made based on what supports the well-being of the family, not on cruel mathematics.

What I want is for people who want to be at home with their kids to be able to do that, and for people who want to engage with other work – because, to be clear, parenting also is a shitload of work – to be able to do that.

I suppose we best get to work on that.