SEBRING - When John Armentrout left his banking job for major surgery last summer, his wife saw it as a blessing in disguise.
Now John is back in college, where he's studying to be a math teacher. The rest of the time, he takes care of the home and their two kids.
"This has worked great for us for over a year now," said Amanda Armentrout, a self-employed hair stylist at Poshe Day Salon in Sebring.
During the school year, they pay $30 to $50 each week for child care; during the summer, it was $100 per child per week.
Out-of-pocket child-care costs have nearly doubled in the past quarter century, according to the U.S. Census. The weekly national average child-care payments for families with employed mothers, which were $84 in 1985, spiked at $143 in 2011. Families with younger children currently spend even more: $93 weekly for grade schoolers, $179 for pre-schoolers.
"It's very expensive to run a child-care facility," said Laberta Johnson. She's been director of her brother's Brighter Beginnings Learning Center for four years, but she's worked in the industry for a 25 years. "It's not just the overhead cost, and there's all that red tape before you even open the business, and you got workers who want more because they are certified, and health insurance..."
For some families, day care is an unavoidable necessity: 88 percent of pre-schoolers with employed mothers are in care; only 28 percent of preschoolers with non-working moms are in day care. On average, preschoolers with employed mothers spend 36 hours in day care; preschoolers with moms who don't work spend 21 hours in day care.
Nancy DuVall works part time, either on days that her parents can watch her two sons, or on the days that her husband is off, since he works different shifts.
"I don't work full time because the cost of child care for two children would almost eat my paycheck," DuVall said. "Therefore it's easier and makes financial sense for me to work part time and have family care for our boys."
Over the past two decades, wages have also fallen, so the percentage of families paying for day care has decreased from 42 percent to 32 percent since 1997.
Attitudes were different even for Gen Xers. Amanda's mother stayed at home while her husband served in the military. She asked if Amanda and John's role reversal is what she really wanted.
"Now, she's quick to - I don't want to use the word 'defend' - but my mother says, 'My daughter doesn't lift a finger when she comes home. She's happy and he's happy. It's working so much better.'"
One reason why: Amanda has no problem admitting that John's the better parent and that she's the entrepreneur of the family. "He has the patience of Job; he'll make a great teacher."
Both kids play sports; one's in theater. In after-school care, staying up late with homework was a problem. Now their father fixes an after-school snack, they complete homework earlier and he cooks the family meal.
"Everyone is much happier in this capacity," Amanda said. "My youngest is in his first year of FCAT and my oldest is making great grades. They're thriving."
From our Facebook readers
Kimberly Renea Martin: "My husband works while I am currently unemployed, but it would be vise versa if I was the one working and he wasn't. If we both had jobs, we would try to work out a way we work opposite shifts so someone is always home with the kids. I have my personal opinion on child care. If we had to, I might get over it and let them be in day care. I would rather like private-home care, but hey, if my kids could be in bubbles so I knew they were safe, then they probably would be (: lol."
Justin-Susan Anderson: "My husband goes to school full time and works full time. I stay home with my 3 kids. It wouldn't even make sense for me to work because day care for 3 kids would be what I'm working for. Plus, I do not trust any day care with my kids! I worked at a day care and saw first hand how they would yell at the kids and grab their arms and yank them. I'm not sending my kids to any day care to chance they get treated like that! I will hurt someone! I'd much rather just stay home with my 3 babies and not miss anything."
Richard Ritenour: "I work full time and I also take care of my kid full time when school is out."