Just a few days ago, I learned my oldest niece is pregnant with her first child. It was her husband who shared with me the happy news, and after I congratulated him I couldn’t help but reflect on the mixture of joy and challenge that comes with parenting.
Kids, of course, change our lives in most dramatic fashion. Unlike pets, you can’t place them in the kennel when vacation time rolls around, and unless you’re fortunate enough to have grandparents nearby or income that allows for a nanny, juggling the non-stop supervision kids need for the first 12 years or so is, it must be said, a tremendous burden (albeit a burden with many perks). Summit County has one of the highest percentages of working moms in the nation, so once maternity leave is over, it’s back to work and the start of many years of mind- and wallet-numbing child care payments.
How much is that? When our youngest finished preschool in Frisco just a few years ago, we were paying close to $900 a month, and I hear it’s over $1,000 now in some places. Add even more for infants. So $12,000 or more a year just on child care – there goes most if not all of one parent’s take-home income for the year. Once junior starts kindergarten – which thankfully became free in Summit County a few years back – things get easier, but there’s still the question of what to do once school lets out. Some, like our sports editor and his wife, a teacher, are able to juggle their schedules to cover care of their infant with minimal additional expense. My wife and I are fortunate in that her job is more flexible on hours, allowing us to take care of our 9-year-old without additional child care expenses during the school year.
But that’s not the case for many two-income families, which is why the sudden announcement by the school district recently that Summit Day Camps – the on-site program at the elementary schools for before- and after-school day care – is closing sent shock waves through the portion of the community that relied on this service. In our building alone, four parents (or as my publisher tallied, 18 percent of the staff) rely on Summit Day Camps. Leaving aside the question of how this was managed by the school district, the fact remains that when parents have a trusted source of day care taken away, it presents some major problems. It’s not like some factory store closed and another will pop up soon.
Grumpy online commenters love to write unhelpful things on our website like “If you can’t afford to have kids up here, then go away or don’t have them,” and they despise towns like Breckenridge and Frisco that help subsidize day care as a way to help local workers. What they ignore is the fact that such subsidies only make day care a little less expensive – no one’s giving it away. One of the greatest challenges Summit County has always faced with its economy is the ability of our workforce to afford living here, and it should be obvious to most that anything we can do to retain local families is good not only for our community but for our economy. Yes, even that childless commenter benefits from having locals who stay here and have kids, forming roots, building community and providing stability to this transient “playground.”
Raising a family is a difficult thing, made even more so by the high cost of living in the High Country. Communities throughout human history have figured out how “the village” can pull together to help watch and educate the kids, and the notion that it’s a collective responsibility is as old as civilization. It is, of course, ultimately the parents’ responsibility to raise our kids, but the community as a whole also plays a role – which is why we’ve all agreed, for example, to tax ourselves to provide public education. Those who scoff at that collective responsibility, call it “socialism” or whatever do so at their own risk: Do we really want to see the day when most families are driven from Summit County because they simply can’t make it up here? (Many have already made that choice, by the way.) What will we be then – some kind of retirement community serviced by people bused in from Leadville or Denver?
Fortunately, as evidenced by recent votes approving funds to help the schools and provide free kindergarten, most Summit County residents still see that village rationale and put their money where their mouths are. Let’s hope we remain such a compassionate community.