Today, I reveal how we approach childcare in our dual income family, and discuss the tough choices faced by working parents in the age of COVID-19.
I’ve always been grateful that the Dr-ess also works. She’s employed by the City of LA in administration, and is paid well for her expertise. Her salary covers a significant portion of our large annual expenditures. In combination with my surgeon salary, her job gives us the flexibility to invest money in the stock market and into real estate. Her income has been an essential part of my plan to craft a future full of family, friends, and freedom.
Our dual salaries also smooth out the risk of either one of us losing our jobs. The shared financial burden brings balance and gratitude into our relationship.
But there are also clear downsides to two working spouses. Everything related to keeping the homefront happily humming along is harder. For example, the Dr-ess and I are famously absent from all PTA meetings at our boys’ school. Packages often sit on our stoop for hours, baking in the sun and tempting package thieves. We employ a house cleaner who comes weekly. And of course, we have a lot of childcare needs.
For the majority of the last six years, we’ve used au pairs as the main source of childcare. An “au pair” is a helper from a foreign country who both works for and lives with a host family. A typical arrangement is 45 hours a week of childcare in exchange for room and board, plus a living and educational stipend.
There are a number of au pair agencies who facilitate things like gathering references, arranging the interview, and securing visas and health insurance. In an ideal scenario, an au pair matches with a compatible family. Then he (or usually she) spends 1-2 years learning English, experiencing American life and helping a family care for their children.
An affordable childcare option
An au pair is also one of the more affordable full time childcare options. A year of an au pair costs about $25,000 in Los Angeles. In contrast, a similar amount of childcare from a local nanny can be well over $50,000 a year, plus taxes and benefits.
The downsides of au pairs
Of course, there are some drawbacks to au pairs. You must provide room and board, so you have to be OK with another adult living in your home. If it’s not a good match, it’s not always easy to break up. The au pair will probably have to keep on living with you until they find another family or decide to go back to their country.
Finally, since the maximum term on a J1 visa is 2 years, there is an element of impermanence to the whole relationship. This could be tough if your kids really become attached to their au pair.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had 3 au pairs over the last 6 years. They came from Slovakia, Austria, and Germany, and luckily all did an amazing job. We still keep in touch with all three.
After our last au pair’s time came to a close, we decided to go without live-in help.
Last year, my parents moved into the ADU (additional dwelling unit) that we built for them in our backyard. Between daycare, school, and my parents, we had all the childcare help we needed.
Unfortunately, this all fell apart with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Homeschooling is hard work
After the schools closed, the Darwinian family joined in on the great homeschooling experiment of 2020, along with the rest of the world. We quickly realized that we weren’t up to the task.
Both the Dr-ess and I have been mostly working from home since social isolation began. We realized immediately that it was impossible to actually do productive work while watching two rambunctious boys. It was also really tough to supervise homework assignments while I made calls to patients or while the Dr-ess attended virtual meetings.
We leaned heavily on my parents, but it broke our hearts to see their exhausted faces at the end of the day. We tried to hire local help, but we quickly went through a succession of four babysitters who all quit due to issues related to COVID-19.
We were in dire straits and incredibly frustrated.
Au pair to the rescue
I’m happy to report that we now have full time and reliable childcare once more. We made the decision to sign back up with the au pair agency.
We got incredibly lucky. Within a day, we had been matched with an au pair from France. She just happened to be looking for a rematch, and was already in the Los Angeles area.
She’s now into her third week and is settling in nicely. Between my parents and our au pair, we once again have full childcare coverage. This has freed the Dr-ess and I to get our work done, and my parents don’t have that haggard look anymore.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Dr-ess and I went through weeks of frustration and uncertainty as babysitters revolved through our household. We had a terrible time retaining childcare, and realized that homeschooling a child is a full time job unto itself.
We count ourselves truly fortunate to have ample financial reserves and well paying jobs. Because of this and some good luck, we were able to bring on an au pair who has solved our childcare woes. She’s got 6 months left on her visa, which we all hope will be enough to bring us to through the majority of the pandemic.
It’s an extra $12,000 we didn’t plan to spend, but it was clearly the right decision for our household.
Stay safe out there.
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