SAHMs don’t save on childcare because working mothers don’t pay retail price for childcare.

Basically what it says on the tin.

Working mothers don’t pay retail rates for childcare. Like with formula feeding where people will cheerfully buy you formula but won’t help out with extra food if you breastfeed, people are more willing to help out with free or cut-rate childcare if you have any job outside the home, including SAHMs offering below-market childcare to working mothers.  Yep, that’s a thing, to be expanded on in an upcoming post.

Also, working mothers are pushier about getting those discounts. There was a fairly shocking story a few years ago about a working woman just shoving her kid at a neighbor she’d never met until that day so she could go to work. There was a more recent story in Florida (go Florida, earn that fark tag!) about a woman running a less than legal daycare with exotic poisonous snakes on the premises and a higher than legal kid/caregiver ratio. IIRC that daycare had a waiting list.

About a third of working women with children under 18 use gramma/auntie specifically among relatives for childcare.  This contributes to formula use in the United States.  If you throw in other relatives or friends helping with childcare, you get up to nearly 50%.  That’s working mothers’ access to discounted childcare: nearly half get it cheap or free from friends and relatives.  As for the half not using gramma or cousin Susy, daycare owners and nannies can tell you all the horror stories about delays on payment from double income households and single mother households.  But even when they don’t commit crime to get cheaper childcare, the tax system gives them and their employers thousands of dollars specifically to use daycare centers.

Basically the only working mothers who fork out retail prices are coastal women not living near relatives or friends who only put their kids in the right sort of diverse daycare center for childcare.  And sure, they pay for the privilege, but they a tiny sliver of all working mothers.

Women should stay home with kids as the societal norm.  It’s better for everyone.  But under the current social setup, women can kindasorta afford to work outside the home when their kids are little precisely because a lot of under the table subsidy is given to them to support that.  Little is gained from the kabuki theater of “Jane and her husband crunched the numbers and daycare is expensive and would leave her with only 5k per year, so that’s why she stays home with her kids.”  It’s kabuki because if Jane said she was going back to work because Joe’s hours were cut 40%, she would find a raft of free or nearly-free childcare mysteriously washing up at her doorstep that is completely absent for most conservative Christian SAHMs.  So Jane would earn a lot more than 5k per year in the first place.  And of course, kids age out of infant and toddler childcare anyway.

But the real hole in this common economic argument for mothers staying home with small children isn’t that society currently props up working outside the home with implicit and explicit support, it’s that when husbands make that argument, this is what they are saying to their wives, the mothers of their children.

“You get nothing for staying home except being with your children 24/7.  You get no break, you get no adult socialization, you get no relief or time alone.  I as your husband don’t really have the resources to properly support your administration of the domestic sphere.  I refuse to earn enough money for you to get domestic help as needed and I refuse to let you earn that money even though we just did the math and you totally would earn enough to pay for that support. I don’t value a comfortable home and a rested wife that much, because these things won’t happen if you stay home for several years or a decade plus having babies and never getting to use the bathroom alone, be treated as an adult by other adults including me or have a real family dinner you eat peacefully at a table.  And you should take this deal, and become an exhausted, overworked wreck, possibly even overweight and invariably with health issues because I’m waving the temporary issue of childcare costs for a few years in your face. ”

Because the subsidy to working mothers is mostly hidden and secret, people can pretend it doesn’t really exist.  But it is, right now, a crummy deal to stay home with little kids if you’re most women married to most men in America.  The money isn’t there to paper over the difficulties.  The family support is mostly absent among American-born folks who think nothing of moving cross-country for work.  And keeping up the pretense that “childcare/daycare costs” are such a breaking point just maintains the status quo for wealthier families who can afford to provide household help for their SAHMs and do.  It also limits family formation because a lot of women can see the acceptable fringe mothers at church who took the deal and had six or eight kids this way and they quietly contracept themselves into only having 3, 2, or even just one.

The current, real situation is that women get to be treated as adults as a default and norm if they work outside the home, no matter how many kids they have.  It’s just that the general anti-natal arrangement of society (car seats, for example, are no longer built-in to cars due to legal issues rather than safety problems) means not having that many as a working mother.  And to back this up, everyone (including SAHMs) falls all over themselves to make it easier for mothers of toddlers to hold jobs outside the home at even minimum wage income levels.

Anyway this is getting too long and wandering into the topic of how SAHMs contribute to the problem by providing cut-rate childcare, so I’ll just do a follow up post on that aspect of the matter.  Stay home because it’s worth modelling for your kids and grandkids, so that we can get back to a society where it’s normal and women aren’t isolated and alone who choose it.  It’s not saving that much childcare money, they aren’t toddlers forever and it’s still important to stay home after they age out of school-age or teenagerhood,  and done with real support, some money might well be spent anyway on occasional or regular domestic help depending on the relatives-nearby situation.  Sometimes economic arguments aren’t the ones we should be jumping for.


11 thoughts on “SAHMs don’t save on childcare because working mothers don’t pay retail price for childcare.

  1. How much money you save in any part of your life is down to how much effort you put in. When receiving £8k/y on benefits and spending £4k of that on housing, I managed to live off £2k/year for my food, transport, school materials, laptop, new phone and phone bills, clothes, painting and crafting supplies, Christmas and birthday presents for the rest of the family, visits to my fiance in the midlands, moving house expenses and the odd meal out, saving £2k at the end of the year. That was just over $3000 for everything apart from housing and tax. And the saving didn’t take much time, I still aced 4 full A-levels (A*, A*, A, B), 1 AS-level (B) and 6 GCSEs (A*, A*, A*, A*, B, D), started work as a from-home Spanish tutor and got some work experience as a teaching assistant at my school in the two years I lived like that. All whilst I was running my own home alone, attending a life drawing course, learning to grow vegetable plants, maintaining a long-distance relationship and doing all my own paperwork.

    Likewise, if you eat largely clean unprocessed foods you get on the cheap, use your time to shop around for second hand goods, work on making money from home and sell on used baby products you can make big savings as a SAHM. Especially compared to the current average UK salary. That’s the plan based on some of my Welsh friends’ process, anyway.


  2. I’m a SAHM, and don’t know how I’d do it without help. I send the kids to my mom’s for one weekend every month, also my husband let’s me take off in the evenings once a week if I need a break.

    BTW, just stood up to a friend who was asking for me to chauffeur her children because of work. It’s hard because she does favors for me too, but once she began working, it became quite unbalanced.


  3. I have help – grandparents. I haven’t always had as much help (help has radically increased since my mom retired) but have always had some (BFF kept me sane when my son was a toddler by taking him out once/wk). Mostly for babysitting on date night, some activities and whatnot. (F’rinstance, my dad and son go on walks once/wk, which fulfills son’s required PE AND gives him grandpa time and learning about getting around on foot). I would not now, nor ever in my past, have had enough relative help to forgo daycare. They have an overnight there probably six times in a year.

    Never priced out daycare – mostly, yes, people do home daycare here. I assume that I am saving money based on the stupidity of the school scheduling in my area. You want anti-natal, anti-working mom? They have minimum days once/wk all the way through high school, and Jr High/HS students are let out by 220pm at the latest. No busing for anyone other than Special Ed. So – your choice is to let your child walk home and latch-key kid all afternoon until you get off of work, or work extremely part-time – or find a daycare that will pick your kid up after school. No surprise that most juvenile crime is during the afternoon hours….

    If I didn’t have them at home for independent study/charter school, I would spend (did spend!) about an hour every day doing drop off/pickup. That’s with virtually no commute – their former school is half a mile away. (It’s the waiting in line that takes the time).

    Your ability to take on extra work is very much dictated by your youngest child’s age/needs as well as your prior skill set and number of children requiring supervision.


  4. I overheard the most amazing conversation the other day. Couple A each have jobs with somewhat irregular hours and two small children, and to deal with it, they send the kids out to various friends and family members throughout the week, just like you describe above. Fine and good, the village in action, I reckon. Having not been raised in one, I don’t totally get it, but that’s ok.

    Well, one of the younger childless relatives involved in this scheme– Woman B– also works irregular hours at just above min wage and has been for some time now. So she is understandably looking to improve her sitch:.. but she’s also really committed to providing cut-rate/free childcare for Couple A and this has apparently been an obstacle to finding better paying work.

    So she was negotiating with the family matriarch, who’s also in on the scheme, to switch days instead of just telling Couple A “hey, sorry, I know I’ve been babysitting Lil Broseph on Wednesdays for the last four years but I reeeeally need a better job so you’re going to have to make alternate arrangements.” Matriarch was balking a little (good for her!) and I was like… why is this problem being dealt with at this level, instead of by the children’s actual parents? It all sounded totally dysfunctional to me, but I suppose I don’t know all the details so oughtn’t judge. Yeeshie. Just listening to it spiked my bp a little, tho.

    agree that when people see SAHMs as basically “free 24/7 childcare dispensers” they get very little meaningful respect at all. You don’t need or deserve time off or help if you aren’t actually working. Plus now there’s a giant, hopeless hole in my resume where I stayed home with kids for ten years like a mo-ron. (If I’d been in jail I’d at least have had an excuse for it. 😀 ) People are like, “Put in your (paltry) volunteer work!” but I’m like, if I was too busy to work for pay during those years, why do you think I would I have worked a bunch for free?!” So it’s very, very costly in the long run, too.

    I do understand why some SAHMs provide below-market childcare: it gives them at least SOME income and accompanying clout, though it does contribute to a culture where childcare is even further devalued. Meh. at this point I’m all about going full-in for socialized childcare. So what if most of the people who work in childcare are women: at least they’d get some credit and cash for their trouble. More than we can say now.


    • Depends how you’re qualified. I may be the main earner for a month or so (up to three possibly) from late December and that’s whilst continuing to be a full-time at-home housewife and preparing for kids. If it goes ahead as planned I’ll definitely blog about it because it’s sounding both daunting and exciting and may offer some useful insight.


      • I don’t think a woman working a 9/hr job is a solution. How is it a solution when you have to fulfill the duties as a full-time housewife?


        • Being a full-time housewife (at least thus far), isn’t really full-time. I am a full-time housewife who cleans, cooks, gardens, keeps animals and I make £150-£400/week from home as a freelancer (around £250-350 on a typical week). It’s also possible to work for a company from home, do outsourced work or do a few hours work in a place within walking distance of your house. In a month or so I will be the primary earner for our home whilst still being the primary housekeeper, so even if it’s not for you, if you want to see how I juggle it you can just follow my blog.


  5. Pingback: SAHMs providing cheaper in-home daycare undermines their ability to remain SAHMs | The Practical Conservative

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