The cost of childcare

Working couples take advantage of opposite shifts to spend time with kids but see each other only between midnight and dawn.

Published March 21, 2006 6:39PM (EST)

In yet another reminder that "opting out" is a dilemma only for those who can afford it, Katie Thomas of Newsday yesterday wrote a much-needed article about Long Island couples who work opposite shifts so they can take care of their children. It's a creative arrangement that enables both husband and wife to work and spend time with their kids. The only problem? They don't get to see each other.

Thomas offers readers a glimpse into the pressed lives of Mary Elizabeth, 28, and Jason Paciella, 30, of Port Jefferson, who only see each other 15 minutes a day. She leaves before dawn to go to her job as a clinical work specialist; he gets home after midnight after his shift ends. They don't even get a full day together on weekends -- but they avoid having to pay child care for their 1-year-old son.

Apparently, such schedules are becoming increasingly common as prices of housing and day care continue to rise. (In Long Island, day care for one child can cost $1,000 a month.) While it's a boon for kids who get to see more of their parents, not surprisingly, split shifting takes its toll on marriages. Thomas features another couple, Melissa and Shawn Florman, of Ridge, who worked opposite schedules for two years. "It was pretty crazy. He would walk in the door and hopefully we wouldn't get in a fight," Melissa Florman told Newsday. She would start dinner for her husband and children but never got to eat with them. She says it was a serious case of Lyme disease, which forced her to stop working, that saved her marriage.

Stories of families making sacrifices to make ends meet are not new. (Broadsheet recently covered the pressures working-class parents face when family responsibilities intersect with work.) But what is ironic is that family rights advocates long have been arguing for companies to provide more flexible work schedules to accommodate working families. In the Newsweek article, Linda Lisi Juergens, executive director of the National Association of Mothers' Centers, an umbrella group of mothers support groups, points out that evening shifts are usually available only to workers in the medical professions, law enforcement and service jobs. But if taking advantage of flexible work options is going to consist of strained marriages and hyperscheduled family time, maybe we need to be more careful about what we wish for.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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