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Subsidized daycare allowed me the option to be ambitious

On Mother’s Day, I want to thank Quebec’s subsidized daycare program, for giving me the opportunity to become the mother I am today. There is a lot of heated debate leading up to this Ontario election about whether subsidized daycare is worth the cost. Today I want to give you my perspective. Having access to affordable daycare of $7–10/day while my kids were growing up is the reason I have been able to achieve so much.

I have a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and a thriving career. I am also the mother of two well adjusted and mature teenagers. Teenagers who see me doing cool things in the tech industry and being actively involved in the professional community here in Kitchener-Waterloo. I am where I am today, because I lived in Quebec for 12 years while my children were young. Because I had access to affordable daycare, I was able to complete my PhD and start an ambitious and rewarding career.

What subsidized daycare meant for me and my career

In 2003, I was a PhD student earning $1500 a month with a 2 year-old and a 6 month old. My husband wasn’t earning much either. We had just moved to Montreal from Calgary, Alberta where I had juggled child care responsibilities and my PhD the best I could, which meant I wasn’t making much progress. I had heard the dream of subsidized daycare but also heard it would be impossible to find a spot and that waiting lists were long. I found a spot within a month for my 2-year old due to my persistence and knocking on doors. It wasn’t nearly as hard as the rumors and media had stated it would be.

By the next year both my kids were in daycare. My PhD was progressing well and I was enrolled in French language classes. Most of all, I had stability. I knew my kids were well cared for. I didn’t have to give thought or worry to organizing child care. I could go into the lab and work on my PhD, expanding my horizons and feeling fulfilled. I finished my PhD in a reasonable time — 5 years whilst having children.

When I completed my PhD, I was able to take on an ambitious career, because both my kids were taken care of. I didn’t have to say no to the prestigious NSERC post-doc I was awarded because it didn’t pay enough to to afford childcare. When my husband lost his job, we didn’t have to pull the kids from daycare, because it was still affordable. When I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in”, there were whole chapters that didn’t apply to me, because I had subsidized daycare.

My career was not stalled because I chose to have children.

At my children’s daycare there were 8 mothers working on their PhD. I met many immigrants who had a fighting chance because their kids were integrated and they could get that all important Canadian-based education and experience that they require to get good jobs. And many of my friends were parents where both mothers and fathers had thriving professional careers.

When the kids started school, subsidized daycare continued. In fact, it continued until the end of grade 6. What do kids in do in daycare after school? They had a rotation of activities to participate in. They learned dance and actually put on an evening show in grade 6. They learned to cook, do different crafts (remember the rainbow loop bracelets), played sports etc. Embarrassingly, they learned how to play chess so well by age 7 that they beat me every time. Professional development (PD) days were no problem because daycare was there.This also meant that PD days had subsidized field trips. My kids went skiing, tubing, swimming, and off to water parks, museums and even parachute simulation for a mere $15 extra. The best part — I didn’t have to give any mental energy to this. It was there for me.

I’ve read studies that focus on the cost of subsidized daycare. They quote numbers that say there are only marginally more women in the workforce (Fraser Institute, March 2017). I for one, would be in the workforce regardless of whether there was subsidized daycare — but the job wouldn’t pay as well, it wouldn’t be as rewarding and I wouldn’t be paying nearly as much tax as I do today to the Ontario government.

Contrast this to what I see of my friends in Ontario. The mothers who took 5–8 years off work because paying for childcare was a zero sum game. When they were ready to re-enter the job market, they had to start over, as if they had no experience at all.

If we aren’t seeing the benefit of subsidized daycare in studies, we’re measuring the wrong numbers.

So in this ever-changing world, where we need every contribution to science, engineering, business, the economy and the arts, how can we afford not to provide subsidized daycare? How can we afford to limit the contributions of mothers to our society? I benefited greatly, as did my children.