The Ms. Foundation for Women recently released a report on the United States' flawed childcare system. It covered a lot of what you might expect it to cover: the lack of sufficient parental leave, lack of access to affordable childcare, the unequal distribution of parenting responsibility in dual-income households. But what really leapt out at me was how childcare access might affect one's employment decisions.
When I first convinced my husband to let me hop onto his health insurance and go full-time freelance, I wasn't even thinking about the fact that I'd be able to roll out of bed at 8 a.m. and wear yoga leggings and cat slippers all day and go to the supermarket when it was least crowded. "Someday, we're going to have children," I said, "and when we do, I want to be home to raise them. Let me see if I can build a stable career at home."
It would be another seven years before we had our daughter. But as it turns out, that was just the right amount of time in which to build up a mix of regular and not-so regular work that would allow me to feel financially secure and still give me the flexibility to raise a child. And thanks to my advance planning, I didn't have to worry about going back to an office. Finding affordable(ish) daycare. Never seeing my daughter.
Plus I'm saving money I'd rather spend on more important things, and it gives me a flexibility that allows for story times and music classes and yoga and meetings with my local writers' group. Hell, sometimes I don't even wear a bra!
I wondered if parenthood had affected the employment decisions of the other moms and dads in my life. When I polled them, I got a unanimous "hell yes."
Some, like me, went full-on rogue. Like the mom who was a Federal worker. After she had her twin boys, she jumped ship and became a writer. She explained that, though there was a daycare where she worked, it was hard to get into. Not only that, but using it would have automatically made her the sole responsible party when it came to drop-offs and pickups.
Others left behind the working world entirely, choosing to become stay-at-home moms. "I left a high powered, high paying job that I absolutely loved," admits one friend. For a time, she took a part-time job in the same building as her daughters' preschool before leaving that behind as well. Now that her daughters are older, she teaches yoga, which gives her the flexibility to work around her kids' schedules.
Speaking of flexibility, a former colleague of mine took a drastic leap and went back to grad school so she could start over in a new career that would allow her to make her own hours. She now schedules clients around her own daughters' drop-off and pickup times.
What's most interesting about the responses I received is that all of them were from moms.
Other moms realized the best decision they could make for their kids was to stay put.
"I work for a Top 100 Company for Working Moms," says a woman I met at a new mom support group just a few weeks after giving birth. "I'm inclined to stay there because we have backup child care in the building, flex working arrangements, and paid parental leave." She explains that she's not likely to leave for as long as she's still raising her kids, because few companies offer so much dispensation for mothers.
Another mom with three kids worries that starting a new job would require more time spent proving[ herself to her new employers—more time than she is willing to give while her children are still young. "More time at work translates to more time away from the kids. Time away from the kids means I have to pay someone to handle the responsibilities I currently cover. I love my current job," she says. "I consider myself very lucky that I don't have to switch jobs, but even if I had to, I have made peace with the fact that I won't be able to make the leap until my kids are older."
Other moms agree, saying they've stayed put because they're less willing to take a risk. "I stay where I know the routine," says one mom, "even when I could challenge myself to do something different."
What's most interesting about the responses I received is that all of them were from moms. Though I know there are dads out there who have shifted their working arrangements in response to the new demands of parenthood, it seems most of the dads I know simply assumed the question posed wasn't meant for them.
This is in keeping with research showing that moms are more often the only parent required to transform their lives to make room for their children. There's no question that the few, flawed childcare options available today leave much to be desired.
But I suspect real change won't come until men see that it affects them, too.