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LIBERTY, N.C. -- A new Pew Research Center study suggests an increasing number of mothers are now opting to stay at home with their children, due largely to rising childcare costs equivalent to or more than their salaries.

"We were running the numbers, and we just decided it would be too expensive to put two kids in daycare," said stay-at-home mom Lee Anne Williams from Liberty.

Williams said she and her husband made the decision when she was pregnant with her second child. She said they calculated the costs of daycare for two children would exceed her then-salary as a collection agent.

According to the study, in the past decade, the number of stay-at-home moms has peaked to almost three in 10 (29%), as opposed to nearly two in 10 (23%) in 1999. The study finds two-thirds of the now 10.4 million U.S. mothers who now stay at home are in "traditional," two-parent households. However, the study states the trend does apply to stay-at-home mothers who are single, cohabitating or married with husbands who do not work.

"As we see rising costs in the grocery store, rising childcare costs are going to be tied to that. It's not cheap to pay somebody to be able to take care of your kids the way you want them to be taken care of," said certified financial planner Matt Logan of Matt Logan, Inc.

Calls to a more than a dozen daycare facilities in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem revealed the average cost of daycare in these Triad cities is $165 to $175 per child, per week -- an annual total cost that exceeds, by an average of $2,600, the annual cost of college tuition and fees at a North Carolina public college. In Virginia, the annual costs of daycare and college are approximately the same, but in South Carolina, the costs of daycare are approximately $4,400 less than college.

"It's just like cause and effect," explained the assistant director of Twin Oaks Child Development Center in McLeansville, Dorie Whitman.

"Prices of milk going up, prices of meat going up, gas, you know it all affects the tuition of the daycare…even fieldtrips—some of the local science centers and stuff—they've increased on their price, as well, so again that affects tuition," Whitman said.

Still, while many mothers are facing the financial dilemma brought on by increasing daycare costs, some are currently unwilling to put their careers on hold.

Logan said, "Even though they're netting out less money by putting their child in daycare, they're willing to do that in order to further their career, and they know down the line [their children] are not going to be in daycare forever, hopefully."

Brianne Bates, a mother of one from McLeansville, explained she spent seven years working to obtain a higher degree of education. She now works two jobs—primarily as a special education teacher with Alamance-Burlington Schools and part time as a specialized caretaker.

"I went on to get my Master's Degree after college, and I feel like I should be using that. As much as I would love to stay at home with him, I enjoy working, also, and I actually think it makes me a better mom," Bates said.

But, Bates admitted she will re-evaluate her family's circumstances if she has more children. "If we do have a second child, at that point, we'll have to look at the costs and decide—is it better for me to work, or is it better for me to stay home? At that point, we'll be cutting it pretty close between health care expenses and daycare."

Logan said, "This decision is definitely not just a financial decision. It's also an emotional one. There are parents who decide to stay at home and those who decide to work, and there is no right answer."

Bates affirmed, "I'm a special education teacher, so all day I'm doing everything with those kids. I'm not just teaching them. I'm helping them use the bathroom, I'm helping them eat, and my son is at the age where he's learning to do those things, too, and somebody else is teaching him how to do that."

Williams said, "I do, I miss the adult interaction, but then there are days when both the kids will come and snuggle up with me, and it's moments like that that you can't get back, and I enjoy every single moment at the house that I have with them."

Both Bates and Williams attest to the importance of "running the numbers," before making the often difficult financial and emotional decision to stay at home.

Logan explained, "It's looking at the basic numbers. What are you netting out, income wise? What are the fringe benefits, and what value do you put on that? What are the costs of child care, but also, what do you feel more strongly about, because you can make the numbers work many times, if that's what you want to do."

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