Daycare versus tenure versus financial ruin

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpg Money is on my mind a lot this semester. First, there's the grant writing marathon. And then there's the personal budgetary shortfall. Without a second income, we run a several hundred dollar per month shortfall. I've trimmed the fat from the budget and we're eating through the small amount of savings we had squirreled away. Soon it will be time to think about more drastic measures. And there's one big item looming large in my nightmares of financial ruin - the almost $1200 per month that I am paying for Minnow's truly excellent daycare where she is very happy and well cared for.

Why is daycare in the cross-hairs? Well, lowering our childcare costs seems easier than selling our house and no other single (or pair of) cuts will bring our budget back into the black. Like I said, I've already done the easy cuts. Plus, I'll admit that there's probably also a healthy dose of mother guilt in there - as I pay for someone else to take care of my child while I work to earn the money to pay for her childcare.

(In theory, the unemployed husband could be caring for her. In practice, not so much. There's the faintly glowing hope that he will soon have a job and then we'd be scrambling to find a spot somewhere for her. Then there's the real possibility that neither Minnow nor Spouse would be as happy or as well-cared for were they together all day rather than apart. Want to argue more about this? Start here. If you really can't get past having Spouse at home, while I'm at work and our child is at daycare, just close your office door, scream a few times, and then pretend that I am a single parent. That's what I do.) So daycare at some level is a necessity.

I could find a cheaper place for her, but as I said, she's quite happy where she is and I picked our current provider because, simply put, it was the best place I could find. Maybe when Minnow is transitioning to a new classroom after the new year, I could look at other daycare centers again, but transitions to new classrooms (much less centers) are hard on child and mother, so for now I'm not going to move her to another daycare just to save a few $.

Despite the daycare center's earlier statements to the contrary, our new daycare director seems perfectly willing to allow part-time care (MWF or TR) at a somewhat lower cost. So, given my teaching schedule, I could reduce Minnow to part-time at her current center and stay home with her the other days. I would love, love, love to spend more time with Minnow - but realistically, I can't get any work done when I am home with her. If I am lucky I get a 1.5 hour nap, and at the end of the day, I am wiped out. Given my current grant-writing calendar and two new preps, if I pull Minnow out of daycare 1/2 time, I'll get max 1 proposal and no papers submitted this fall. And that would seriously jeopardize my chances at reappointment next year.

It seems vaguely feasible (in that hazy distance sort of way) that I could go to part-time care during spring semester when I'll have classes that I have already taught stacked on top of each other two days a week. But if I get all three pending grants, I'll be really, really busy getting projects off the ground (and writing papers). On the other hand, if I don't get any grants, I'll be frantically trying to figure out how to do science on a shoestring, writing more proposals, and making papers appear out of thin air. So for part-time care to work during the spring, the magic formula of 1-2 proposals funded plus one set of analyses and ready to write up would have to appear this fall semester. I'm working hard, but there are no guarantees in the world of grants and experiments.

We've got no extended family in the area to provide child-care. An au pair is at least as expensive as daycare, plus I'd have to give up my home office space where I work evenings. Arranging a nanny share would require me to find at least one other family with which to share. What (good) options am I missing?

Some days I feel like I am slowly and inexorably being pushed towards compromising the happiness, education, and safety of my daughter or risking my career. It's not a good feeling, let me tell you.

Will one or even two semesters of minimal productivity doom me to tenure denial? Maybe not. But will time "off" make it that much harder to get back into the game? Indubitably. Is there life after getting out of academia for a less-demanding or better-paying job? Yes. But I like my job, and I'm even starting to feel competent at it.

Will moving my daughter to less-than-top-rated daycare doom her to illiteracy and life on the streets? Not likely. Will it mean that she gets less individual attention, has less access to resources, and has teachers with lower levels of training? Probably. That is how a daycare gets its rating after all. Will feeling less good about my childcare situation make me more likely to work shorter hours and worry more about her while I am working? Certainly. Will that affect my productivity? Of course.

Obviously, I can't just quit my job and stay home full-time with my child. Someone has to bring home the paycheck. Obviously, things will get better financially, if/when Spouse starts working again. If a single income ever becomes a quasi-permanent state of affairs, then I will have to consider selling the house or taking a higher paying industry job (if I can find one) or both. So on a personal level, the long-term state of affairs is fairly clear.

On a meta-level though, my situation is illustrative. The academic career is demanding enough, rigid enough, and underpaid enough to put single-income (or single parent) families in serious financial jeopardy and to force people out (regardless of their merits on the job). A decrease in expectations and work load, an increase in flexibility of the tenure clock, a big pay boost, or available and subsidized daycare would all go a long way to helping out in situations like mine...and keeping competent academics on the job. Opting out isn't really an option, and people who are seen to be opting out or are being kicked out by tenure denial may be facing a whole range of personal or financial issues that have very, very little to do with their competencies as scientists, teachers, and academics.

I mean, really, if Jim Watson had his sons clinging to his knees and pleading for num-nums at all hours of the day when he was working at the University of Cambridge, would he have had the ability to make quite such a big name of himself? I'm guessing the answer is "no."

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I am totally shutting my door and screaming a few times. :-( Maybe you'll be able to hear it where you are.

Are there any options on campus to help out? Working parents groups? Small life-work grants? (yeah, I know, hah) Is Spouse getting some help?

Big hugs, as always...

Wow - that must be so incredibly hard for you.
Nanny share sounds good to me - or existing day care plus nanny share on one of the other days. what are your colleagues like, would they meet with you in kid friendly spaces on/off campus? how good are your collaborators?

I know having your Spouse take care of Minnow full time is no good, but could you move Minnow to half daycare and have Spouse take care of her the rest of the time? It's a little bit of a compromise.

It's not just professors either. Grad students and postdocs in my dept are mostly married, and they have similar problems, and on less than half the salary (especially since they are often married to other grad students). One of the grad students I know has two children, and after each one, she took four weeks off, and then put them in full time day care while she went back to grad school (her husband was in medical rotations). Another one just gave birth to TWINS and took four weeks off, and is back here working her butt off.

I'm sending supportive thoughts.

Good luck with this. It is a very, very difficult situation to be in as both a new parent and new faculty member. seems to me that if spouse's inability to pull his weight is going to compromise your career and the quality of minnow's care...then perhaps you need to consider balancing your budget by no longer supporting spouse.

By anonymous (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

I wish I had anything more to offer than sympathy. I'm so sorry you're having to work through such issues. One of my girlfriends here is a single mom (in effect - "Dad" is also an academic and at another university but he's pretty useless when he is around) and I know how difficult it is for her to manage daycare, work, money and guilt. I do hope a good solution presents itself soon, with or without the husband.

Sounds like you need another spouse who can live up to the responsibilities of being a father. Sorry, no sympathy here. If you married someone not willing to be a parent, do not have children with him/her as when children do come, they will be ones most important job.

I have three suggestions -

Since you obviously live in a college town, you could try SitterCity for a few hours of in-home help on the days you are home. If you added that to the nap time, you probably could get stuff done. It might be cheaper than daycare. You might also find someone to split the sitter with you - I don't know how plugged in you are to other young families in your community, but I do know people who do this here.

You could try a family daycare, which tends to be a lot less expensive than a center. Both my sisters in law do this and have been very happy with it. Your state's child care licensing office will probably have a web-searchable database of accredited homes.

Also, I don't know what your view on churches is in general, but around here many of them offer a Parent's Day out program, which is like an abbreviated pre-school for one or two days a week (it's often 9-3 here) and usually is a lot less expensive than center-based daycare. The going rate here is about $15/day.

Some days I feel like I am slowly and inexorably being pushed towards compromising the happiness, education, and safety of my daughter or risking my career. It's not a good feeling, let me tell you.

I don't think you have any cause to feel bad about it. Do you worry that you're not sending your daughter to an even better daycare centre?

You're already compromising, about daycare and umpteen other choices: unless they're one of the super-rich everybody has to balance financial needs. We just do the best we can, and strive to be able to do better in the future.

Scicurious - Yes! Very good point about this not just being an issue for professors but also for grad students and post-docs. Given that most universities consider TAs or RAs half time or less positions, it ought to be a cinch for grad students to work part-time. But of course it is not. Fellowships too usually don't allow any accomodation for time off or part-time schedules.

Danimal - I'm not asking for sympathy. But Spouse is depressed - that's an illness just like any other. You don't divorce someone when they are diagnosed with cancer or develop MS and can't do all the things they used to do. In the same way, you don't just up and dump someone who's going through a bout of depression. Now if I can't eventually get Spouse to get effective treatment and get his illness under control or if even with treated depression he still isn't willing to work or do childcare, then that's starts to be a different story. But we're not there yet.

As a partially stay-at-home-dad, (while my wife is in teacher's college) and a grad student, and a guy who worked his way through undergrad working construction, I'd say a swift kick in the rear end is what's needed. Lock him out of the house during the day and maybe he will find a job out of boredom.

Great... Just by a timing fluke my comment appears right after your comment saying he is depressed. Now I sound like a jackass. I hope he's getting help, and good luck.

Sister - I'll sound like mom when I say this, but you can get rid of the cable TV -- if you haven't already. Mystery U also might have a partnership with a DSL ISP for lower cost Internet.

I wish I was closer so I could help you out. Maybe we can convince mom that she likes Mystery State and babysitting?

I'm not sure I understand why the male spouse is being vilified for wanting to have a career outside the home whereas the female spouse who wants one is praised! It really seems like there's a case of reverse sexism by many of the posters here. Isn't the point of men and women being equal that we all get to choose? Choose whether we want to have a career outside the home or not, whether we want to stay at home or not? I realize the practical side of the issue involves money. However, I think that if both spouses *want* to work, regardless of who makes more money, they should and can try to make that happen (as ScienceWoman is doing). In some cases, it may mean holding off on having kids until the couple can make that happen. And by the way, Danimal, I think there is a big difference between 'not wanting to be a parent' and not wanting to stay at home all day with the kids.

As a grad student who went through something like this, I offer lots of sympathy -- it is not only hard but MADDENING when a spouse has no outward signs of illness but still can't help out.

Someone already posted the first idea I was going to suggest: Use part-time daycare and have Spouse help when he can. It might be as simple as supervising Minnow while she watches tv or plays by herself (at least at first), but maybe it will give you an extra hour to work at home.

Also, if you are home more during the day (even doing childcare), then you might be able to work more in the evenings when Minnow is asleep (assuming she goes to bed at a reasonable hour or you are willing to be nocturnal).

The dangerous downside of these: If you are home more, Spouse might want more care, too, which can eat into work time. I get cranky why my spouse wants to socialize with me when the toddler is asleep -- that is my work time!

As for income... Since Spouse is not working bue to a disability, you should check into Social Security. We were lucky to have help from a disability insurance company to get through the process, but I know the process is long, annoying and tedious. If you can motivate Spouse to get his illness diagnosed (and you might need to go with him to an appointment or two to get him started -- I know you don't have time, but it might be necessary), they might have some suggestions on getting Social Security disability to help.

Also, how would Spouse feel about work-at-home online things? It's not much, but maybe he could start taking surveys for money or working freelance or something.

Good luck.

I was going to say something like what Mommyprof suggested re: sitters.
From a cost standpoint, combining that with what scicurious suggested (where spouse serves as "mother's helper") might be more logical (except for depression, which isn't logical- I know). I'd recommend starting with a sitter anyway though. If you are in the habit of paying for what you want Spouse to do, it might be easier for him (and you) to view childcare as economically valuble.

Maybe it's time to go to your department head, explain the grant load (you deserve it) and childcare costs (you need it), and ask for a raise?

I know, not very good suggestions. You have my sympathies.

It might help to remember the situation is temporary. Spouse will get better (you have to take that one faith). Minnow is becoming more independent. Minnow is getting older- which eventually means school.

It's your call, but I think your productivity as a scientist and your family are more important than staying out of debt. As my father used to say- "there are no debtor's prisons".

Even if your hubbie can't find the job he wants or that is in his field, he could get a job making little money ($8/hr) at a store or restaurant and make enough per month to cover child care.

Just make sure your career doesn't get thrown off track by this problem.

Oh, argh, you've got my entire sympathy. I don't have good suggestions, and I know that this kind of bind is something that's huge in academia, for single parents and for anyone without a cushion of savings.

If it's any consolation, the world doesn't end with tenure denial, or with switching jobs. If the work-life balance is impossible to manage now, in Mystery City, with toddler-Minnow and no family and the demands of a school with Mystery U's combination of teaching and research demands, keep in mind that this is not your only shot at a career ever. (And I'm not just talking about switching to industry - even if you love teaching at Mystery U, you might also love teaching at a school with a different emphasis, or closer to your family, or in the part of the world where you did grad school.)

That doesn't help with the very real problems of cash flow, but maybe it can help with the gut-wrenching fear that comes with being a junior faculty member.

Have you spoken to your Chair about your situation? Maybe a compromise/deal could be made that you have a slightly reduced teaching load next semester/year (although I realize this could create difficulties if colleagues in the Department are aware that you are receiving special treatment)? Or maybe a guarantee, in writing, "no new courses" for X years? Perhaps by explaining your situation, some new money helping to off-set the cost of child-care will magically appear?

Depression may be a real illness, but my clinically depressed mother still managed to work and take care of me and my brother after the divorce. Surely your husband, with the support of a spouse, can manage to take care of his daughter.

I think that Alex has a good point--no one is denying that depression is a real and serious illness, but it doesn't exempt spouse from all of his responsibilities. It is not unreasonable that he be expected to do certain tasks that make it possible for you to support him until he gets back on his feet.

Again, best of luck.

By anonymous (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

To be clear, I'm not saying that it's particularly good to put such burdens on the depressed, but you do what you have to do for your family. So he should take care of Minnow.

The more time you spend with a child the easier it gets. So if spouse could take care of minnow for 4 hours a day, he would get to know her better, you would save a bundle and he would still have plenty of time for the job hunt AND his wife would be less stressed out, which makes for a happier family. He would benefit in so many ways.

The other thing to remember is that kindergarten (which is FREE) is not so far away so you just need to hang in there. Even during great national economic turmoil, faculty salaries rarely go down. So in a few years you will likely be able to pay your bills with ease.

We also worried when we had two children in day care. We quickly realized that after only 4 years we had already paid more for their daycare than our 4-year private college educations combined.


I agree with Becca that your family is more important than staying out of debt. If money can solve some of your problems, I don't think you should have to feel bad to ask for more from your department or grants or if you choose to go into debt during this time of crisis. You haven't been in the house long, so I'm not sure if there's much money in a second mortgage. But perhaps a loan, or personal loan from family. I wonder if it is acceptable in your field to write in plenty of money for child travel and childcare costs at the conferences, including per diem and everything, and also, if you can write in more money for your summer income from grants. Of course, this depends on you getting the grant in the first place!
If the situation gets to be really long term, it sounds like you need a raise, disability income, or a drastic change such as a smaller house. But you are persistent, capable, and creative, so I have faith that you will find a way to make it work, eventually. Best wishes!

When I was in middle and high school, some friends of my parents (who were both just starting out as professors, as were their friends) hired me to be a "mommy's helper" for their two very small children. Not quite a baby sitter, since one of the two parents was always home, as well, but me being there gave them the freedom to actually get some work done or get a little bit of rest, while still getting to be home with their kids sometimes (I think this is basically what Mommyprof is suggesting). It worked out really well for all of us.

(I've been lurking here on your blog for awhile but I think this might be my first comment. Hi.)

Hugs (()) and random comments.

I have looked into childcare for my area and am horrified at the expense. I am also annoyed at the lack of sympathy expressed my coworkers, extended family and friends. This is magnified 10x when I imagine what it must be like for a pseudo-single parent such as yourself. People ask: but doesn't your University have affordable day care? HAHAHAHA. Answer: No, and if it did, my child would be in college by the time a spot opened up. And why should we choose childcare at my work over that at my town or my husband's work?

In response to those who indicate that depressed people can still take care of others: maybe, maybe not. Some people with depression are scared of physically hurting others (or themselves)because the thought can uncontrollably creep into one's mind. Not all people with depression can manage taking care of children.

Depression is a hideous, insidious illness. When you can see what needs to be done but that giant invisible rock is sitting on your chest, preventing you from even sitting up in bed sometimes... Not pleasant, to say the least.

@Alex, yes, you do what you have to do for your family, but sometimes the illness can prevent you from doing even that which you both want to and need to do.

And the nature of the illness makes the sufferer that much more unlikely to seek or accept help. I completely empathize. Knowing the effects that my own depression had on my family (I'm medicated now so it's not so bad) is one of the worst parts, in my experience. Best of luck from someone who's been on the other side. Sorry I can't offer more advice about the career thing, but I'm not a woman, not a scientist, not an academic so I don't have much experience there to go by :) I flunked out of college, due in no small part to the depression. But I enjoy your writing and hope that everything turns out ok.

You have to put the fear of losing tenure aside. Concentrate on what you need to do to survive right now. Minnow, Spouse, self-care are all more important than tenure. Do what you can to preserve those.

I guess I'd disagree with KJ--you need to focus on your job, yourself, and Minnow. I say this because yes, you can be there to support your spouse, but he ultimately has to figure this out for himself. You can't do it for him.

I really hope this all resolves itself soon.

By anonymous (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

Finding childcare and associated costs SUCK!

First, let me comment on costs of nanny shares, babysitters, etc. I don't know where everyone is living, but I've been pricing my options and quite frankly, nanny shares and babysitters are just as if not more expensive than center care. You cannot find a babysitter in this city (and ScienceWoman knows where I live) for less than $10/hr. Nanny shares are at least $6 or $7 an hour ($12 to $14 an hour split out two ways). So, I'm not sure that going that route would help financially.

I have to agree with some previous posters in that depression, while VERY real, does not exempt Spouse from doing some childcare. The one exception is if Spouse is chronically suicidal - but then he really should be in a very aggressive treatment plan anyways. I've been diagnosed this past week with a chronic illness that zaps every last bit of energy and has the added bonus of depression; but I still make myself care for my child. I cannot do it full time; I cannot do it even half time right now. But I can deal with 3-5 hour slots most days. Sure, DH is carrying a larger load while I get my meds stabilized (he is also doing all of the shopping and cleaning because I cannot physically do it). Sure, some days child and I do nothing than sit on the floor reading child books and/or watching signing videos. But a chronically exhausted and depressed individual can take 3 hour slots of childcare. And I have to question the wisdom (for your marriage and for Spouses own mental health) of you excusing Spouse from this responsibility.

From my point of view, you need to put Minnow in PT care for your teaching days and pull her home on your non-teaching days. Get a commitment from spouse to watch her at least 3 hours in the morning. Give both of you permission to have half of that time include educational video/programming, etc with Spouse dealing with the requests for juice and such - but aim for Spouse taking Minnow out on one errand per day whether that is to to the library, park, coffee shop, small amount of grocery shopping, or even just walking around the neighborhood until the DL issue is resolved. If they get out of the house - something that should be good for his and Minnow's mental state - then you will actually be able to work in the mornings. Add that to Minnows nap and possibly an hour after she goes to bed and you could piece together 5 hours of work. Use the rest of the at home time during the week to run your personal errands and/or housework thus freeing up your weekends for field work.

I just reread my message and it sounds pretty harsh. But, sometimes we need permission to push ourselves or our spouses. Hopefully your can read it in that light.

First of all, feel free to ignore any advice you dislike. You know best what fits your family.

This said, in your place I would eat my pride and (if at all feasible) ask my parents for money. 1200$ a month for, say, 8 months (to go until summer) is 10K; I think I could ask for that. But I don't know your parents.

And, if you would be so kind as to put a paypal button, you might try us. Your readers. We can't give you 10K, but I could easily pledge 50 (I'm tenured, and so's my spouse). I've been reading you for quite a while.

Because a fabolous daycare is hard to find. And a spouse who loves you enough to respect your desire to be a scientist is also not so easy - he may not be perfect, but he's still one in a minority. Minnow needs many gifts to you - one of the most important is your self-respect, and your love and dedication for the career you have chosen.

1) Not for you SW, but for others. Live on one salary from the beginning. It is possible. That helps you avoid financial ruin later.

2) COOPs....a pain to set up, but given numbers of single mothers today in the academic fields (post docs, grad stud. new faculty), coops can be great.

3) talk with chair and dean about family leave (money drops to zero) or tenure clock stopping. I know makes reappointment hard.

4) put house on market, at least it does something.

5) depressed spouse... be careful there is a difference between cancer and depression (I am spouse of depressed spouse) esp. with children around. So be very very careful...divorce isn't answer (I was able to work through) always, but separations can be. CODEPENDENCY is a real issue. YOu are a take charge do it all person....that can support his NOT working on getting better. Meds only take you part of the way. Behavior change requires serious work. depression of parent has major impact on children.

6) prayers, hopes, thoughts, what ever you want...headed your way. I wish I could send money and time.

$7/hr x 20 hrs/week x 4 weeks/month = $560/month

By Punditus Maximus (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

I would like to add my support for the mother's helper idea. When my husband was working in another city, I hired a babysitter to supervise the baby during the high stress times of the day - early morning and just before dinner time. I would never have hired this kid to watch the baby if I were not there, but since I was always on hand to answer questions, I felt okay with it. She also helped with heavy lifting jobs while the baby slept (I had a C-section). I paid her a lower hourly rate than I would have paid someone I considered qualified, and she got some on the job training. I think it worked out well for us both.

I do not support the tough love approaches to dealing with spouse. If you don't feel comfortable leaving Minnow with him all day, don't. Never mess with a mother's instinct. But you could ask him to try to help out an hour here or there to see how it goes. He may warm up to the idea.

Neither do I support the idea that you should just give up on tenure. You deserve that. You have worked hard to get where you are. And it will benefit your whole family. Having Minnow in slightly more cobbled together care arranegements (a little bit of this, a little bit of that) or burning through your savings until the crisis passes are both things that can be recovered from.

I wish I could just pull you and Minnow to my town for a month of proposal writing and revisions and, most importantly, not worrying. It is so hard to build up a support network when we move to a new town and are the primary breadwinners for a nuclear family, especially when this is a time when we could most use the help of neighbours, friends, and extended family to help us out through rough waters.

By New -ology mommyprof (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

Depression is often a long-term issue and I suspect it is for Spouse. I think it would be a bad idea to 'wait' for his depression to get better. He's doesn't think he requires taking his meds everyday or going to therapy, and until he understands that, I don't see that he will make much progress. Recovering from depression is hard work and he at least needs to be doing that. I wouldn't leave Minnow at home with him for extended periods of time. I don't think you can 'rely' on him to get/keep a job, at least not right now. My first thought was that you sell your house. That really sucks, I know, but it seems like it would make the biggest difference for the longest amount of time. I only worry that if you moved, Spouse would feel that he doesn't need to make any progress. For the health of your family and each of you individually, I hope some aspect of the situation improves soon.
Arrrggghh!! Time for me to scream, too.
Who does Spouse talk to? I think he needs someone, a friend, other than you telling him that his life is heading down a very slippery slope.

By Amber (Writer Chica) (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

All I can offer is empathy and the willingness to listen. I think some of the commenters have left good suggestions. As an individual who suffers from Depression, having a supportive spouse is critical to getting the disease under control. Its hard to admit when you are going through it ( I tend to only realize it after the fact). Its doubly hard because mental illness is not something that many people talk about or recognize as a legitimate illness. As some commenters have said, many think its about having a kick in the butt, when there is so much more to it. Lots and lots of hugs to you. You are so brave for blogging about it.

believe it or not, having a spouse (or child) who suffers from severe depression is harder than having one die or be diagnosed with cancer. You get help and sympathy with the latter, little with the former (re: danimals response). I have been lucky to have good administrative support when my wife and child were suffering from there worst times with depression and other mental illnesses. We had always chosen to live on one salary (banking the second) and that helped with expenses in the hardest times, but we did need parently (grandparental) help occasionally. I was lucky, I also had a good support structure from church. (religion at all bad regardless of PZ's take). I could get part time child care (and wife care) so I could work. I found little sleep for 10+ years though. but got through it. LIfe has settled down. Though not perfect, wife and child are alive and almost thriving at times, but almost always functioning. I still live pretty stressed out...but have been able to carve out time for myself. You need to do that too.

get your finances in order...if the holes can't be plugged, time to cut your losses and run...bankruptcy, walk away.

Be supportive of your spouse, but supportive does not mean letting him do nothing. Doing nothing causes depression, makes it worse. make him accountable for someting everyday. make him go to counseling. Pills don't cure, pills make it possible to cure.

thinking of you

I would so totally be offering you free babysitting right now if you were still in Utopia! I hope you find a workable solution to this question. BTW, I traveled to Utopia's Good Samaritan for work last week. While staffing the med-surg floor, I realized that we were right below LDRP and made a mental note that Minnow was likely born right there. It was almost like a brush with celebrity!

My boyfriend went through a bout of depression earlier this year. He's making his way out now with a temporary job and reorganizing his requirements for a master's degree (with help from the department head).

It seemed to help him to get out and have some fun with friends. Just getting out of the house.

I think that sometimes mildly to moderately depressed people only do what they need to when something reaches critical mass and everything will collapse if nothing is done. We ended up seeing a counselor because I collapsed one day under all the stress of grad school, (relatively) new relationship and home, and depressed boyfriend sitting at home all day.

I am still trying to convince subconscious that depression is a disease, not a synonym for laziness. I also fear that this situation will repeat itself in the future.

Sorry I don't have much cohesive to say. I have little experience with depression and balancing family life. I hope it all works out in whatever way is best for you, Minnow, and Spouse as a family, or you and Minnow if it becomes necessary.


Budget crunches are never fun to deal with, and it sounds like many things are compounding this for you. As a graduate student, I've stripped out nearly everything that is not essential. Cable TV can be an easy thing to drop, unpackaging phone-internet-TV can be helpful, but another really good place to cut costs is the food budget. I would look there for some honest-to-goodness budget management because it's amazing how many things get justified in the food budget.

With regard to research-related concerns, do you have a research group who could rally to help you out? Life happens, and it's amazing the allies we find when it happens. As things persist, maybe it's time to let people know what's going on for you behind the scenes.

Also, how many days a week are you teaching? Because it's hard to get work done, perhaps you could use childcare for all of the days you are teaching plus 1 for a research day.


Similar problems here in the Silicon Valley. Have a two year old and our daycare is a little more expensive (started at 1600, now down to 1300 since she's older)

My wife and I are both k-12 teachers and my wife team taught the first year. She worked half time (half salary) but my daughter's daycare still cost 1200 for three days a week. We poured through savings and ate essentially beans, rice, and a few veggies for a few months. We both went back to full time but now we're going to have another kid.

Two kids in daycare will be about 2900 a month. My wife takes home less than that. But if she stops working I have to pick her up on my health care which would be about $1000 out of pocket per month for the family plan (Kaiser HMO). That doesn't include dental or vision.

What's the point? Nothing really. Just letting you know that we wanted another kid, looked rationally at the numbers, and then ignored it.

I'm so sorry to hear that you're having to deal with so much right now.

I'm the mother of four successful and well-educated young adults, all of whom were in day care . . . graduate school for the first two, full-time career for the second two. Here's my experience with day-care: the "best" care doesn't make as much difference as we guilt-ridden parents assume. I've been all over the map with it, as has my huge extended family, and I can confidently say that just about anything (short of a dangerous situation, naturally) works just fine.

Please look into home-based care. Of all the different solutions we've tried, that's the one I would use now if the need arose. It also tends to be very cost-effective. In your situation, I wouldn't hesitate to jettison the "best" daycare and find something cheaper.

To cut the cost even further, look into the Mother's Day Out programs offered by churches in your area. Lutheran, Methodist, and sometimes even Baptist programs are not centers of wild proselytization. You may be able to stitch together pretty good coverage by utilizing these free programs, plus perhaps a neighborhood teenager who'd like to make a little money by being a mother's helper in afternoons and on the weekends.

I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this. I don't have any suggestions, other than to try not to be too hard on yourself about making all of these decisions. It's a complicated situation, and there is no one right thing to do. You are in my thoughts.

Wow. I have no words of advice, just hugs and a sincere hope that things take a turn for the better soon---that your spouse gets the help he needs, that you get funded, that you stop having to do so many new preps. Best of luck to you---I wish there was something I could do to help out.

Depression is the world's most misunderstood chronic illness. It's actually a couple of different illnesses with similar symptoms but quite different etiology.

Situational depression is "real" sadness and feelings of loss and/or worthlessness that arise from a life experience. The key to managing it is to recognize the experience and either change it or learn to deal with it. The worst kind to manage I've seen comes from loss of a job, especially for men. The feelings of worthlessness can be horribly traumatic. Short-term medications like Elavil and Ambien can certainly help, but only learning to manage the emotional load and, if necessary, changing your situation get you past the problem.

Chronic depression, on the other hand, is a physical illness. The brain's chemistry gives you false emotions, which most of us then try to attach to life experiences to make sense of . . . rationalization at its most useless at the mind/body interface.

Chronic depression almost always should be managed with medication. Unfortunately finding the right medication is very much a trial-and-error process; I've had family members who've gone through five different meds before finding the one that works for their individual brain chemistries.

I know a lot about this because I am myself a depressive. Chronic depression has a strong genetic component; in my family, more than twenty of us suffer to one degree or another, and we can trace the illness through four generations. I am fortunate in that I've only had one episode of major depression in my life, but believe me, the thought of having to endure another is terrifying.

Sciencewoman, I know you must be feeling overwhelmed right now. But please don't underestimate your importance to your husband's ultimate well-being. He may not have the emotional and physical wherewithal to seek treatment, and you are critical to starting that process. The most important things are 1) to recognize that depression is a REAL ILLNESS that must be managed, and 2) to identify the etiology of Spouse's depression and TREAT IT, either with talk therapy (try the local Samaritan Center) or with meds (visit to the doctor and referral, ASAP).

If you need to talk, need to find resources on depression (I have lots), I am available at all hours. I've sent you an email with my contact info.

And these days, sometimes, we wonder why people refuse to get married and/or have kids. But thanks for lining out the possibilities, I am sure your situation opens up many of our eyes.

Sciencewoman, I know this is a ton of advice coming from a ton of strangers, but I just wanted to second Leigh's excellent post. Both my husband and I are managing various levels of depression. His is of the chronic variety, and it took a lot of work on my part to get him to seek help for it. Since then, through a combination of talk therapy and medication, the turnaround has been amazing (I'd say inspiring). There is hope. I'm thankful every day I didn't give up on him.

I'm assuming your spouse is covered under your medical benefits, so hopefully there's no monetary reason for either of you to avoid counseling. Even if you can't convince your spouse to attend, I'd highly recommend seeking out at least one session with someone who can provide you with strategies for understanding and dealing with a depressed partner.

Sending lots of good thoughts your way, in the hopes that solutions present themselves.

You've got my sympathy. Would it be possible for you to hire out one of your rooms (and share in kitchen and bathroom) too a student. That should give you some extra money and might be less drastical than selling the house (although it might also put some extra strain on your family depending on the student).

By geologist (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

I also have only hugs to offer. It breaks my heart to read about you going through so much, and I'm hoping that things will start to change for the better.

Personally, I suspect that quality of childcare is probably not so important in the long run (well, as long as you're staying out of the really sketchy-bad end of things!). My sister and I were dumped in a variety of better or worse situations as kids after my dad left us and my mom was working multiple minimum-wage jobs to support us. We were even left home alone a fair amount (obviously we were older than Minnow!! I was 7-10 and my sister was 9-12 in those years). I'm sure that stuff all had an impact on me somehow, but it didn't spell doom and gloom and getting pregnant and dropping out of high school or anything. In fact, everyone in my extended family claims I'm the smartest and most successful member of the family! I guess my point is to try and allay any guilt you might have should you choose to save a bit of money on childcare.

I've dealt with mild depression in myself--I can only thank god I didn't have anyone dependent on me and I could just spend the months planted in front of the TV until I was able to pull out of it. Sending good thoughts spouse's way. Is there any kind of support group for spouses of clinically depressed people?

I've got two points here. One, I've been a fulltime nanny in the (very) recent past, and share situations aren't always the same. Most nannies I know are willing to split whatever their monthly requirement for one kid would be among two kids (add more, it gets more complicated, because there's more work - but this is a given). You could, theoretically, go from $1200 to $600, if you find the right nanny and the right sharing situation. The downside of this is of course the time it would take to do all this.

Have you looked at Craigslist? I realize that this is going to incite panic among those of us who believe that Craigslist is full of murderers and baby rapists, but sometimes it really does work out. Doing some careful homework, like my "nannied" family and I did, could lead to an incredible set-up; we're still very, very friendly.

My other thought is this, and it's a two-cent one: mother's helper is not a bad thing. I'm a photographer, not a scientist, and while I have a ton of work to do, it's likely not as intense as what you've got right now. I've hired a college student to come in on Fridays and just be here all day so I can get my processing done. She can come in her jammies and unbrushed teeth, veg all day, study while the baby catnaps, and she gets paid a little to do it - and I get to hack away at my inbox in peace.

But seriously - you don't need to SLEEP, you pansy. Go work at an all-night Starbucks, for pete's sake, and REALLY work for that family. ;) Call me if you need me - you know where I live and how to get here.

From an stranger from another continent... do not take too seriously these comments:
- I do not think that top childcare makes such a big difference... my almost three years old have past from the "best" care in a German nursery to a "good" one in Cyprus (where we live now). The actual one will be consider a almost bad one in Germany due to the small ratio #teacher/#kids, the lack of space to play, the lack of extra-activities...
I try to do as much as possible with my son when I am with him to "fill the holes" but anyway he continue to a an active, intelligent and happy boy --> go for changing to a less expensive daycare.
- As you said depression is an illness like another and as well as you do not let down a spouse for having cancer... you need to support your husband in this difficult time.
You are doing very well.
Ask for help as much as possible!
In some months this story will be like a bad year for your family but nothing else!


I tend to agree with chussita -- the difference between different child care providers isn't huge. I'd say you might want to stick it out with the current provider for a specified period of time to see if Spouse gets a job. If not, then you should probably switch providers to one with a more reasonable rate. If you could save $300 a month that could make a big difference on the bottom line.

Thanks for your ideas and support everyone. Lots of things to consider. I'll keep you updated as things develop. The nice thing is that we're not going to go bankrupt in the next few weeks/months - we still do have a bit of savings. And now I've got more ideas to check out when I think about making changes around the new year.

I'm sorry you have all this on your plate right now too. I think you must be wonderwoman to deal with it all, even if you do shut your office door and scream every now and again (I did that this morning!).I hope it gets better, and we're always around for you, at the end of a keyboard when you want to vent.

I've battled depression(runs in the family) at various times. Having to care for someone was actually helpful in my recovery. My best to all of you as you cope with this.

I'm amazed that more schools don't offer reduced-cost daycare for their faculty and their students, especially those who are working, single parents.

TomJoe, our parking services (at midwest u.) asked on a recent survey (of which I was not a chosen respondent, sadly) what would encourage employees to bike to work. When I heard about that, my immediate response to my then-pregnant coworker was "on site childcare".

SW - hang in there. I don't have advice but seems like you've already got lots of suggestions to consider.

This wasn't an option when I was in this situation, and I know this isn't true at all schools, but some colleges do have arrangements with day care centers and do help to subsidize costs.

If this isn't true at your school now, it still might be something you can push for.

ScienceWoman, I am a reader (mostly lurker) from your old blog, and I am very sorry to read of your troubles now. I have no experience with childcare issues and no advice, just lots of sympathy. Also a question... when did Spouse stop being Fish and start being Spouse?

I like the idea of part-time childcare with Spouse picking up extra time with Minnow at home. Obviously I don't know what I am talking about, but it seems like it might be good for both of them--and for you, too. I hope things look up soon.

As a man who has been in a similar situation as your husband,
kick his ass. I am betting he is smarter than you, can't find
decent work in his field and is wallowing in pity and self doubt. Kick his ass. He needs to take any job at all and forget about what people will think about him. He is a dad now
and has a duty to act like one. Yes depression sucks, but doing anything at all will help. Support him, but kick his ass.

Mondo, you're betting he is smarter than ScienceWoman? WTF?

I suspected your husband was depressed and I have a tremendous amount of sympathy and understanding for how that feels. I also appreciate that therapy and medication are hard to start and - for some - difficult to continue. But there is some urgency for him to begin recovery. I'm very concerned that with both of you being away from family and friends, with you so overwhelmed and him doing pretty badly, that this will continue to spiral into worse circumstances. Guilt and isolation fed my own struggle so I really hope he gets help soon, for both your sakes.

As another note, I'd ask for more money. I knew postdocs who made considerably more than I did when they negotiated for help with childcare expenses. I have friends who jumped up in salary when they had children as well. Perhaps I'm overly idealistic here, but I'd try going to your Chair, explaining the issues and your concerns about your professional future and asking for resources and advice. But that's just me - I'm completely supportive of whatever you decide to do. Hugs and many wishes of happier times ahead.

Oh, I feel truly sorry for your situation! I more and more believe that providing good and cheap daycare for children, is one of the most important factors for women's possibility of having an income and a carreer of her own. It HAS TO be possible to combine motherhood with a job. It has to.

(In my country (Sweden), it acutally is. Sometimes I need to get reminders that we - so far - can have a decent daycare for our children for not too much money a month (about $150 is usually maximum fare). But the feelings of "bad mother" are still there, no matter how good the daycare is. :) )

Dear Sciencewoman, I have children whom I put into daycare while I was completing my PhD (ie until they were schoolage). This was a difficult decision for me, and I suffered plenty of anxiety about doing it, and whether I was prioritising my children enough in relation to my career. My children also belong to a minority group, so my partner and I chose to send them to childcare given in that minority group language as we really wanted them to have that experience. However, the care at that centre was not quite as I wanted in some other respects. What I learned from it all (eventually), was that my children have grown to be happy and loving human beings despite some things not being perfect. So what I would say to you, is that you do not have to be a perfect parent for Minnow, or provide perfect daycare - you have to be a GOOD ENOUGH parent, who does her best. Minnow is clearly loved, and she will be resilient even through situations that you feel may not be ideal. As long as they have enough ok elements to them (and are not abusive or unsafe), it probably doesn't matter if it isn't the best daycare in town, or if she misses out on something, or watches videos at home for a while with your spouse. I am sure you are a good enough parent - so whatever you decide, go with it, and especially remember not to beat yourself up about it.

By anonymous (not verified) on 21 Sep 2008 #permalink

Ideas.... some of which I have used.

You have to keep the daycare spot and you have to keep your career going.

Go to part time daycare - it holds your spot and keeps Minnow in a good place for learning and socializing.

Idea #1
If spouse can handle a small amount of childcare I would try leaving him with Minnow for 1.5 hr before or after nap. This way you get a 3hr time block for solid work. If this works ok, you could slowly extend the time block. When you are home with Minnow get all your chores done so you can spend a few good hours working after she goes to down at night.

Idea #2
If spouse cannot handle any amount of childcare. Find a high-school student to come in a couple days a week after she/he gets out of school. I think you mentioned spouse is now cooking dinner so have said student entertain Minnow and stay for dinner - you come home just in time to get Minnow ready for bed and down for the night. You would have to find a mature student to handle this somewhat 'odd' arrangement but they are out there. It means you take last nights leftovers and eat in your office alone but we are not working on utopia family life at the moment.
Once Minnow is down you could do a bit more work at home.

Idea #3
Similar to #2 except said teenager comes in for the day Sat. or Sun. Working on the weekend can be nice - much quieter usually. Since you are home for a couple of days a week you can get the weekend chores done then.

Idea #4
Find another parent who would like to trade days - you take their little one for one day and she takes yours for another. It only gives you one day but that's better than none. I would advertise in the local supermarket or something so as to find someone local. Think of it as a full day play date.

For all of these ideas you will have to accept that
- you will get less work done than is ideal (but you will get more time with Minnow so it is not all a loss)
- this is temporary - one way or another spouse's issues will be resolved
- your family will be different from what you envisioned - this make it different - not inferior
- sometimes we work hard just to stand still and that's okay, we do not have to always be a superstar

Instead of spending less, can you earn more?

Assuming your field of -ology is vaguely commercial/practical, you could probably make up the shortfall by consulting or working casually in your field one weekend a month. It would be good for your students too, in terms of networking and being able to pass on knowledge of how real world job demands differ from academic science.

closed door, screamed a bit... As a postdoc AND single parent of 2 children (one of whom is adopted by me as a single person therefore i bear sole financial responsibility), I feel your pain.
In some ways my choices are harder than yours, but in some ways easier. The easier is that no one asks me questions like "why can't your husband do that?" (although my PhD advisor did tell me if I wanted to succeed I'd need a husband... I ought to send him your blog for a reality check?).

How I survived on grad student and now my (rich!) postdoc salary.
1. for years i didn't have a car. if you live in a city where biking/busing is decent, try this. easier than you think.
2. when i did get a car, it's an old honda. not new. reliable, but cheap insurance and no car payment.
3. i lived until recently in a 1br apt (slept in living room on futon) kids had bedroom
4. no TV (don't like it anyway), no cable bill, etc. etc.

if you've done all this and still are strapped.

ask/beg!!! the daycare person to 1. give you part-time as you suggested, and have your hubby take the kid.
2. ask daycare person to let you have a 'vacation' from daycare short-term.

i FEEL your pain. you don't want to move the kid, unless necessary. really necessary. because good daycare is just hard to find, and nothing is more stressful than not knowing whether your child is happy during the day!!!!!!

if hubby is able to keep kid during day, (suggest as temporary), it may well give him some insight into how hard htis is foryou to juggle.

my older child's being 'babysat' by her dad (i was married then), was an eye-opener for him. he wasn't much more helpful, but was a little mroe helpful and less critical.

the bottom and i mean BOTTOM line is: where do you want to be in 10yrs? my husband did not support my wanting to have a career, and that was one of the biggest reasons we parted.

i knew it'd mean huge reduction in living standard (we owned a house, had 2 cars) from large house to 1br apt.

i do not regret my financial poverty, or that i had to reduce my std of living. because i am doing what i WANT to be doing. I can't say where I'll be in 10 yrs, but i love science, and i'm not sorry.

so, if you really can't get ends met, discuss with hubby and lay out options. if your marriage doesn't work that way (and soemtimes good ones don't), tell him you've decided on x and y to allow veto option.

if you have to sell the car, buy an old one? well, what'll be more important in 10yrs? tenure, or the car?

if your house really is the only asset you've got left, and you have to sell your house and rent one or an apt? well, in 10yrs you'll have TENURE!!!

i do feel your pain though, it's hard to accept the idea of debt or reduced std of living.

good daycare is hard to find though, and this is just temporary. 10yrs ahead is where you ought to look.

and don't let yourself get so upset over the losses that it ruins the happiness ofyour journey thourhg the '10 yrs' (that one took me years to learn). you've clearly come to terms with hubby and kid not being good daycare option (and most chicks are with you in this reality, it may not be 'ideal' but it IS reality no sense wishing for what is not possible). use that clarity of mind, to make the hard decisions to get yourself worrying about how to pick her ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!!!

i have to remind myself that these years with my children are all i get (until the little buggers leave me for college), and i want those years to be good ones, that we all look back on with happiness (if chaos reigns int he house, well, i'm used to it now...).

good luck (i love your sense of humor).

Oh, and as a divorced postdoc with kids, but mostly as a grownup who's experienced life, I'm a little irritated with those who've criticized you for being with your 'imperfect' spouse. you don't have to defend him or your choices. no one lives in another's shoes, or marriage.
he may be the world's greatest hubby ever, and just isn't the best daycare guy. or ... not our business, and not the support you were asking for.

we all come to where we are now through different roads, judgement has no place in support....