Now that our son is 4 years old and kindergarten isn’t quite so far away, my husband and I can no longer ignore the looming question we’ve been pushing aside for as long as possible: What are we going to do about Jewish day school?
It’s not that I’m unsure if I’d like my son to attend—I know I would. But to do so, I’ll need to go back to work full-time so that my salary can cover tuition, and with that comes a world of repercussions not just for me, but also for my children.
These days, I stay home with my young kids and freelance when I can, which means I push myself to sit down and work almost every night once my children are asleep to keep up my skills, further my career, and, yes, help pay the bills. But I don’t earn nearly enough as a freelancer to cover day school tuition times three (though my twin daughters are only 1, I don’t believe it’s fair to offer an opportunity to my son that I can’t also extend to them), and because my husband’s salary is basically already accounted for, I’d need to go back to full-time employment to make it happen.
Here’s the especially tricky part: To bring in a high enough salary to cover day school for all of my kids, I’ll most likely need to take a job in New York City, which means commuting close to 2 hours each way from my town in New Jersey. Taking a job closer to home would shorten my commute, but also limit my income tremendously. And for those of you who think we’re talking a mere 5 to 10% difference in earnings, try again. I’ve been down this road, and in my line of work, you’ll take a 30 to 40% salary cut by staying on the NJ side of the river. (I’ve discussed this issue with people in a variety of industries, and many are faced with the same predicament.)
The way I see it, if I’m going to go back to work full-time for the purpose of sending my children to day school, I’ve got to earn enough to cover day school tuition. Period. So I’m therefore faced with the following two choices:
-Take a job that will allow me to give my children the Jewish education I’d like for them to have, but give up being a part of their daily lives because my schedule will require me to be away from the house for 12 hours or more per day.
-Stick with my current setup and forego day school.
For us, and many other families, there really is no middle ground.
Now if you’re thinking “Why not apply for tuition assistance?,” trust me, I’ve had conversations along these lines. Like many middle class families, we most likely fall into that trap of earning “just enough” to not qualify for substantial aid, yet not enough money to pay for day school on just one salary. Also, while Jewish day school is important to us, my husband and I are not willing to completely forego saving for college so that our children can attend.
And also, we have expenses—unavoidable expenses—that would make paying for day school on one salary virtually impossible, even if we were to take college out of the equation. We live in an expensive part of the country—a price many pay for proximity to Jewish life. We have multiple children. We don’t lead a particularly extravagant life, and while I feel fortunate to have the option of staying home with my kids, it’s not a tremendous financial sacrifice for me not to work full-time. Based on the salary I earned at my last job, between childcare costs, commuting expenses, and taxes, I’d wind up bringing home just a few hundred dollars a month by working full-time and having virtually zero interaction with my children during the week.
Right now, working full-time just doesn’t make sense for me. Why should I pay someone else to watch my kids to barely break even financially? But working full-time and giving up that interaction to send my children to day school is an entirely different scenario. There, I see a value in spending all of my salary on childcare—because that childcare includes a solid Jewish education, and one I know I can’t give my kids on my own.
So I’m torn. I don’t want to miss out on the daily happenings in my kids’ lives, but while I think they’d benefit from attending day school, I also think they’d suffer in other ways—primarily, a lack of support and attention at home. (My husband currently leaves for work at 5:00 in the morning and gets home at 6:30 p.m. on a good day, which means if I were to go back to work, neither of us would be home during the week.)
Although I have some time to make this decision, it’s one that weighs tremendously on my mind as I imagine my children finishing up a day of school, and a babysitter being there to care for them instead of me. I can picture the disappointment on my children’s faces when they discover that I can’t attend their school plays, or can’t drive them to soccer practice, because I’m not home to do so. As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve come to appreciate the little things that come with the territory, like watching my children play and interact. And I just don’t know that I’m willing to give all of it up.
There’s so much all of us will miss out on if I have to go back to work to pay for day school. And so I have to wonder: In the end, is it really worth it?