## What is the equivalent salary of a stay-at-home parent?

We’re about to have both our kids in child-care, for at least some of the week. This means they’re joining around a million other kids across Australia using the child-care system, according to the government. For various reasons, all of the families represented by that statistic are using professional child-care instead of completely looking after their kids themselves.

Professional child-care isn’t free, of course, so it is open to only those families who can afford it. Specifically, they need to be able to afford the child-care even after accounting for the additional income that might be brought in through allowing a care-giver such as a parent to enter the paid workforce. I wondered exactly how much income would need to be brought in to offset the paid care, so I’ve thrown together a quick spreadsheet on the economics of child-care.

To put two children into care, five days a week, for all but four weeks of the year, at a child-care centre that charges \$87/day, the now-employed parent would need to earn at least \$30,970.06 full-time to offset the costs. At a centre charging a higher rate of \$120/day (but less than a reported maximum of \$135/day), the salary would be \$52,773.72. If there were three kids, then the salary would need to be \$84,308.94.

Instead of looking at this as the amount that would need to be earned to go into the workforce, it can also be viewed as the amount that is being effectively earned by not going into the workforce. A stay-at-home parent is “worth” at least a salary of \$30,970.06 from that perspective. I recognise that other costs avoided or reduced could also be included, reflecting domestic chores also performed by the stay-at-home parent, from cleaning to cooking, however these might also be shared with others depending on the household situation, so I will leave them out of my simple analysis.

To put this in context, \$30,970.06 per year is \$595.58 per week, and the Australian minimum wage is \$589.30 per week. Taking a minimum wage job to put two kids into child-care doesn’t make much sense if you just look at the numbers. On the other hand, according to the ABS, the average full-time adult earns \$1,322.60 per week (or \$68,775.20 per year), and if we look at women only, it’s \$1,165.00 per week (\$60,580 per year). So, assuming the stay-at-home parent can leave home for an average wage, it is probably economically positive.

Knowing this is one thing, but it doesn’t do anything for the twin challenges of finding child-care places and finding a decent paying job.

## The second child

I return to work in just a few days, leaving Kate to carry the burden of two small children on her own. Although the time spent with my family over the last six weeks has been great, it can’t go on forever without someone working.

But reflecting on what it has been like this time, compared to the last time we had a newborn, I’ve realised how different these weeks have been.

For our first child, Harriet, we were jumping off a cliff together and we didn’t know what was at the bottom. We lacked confidence, we lacked knowledge, and the only thing we knew was that our lifestyle would be changed irrevocably.

To prepare that time, I read books and went to classes, read my parent friends’ blogs and stocked-up on frozen dinners. And it was all very helpful, and we survived intact.

This time, for our second child, Philippa, I waited until a week before and re-read parts of one book for preparation. A major difference was that this time, we had knowledge (although, a quick refresher helped) and confidence.

But what we had last time that we didn’t have last time was time. While last time, we could relax, rest or sleep during the periods when the newborn was unconscious, this time we didn’t have that luxury.

As well as Harriet having long awake periods, she has also realised that she needs to be more demanding to achieve the level of attention she received pre-Philippa. This may also be explained by simply being two-year-old age, but some is likely due to the competition.

One aspect that is easier is we’ve now well and truly given up on our old lifestyle. Going out most evenings is now a distant memory. The struggle to retain some of the old lifestyle was a part of the adjustment in having Harriet in our lives, and this is a struggle that didn’t need to be repeated for Philippa. I guess this is an advantage in having the two children relatively close together – we hadn’t strayed too far from the way of living that we’d developed to accommodate a baby.

There are plenty of nice things about having another little baby around, though it’s hard not to look back on the early days with Harriet fondly, to now think of how good we had it. This is, of course, looking with eyes that now have the confidence and knowledge that we didn’t have back then, but the yearning for more time is very strong.

So, it’s unsurprising that many of the strategies that we’ve discussed for when I return to work involve getting Kate more time. For example, enrolling Harriet in care for one day a week, visiting Kate’s parents to share the kids around for one day a fortnight, etc.

I know we’re not the first people to have a second child, so it can clearly be made to work. I guess we’ll find out how.

## Skateboard on a stroller

Whether you call them skateboards, buggy boards or stroller boards, they sound like a good option for extending the use of a stroller. You attach a wheeled board to the back of the stroller, and the older child can stand on it while the baby rides in the stroller proper. Certainly, it’s cheaper than replacing a single stroller with a double stroller.

Since we had our second child, three weeks ago now, we needed to do something to allow both kids to be transported by a single adult. Although being on leave at the moment, it’s not yet a big deal, but since that’ll end soon, we thought we’d give a skateboard a try.

We have a 3-wheeler stroller (Swallow Beema Q model) which we are very happy with, and used a lot during our first child’s early months for walks around the neighborhood and at the shops. The sales assistant at the baby store recommended the Lascal BuggyBoard Maxi as a skateboard that would fit our stroller. But now that we have fitted it and put it into use, I don’t think I’d recommend it at all.

For others that are looking to fit a buggy board to your Beema Q, I think you’ll be disappointed, based on our experiences. You can see some of the issues in the above photos, but I’ll summarise the pros and cons here. I hope this helps others who are considering this option.

• Older child can be carried short distances on the stroller without needing to be picked up, enabling one adult to undertake short trips with two children.
• Fits securely and can be clipped in and out with ease.
• Can handle bumpy footpaths.

• Brake is obstructed, preventing use while older child is on board, and otherwise requires operation by hand rather than usual operation by foot.
• Older child can step off at any time, and needs to be watched (which is certainly not unique to this particular skateboard).
• When older child steps off, their weight is temporarily held by the top-back of the stroller (where they would hang on), causing the front wheel to lift.
• There isn’t really enough space to accommodate the height of the child on the skateboard. Luckily ours is not tall, so it will serve us for a few months, but others may need to consider this.

So, while we may occasionally use it, I think putting the younger child in a baby carrier (such as an Ergo or BabyBjorn) with the older one in an umbrella stroller will be the more typical arrangement.

## Time’s a ticking

The life expectancy of an Australian male is 78.7 years, and for a female is 83.5 years.

It is said that death is the great leveller, but really it is our time alive that puts us on a level playing field. Two people might have vastly different wealth, power, intelligence, or other desirable qualities. However, if those two people are of similar age and health, they will have roughly similar time left available to them in their lives. A hour from one from them is about as precious as an hour from the other.

While exchange rates fluctuate, money one day may be worth half as much the next day, or twice as much. But a person’s time has steady value, and is consumed by them at a constant rate of one hour every hour, while everyone gets the same 24 hours in any particular day.

But it can’t be invested. You can’t deposit a week into a bank, and pull out two weeks later on. The balance of years, that for everyone at birth is roughly the same, can only decrease.

Despite its lack of tangibility, time is probably the most valuable thing that any person can give to another.

Time is very special. But it seems to me, that these days, there is less time to share around. This observation has been given some weight by recent research from Robin Dunbar and Sam Roberts.

Dunbar and Roberts found that while people typically start with five very close friends, after developing an intimate relationship, their friendship group reduces to three very close friends plus the one romantic interest. If the new love was outside the original friendship group, then there are two people who are no longer very close friends. The time consumed by the lover doesn’t leave enough to maintain all the previous relationships at the same level.

I know of people that I’d consider exceptions to this, but in general, it seems to ring true. People have a little less time for close friends when they start serious dating.

Similarly, my personal experience has been that having a young child consumes not insignificant amounts of time, and I certainly don’t spend as much time with friends as I used to. With a second child on the way, I can see more of my 24 hours being spent with the kids than before.

It’s hardly a unique observation. A quick web search picks up similar thoughts elsewhere.

Still, I hope that my old friends don’t feel too badly that I am not chatting to them or seeing them as often as I used to. My only recourse is to fall back to social networking tools like Facebook or Twitter, and blogs too, of course. Through these I can share an, admittedly small, amount of time across a large number of friends.

I also hope they know that the time we share together online is time that I value highly. It may not be as high-bandwidth as time shared in person, but I value every bit.

It would be great to get more time. But from where?

Life expectancy trends show that we’ve gained about an extra 22 years over the last century. This is due to things like decline in infant mortality, better control of disease and treatment of illness, and healthier lifestyles. It will probably continue to increase little by little, but it’s not going get a sudden bump of 20% or more.

A significant amount of our time alive is spent unconscious. Apparently we spend a third of our life asleep, so if some of that could be reclaimed as awake time, as much as 33% more hours would be available to us. Drugs such as Modafinil and Orexin appear to offer such a promise, but it’s unclear what long-term side effects would result from significant reduction in sleep time, and besides it would also devalue the worth of an hour. If they became popular, anyone not taking the drug would have comparatively fewer hours to offer and find time management even more of a struggle.

An alternative, drug-free way that may offer significantly more time in your life is a practice called caloric restriction. The idea is to consume 10% or more fewer calories in a day than average, and this will make you life longer. Or perhaps it will just feel longer. Certainly, it is a risky practice, but apparently has been shown to work with fruit flies, mice, rats, fish and monkeys. Definitive human results have yet to come in, because, of course, we live too long.

If we do manage to find more time, it will be interesting to see whether Dunbar and Roberts’ findings change. Perhaps people will have more friends. Or perhaps they will have more lovers.

In any case, it’s time for me to spend some of my remaining time in some much-needed sleep.

## Law of minority advantage?

Our little girl is showing a tendancy for using her left hand. Now, I know that it’s probably too early to tell for sure, but Kate’s a leftie and there is some evidence that it can be inherited. Even so, between 7 – 10% of the population is left-handed. So I was wondering what it would mean for her to grow up left-handed, and I remembered that fact about fencers.

Apparently left-handers have an advantage in many competitive sports. Close to half of the 16 top fencers worldwide are left-handed. However, there is also significantly greater than 10% left-handers in sports like tennis, boxing, squash, badminton, cricket, and baseball. Although various sports have specific advantages for left-handers (an obvious one in baseball is that left-handed batters are closer to first base), the general rule is that the the majority of the sporting population – the right-handers – have little chance to practice against them. So, the main source of their advantage is the fact that they are a minority.

Perhaps this is generalisable beyond left-handers? Is there a “law” that minority groups have an advantage over the majority in competitive situations? While the minority group will naturally have regular opportunities to compete with members of the majority, the majority group will have fewer opportunities to compete against the minority. In situations where it is person-to-person competition, and familiarity and practice make a difference, you would expect a greater percentage of the minority group (than their percentage of the overall population) to be in the ranks of the most successful.

In many situations, being in a minority may be a disadvantage in itself, but perhaps this law indicates that sometimes that disadvantage is more than made up for by the law of minority advantage? For example, the women that I know in engineering/IT disciplines probably make up more of the senior ranks than their overall percentage in engineering might suggest. Or maybe my sample is biased in some way, but it’s interesting to ponder.

I wonder if it applies in the field of executive/personal assistants, where men tend to be in the minority. Do men tend to do better than the percentage of their participation in this field would suggest?

In theory, the smaller the minority group the greater the advantage gained. Left-handers are about 1 in 10 people, which is clearly small enough for the effect to be noticed. I wonder if there are rarer traits (that don’t come with specific disadvantages) that are also more present amongst the successful.

More digging around would be needed to see whether this principle could be extended more broadly, so I might come back to this later when I’ve got more data. Although, given the amount of free time I’ve had recently, Harriet might be grown up by that point.