Tag-Team Parents Avoid Pricey Child Care

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Karen Frisch never liked the idea of nannies or day care for her kids, so she and her husband have devised an elaborate schedule in which they mix two full-time jobs with raising two children.

"I don't want someone else raising my children," Frisch said.

Even if she were open to child care, Frisch says paying for it would be a stretch, estimating 30 percent of her income would go to pay the fees for child care for daughter Jillian, 8, and son Jordan, 6, in her home state of New Jersey.

So she and her husband, Gary, have become what sociologists call tag-team parents, relying on each other to take care of the kids while each is away at work.

During the day, Frisch, 40, is a full-time mom, helping with homework, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Then at night when her husband gets home from his public relations job, the kids become his responsibility and she rushes out the door to her other full-time job on the night shift.

Gary Frisch said they overlap by about a half an hour in their home.

"Sometimes if I have to stop and get gas for the car on my way home, then I've missed dinner with the family or dinner with my wife," he added.

Roughly one-third of dual-income families manage work and child care this way. Most are forced into the arrangement by the high cost of child care. Around the country, average child care fees for a single baby range from $3,800 a year in Alabama to more than $13,000 a year in Massachusetts. And fees can often go much higher.

Savings, But at What Cost?

The money the Frisches save tag-teaming is going into a college fund for their kids, but those savings come at a cost.

Karen Frisch's 12-hour shifts as a respiratory therapist and days as a stay-at-home mom have left her chronically sleep-deprived. And studies show tag-team parents are at a higher risk for divorce than couples who work the same hours.

When Frisch comes home from work in the morning, her spouse is out the door five minutes later. As she describes it, their communication consists of a quick hello, "Hi, bye, see you later."

"And then he's off to work and I take over," she said.

"It's like two ships passing in the night," said Ellen Galinsky, atthe Families and Work Institute. "The husband and wife have time with the kids and that's wonderful. But they have not very much time as a family and even less time as a couple."

The Frisches say days can go by without them having a meaningful conversation.

"It's stressful, it's very stressful. It's tiring. It takes a toll on the marriage," Karen Frisch concedes. "Some people ask, 'Is it worth it?' I think it's worth it for what I can do for my children."

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