Kristen Guizani never imagined this life for herself.
"Being a stay-at-home mom was never my dream or something that I felt like I wanted to do full time," Guizani said.
Guizani and her husband were living in Los Angeles when she first got pregnant. She was working as a paralegal and was planning on going to law school. But that all changed after her first child was born.
"We weren't able to afford child care out in Los Angeles," Guizani said.
That left only one option: Kristen left her job, and they moved to Virginia to be closer to family. It's a dilemma that experts say a growing number of parents are facing: career or family — both is not an option.
"It can also look like one of the parents scaling back work hours or turning down promotions or taking lower-paying jobs that are just more flexible so they can meet their child care demands," said Susan Gale Perry, CEO of Child Care Aware of America.
The average child care payment shot up 32% since 2019, according to data from the Bank of America Institute — putting unique pressure on working women.
The female labor force participation rate recovered its losses from the pandemic. But experts say the high cost of child care could lead to a similar retreat from the workforce. It's an issue the White House is trying to get ahead of.
"Once the ARP (American Rescue Plan) stabilization funds ran out, we did see that there's some indication that the labor market participation rate reverted back down to the levels that we saw before," said Kirabo Jackson, member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The White House is vying to extend the pandemic-era American Rescue Plan funding with another $16 billion to child care centers across the country. The current status of the plan is uncertain, however.
"Child care is something that we think about sometimes as being about kids, but also it matters a lot for the economy writ large," Jackson said.
Now a mom of three, Kristen spends her time on Villa, a motherhood advocacy group she founded.
"It's not okay that we don't have the support, but we're here. We're going to provide it to each other," Guizani said.
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