My mom stopped working when I
began first grade. I'm her youngest child, so I always thought it was unusual
that she chose to be a stay-at-home mom during the years my brother and I were in
elementary school and middle school, but not when we were babies. Now that I
have school-age children, I get it: It was way easier to be a working mom when
my kids were in full-time daycare.
For all the reasons below, the
work-life balance we achieved as a young family ended with a thud when my
oldest entered kindergarten:
1. Daycare only closes for major holidays and weather
emergencies. School is only open 180 days.
Finding reliable, affordable
care during the school year and summer breaks is beyond daunting. I missed work
because of daycare closures during hurricanes and snow storms. I didn’t want to
be on the roads then either, so no big loss. School holidays, on the other
hand, happen all the time. My kiddo gets an entire week off in early November. Great
for her. Sucks for me. I’m usually low on days at that point (because kids get
sick no matter where they are in their education.) Plus, I’d like to save time
off for the holidays—when school is closed yet again.
The scramble to find care
begins as soon as the district releases the school calendar. Even with local
grandparents and the ability to work from home on occasion, the struggle is
real. Friends with inflexible jobs and zero family support pay upwards of $100
a day for temporary coverage. Seriously, why bother going to work? Summer used to be my favorite
season, now it begins and ends with a flurry of phone calls to my
mother-in-law. Turns out most summer camps are staffed with college students,
so camp rarely begins the first week of summer break and typically ends two
weeks before school starts.
Most working folks are lucky to
get three weeks off a year. No doubt some parents take separate vacation time
to care for kids when schools are closed.
2. School Drop-Off and Pick-Up Times Might As Well Be Etched
Our daycare is open from 7:00 a.m.
until 6:30 p.m. My children have never been there for that length of time, but
just having the flexibility to work late or go to work early saved me more than
one work headache.
I understand that most
schools—including my daughter’s—offer before and after-school care with more
flexible times. I refuse to pay for a service I only need once or twice a
quarter, so I’ve literally sprinted across the office parking lot to get to a
meeting on time and sprinted back to my car in the afternoon to get to school
before the final bell. I know this is my fault for being cheap, but I’m still
going to bitch about it because nothing makes me feel more unprofessional than
skidding into a meeting, out of breath. It never happened with daycare. Just
My mom once told me, “Babies
don’t go down a wrong path. Middle schoolers can.”
When you have a child in
daycare, the assumption is you work or are otherwise engaged during the day. Events
where parents are invited to attend—if there are any—occur in the late
afternoon. Every time I miss a community meeting or a field trip or a special
assembly at my daughter’s school, I feel like a terrible mom. And since these
event occur often, I feel like an ass all the time. If I had endless time off from
work, I could maybe volunteer to be the computer lab parent here or there, but
4. Freaking Projects
Daycare staff seem to
understand that working parents might be too busy to run to the grocery store
for a class party without a few days’ notice. Since my daughter started school,
I’ve made last-minute shopping trips for everything from chicken broth to white
nectarines (in February).
In addition to the shopping,
which I loathe, my daughter’s projects and homework have carved away precious
hours of family time. Instead of playing together after dinner, I’m Googling
beluga whales. I imagine it will only get worse.
My mom once told me, “Babies
don’t go down a wrong path. Middle schoolers can.” My parents decided to make
the financial sacrifices necessary so my mom could stay home during our school
years, not our infancies. And after decades of wondering why, I finally understand
her decision to stay home when she did.
Some working parents easily
transition from daycare to school. But we, as a family, have been off balance
since my daughter entered kindergarten. I am stretched too thin, and everyone’s
behavior, including my own, has suffered.
The question to stay home or continue working has been on my mind since I became a mother. For years, the
reasons to work outweighed staying home. But with my oldest finishing first
grade, I’m transitioning from my corporate job to freelance work. I want to
work when my kids are in school—all 180 days. But I also want to be there
when they aren’t. I want to go to those community meetings and buy white
nectarines in February without my blood pressure rising.
I know I’m very fortunate to
have both the choice to end full-time employment and the opportunity to earn
money on my own schedule. I also know the decision to stay home now may seem
odd to others. But with any luck, I will find the balance we all need. And
frankly, that’s more important to me than what anyone else thinks.