daycare.jpgI often hear from moms who decided not to return to work because of the high cost of childcare. “Daycare would eat up a lot of my paycheck,” they say.

Well, that’s a lame excuse for not working if indeed you want to work, and it could spell doom for your financial health in the long run.

I wrote a column on this very topic for MSNBC.com this week.

Although women now constitute virtually half of the work force, many still see child-care expenses as coming out of their paycheck — not the household’s overall budget.

There seems to be more equity when it comes to who’s bringing home the bacon, but for some reason, child-care expenses are seen as coming out of a mom’s ka-ching.

This perception often creates undo burdens on working moms and can even keep some women out of the work force, at a time when many feel compelled to return because of the recession, experts say.

As you can imagine I got plenty of emails, mainly taking issue with the premise of the piece.

Except for one email from Amy who offered her story as a cautionary tale for any woman who bags out of working because daycare is just too expensive:

Just over a year ago (right before the financial meltdown), I quit working full-time and took a part-time job (leaving my son at his daycare a few days a week). The goal was to bring some much-needed sanity to the household and spend more time as a family. I had many women who looked askance at this, saying “you should just quit entirely, you’re barely going to make enough money to cover his daycare.” My husband and I considered that option, but in the back of my head, I really wanted to make sure I could smoothly transition back into a full-time job if I needed to. My husband’s company was in healthcare (a pretty stable industry) and his job seemed secure, but I just had that nagging feeling of - don’t walk away from your career. I had been working for 10 years and just didn’t feel good about completely giving up something I had worked hard to build for myself, that I might regret not having to fall back on if something happened.

Well, I am glad I didn’t. Sept. 30 my husband was laid off from his job. He’d been there four years and was given 30 minutes to clean out his desk, it was over. My $600/week part-time income doesn’t go far but with his severance and unemployment, it will definitely help us cover bills until he can find something else. I have started applying for full-time jobs and it is much, much easier to explain that I’ve been part-time - maintaining my contacts and my skills - than that I left the workforce and haven’t handled anything bigger than a playgroup meeting in over a year. I know some women in that situation and they are having a tough time even getting called back about their resumes.

Indeed, it’s harder to return to work after an extended period of time off. And there are financial implications beyond this recession for women.

* “A career is an investment you make in yourself, and it pays increasing dividends as time goes on, whereas child care is very costly when your children are young, but becomes progressively less expensive as they get older,” said Leslie Bennetts, author of “The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up To Much?”

* Women also need to consider the long-term impact on future Social Security payments, their 401k and the potential loss of earning power for being out of the workplace for prolonged periods, said Amanda Steinberg, founder of personal finance newsletter for women DailyWorth.com.

There are many things to think about beyond the near term pain of doling out thousands of dollars for daycare. And we have to change our mindset — daycare is not just a mom’s burden, it’s the burden of the entire family. A burden that will pay off in the long run for all concerned.

At least that’s how Amy sees it:

“I really think that my generation of young mothers got sold a bill of goods by the many, many voices that tried to convince us we should stay home, and that we were not good mothers if we didn’t. I was hammered with messages when I was pregnant and when my son was a baby about “I can’t believe you put him in daycare every day,” “how can you leave your baby,” etc.

“The pressure to quit and stay home was unbelievable. The underlying message was that our husbands would support us, that we really didn’t need two incomes, and so I should be a good mother and quit working.

“Well, I am damn glad I didn’t because now I can go out and get a full-time job to support our family if my husband cannot. There are so many things that can happen - marriages can end, husbands can die, people can get very sick, layoffs, etc. It is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS better for a woman to be able to make a living that can support her family if need be.”

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