Opinion: On Mother’s Day, moms strive for that elusive work-life balance

Atticus Houghton, 9 months old and Sukey Lewis, 31. (Photo by: Dawn Heumann)

Atticus Houghton, 9 months old and Sukey Lewis, 31. (Photo by: Dawn Heumann)

“Just one more minute, sweetheart,” I say to my two-and-a-half-year-old. Atticus hangs off my arm as I toggle in for just one last edit on a video project for graduate school.

“Come,” he says. “Come, Mommy.”

All he really wants is for me to grab a pillow and start whacking him with it while he giggles uncontrollably. Or hop up on the bed singing, “Two little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped her head….” Or, take him outside to play imaginary football—which always ends with me on ground, grass stains on my knees, and him running into the end zone for a touchdown and requisite victory dance.

“Okay, okay, one sec.”

I feel like I am constantly putting him off, telling him to wait, or rushing him to school so I can work.

Meanwhile, at graduate school I find myself composing emails to teachers and editors: “I have to leave class early to pick up my son from daycare,” or, “Atticus has a cold. I can’t cover—”  (fill-in-the-blank breaking news event).

Now, before this piece starts sounding too much like a pity-party, let me say I am a good mother, I am a good student, and I enjoy both immensely. However, as a mom, I know my kid would prefer to have my attention 100 percent of the time. And as a graduate student, I feel the pressure—both academic and financial—to push myself to work as hard as possible. It is difficult not to feel inadequate at least some of the time.

Work-life balance—that mythical condition always just out of reach—is especially out of reach for working mothers, or, as in my case, mothers who are in school full time. According to the United States Department of Labor, about 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 participate in the workforce.

This is not to say stay-at-home moms have it easy. I stayed home for the first year of my son’s life, and let me say it was harder than graduate school—by a lot. There is this idealistic notion that stay-at-home moms are just natural maternal figures who are happy to sit for hours gazing into the face of their newborns.

In fact, I was happy to stare and gaze into my son’s face for hours—but, like, two hours at the most. Then it was time to get to work, do the laundry, and dab ineffectually at the mounting chaos that surrounded me.

I was fortunate to have the flexibility (I work from home) to spend this time with my son.  However, many moms stay home with their kids, not because it is a choice, but because it is a financial necessity. The annual cost of childcare in the Bay Area is more than $9,000 per year for a preschooler, according to data from the California Childcare Resource and Referral Network.  For an infant, it is even more expensive.

Disinvestment in high-quality childcare and preschool in the past five years has left many families struggling both financially and emotionally. The United States also has one of the least supportive workplace policies in the world around maternal leave and benefits according to Pew Research Center.

As someone who has reliable subsidized childcare (through U.C. Berkeley), a stable relationship with my husband, and the support of friends and family, I am extremely lucky—and I am still going crazy!

So, on this Mother’s Day, I would like to share my respect and awe for those many, many women who survive without these, and also my opinion that much more could and should be done support families in the Bay Area and beyond.

But now, it’s time for me to stop writing and get my son into bed.

I’ll put on his pajamas, and we’ll snuggle together, his warm musky breath on my face. He’ll want to read Curious George Goes to the Aquarium—more than once—and then we’ll turn off the lights and whisper in the dark.

He’ll trace my face with his small thick fingers, and I’ll sing him, “Hush, little baby.”

Meanwhile, my fingers will be itching to write another story.

Sukey Lewis, a reporter at Richmond Confidential, is a First Year Graduate Student at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California a Berkeley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer Moser

    Its $1200 for a preschooler in Orange County. And a 1 year wait to receive assistance but you cannot make over $2,000 a year. I was told they don’t assist all year or with all costs. It makes more sense to live in your car to pay for child care or live in a tent homeless until your kids grow and can care for themselves as a single. Sorry just frustrated I wish I could throw my ex out but since I would end up homeless I have to wait.

  2. Giorgio Cosentino

    My wife and I both work full time. On the one hand, we are blessed that we both have jobs. This means we can afford pre-school which is close to $10,000.00 per year. What is tough is being able to miss work when our daughter is sick or when the pre-school is closed. More employees are in this situation, so work schedules become more difficult to manage. Those with help from their extended families are fortunate. Working from home I am sure is very helpful, too. What I have just learned is that when my daughter attends kindergarten, that we will be paying the same cost for after school care as we are not paying for all-day pre-school. The after school care does not even include academics or instruction. I am now asking my City to consider seeking less expensive childcare options. The bottom line is that it has only been getting tougher for working parents to raise a family.

  3. Tony Suggs

    Why is it that some feel that the whole country should subsidize their choice to have children when they are not financially able to do so on their own?

    I waited until I was gainfully employed and finished with school, to not only get married but to also have children. We were able to take care of our own child and only used family child care when we wanted to take a vacation alone, which was not often.

    The public tax payers are already paying for 13 years of public school education. Now there is a push for tax payer supported pre school, which really is just daycare.

    Studies have shown that any educational advantage that a pre schooler has over a non pre schooled child disappears by the 3rd grade.

    The greatest thing about this country used to be that everyone took care of themselves and did not depend on the government.

    That obviously is no longer true.

    • M.N. McMillion

      Tony – I also admire the pioneering spirit that created America, and my own family. However, this is the 21st century and we no longer live in a time when “everyone took care of themselves and did not depend on the government.”

      When we see a crime, traffic accident or fire, we call 911 (the government) and expect safety officers to arrive quickly. When a co-worker has a heart attack, we call 911 (the government) and expect an ambulance with trained EMT to help right away. When we need water, we don’t dig a well — we call East Bay Municipal Utility District (a public agency). If our neighbor tries to build a eight-story strip club next door, we call local zoning regulators (the government) and ask them to enforce residential building codes.

      Since 1776, Americans have chosen and voted for public safety, public traffic laws, public zoning rules, public utilities, public libraries and public schools. We’ve chosen to do things that benefit the public good and well-educated children are a HUGE part of public policy. Their education benefits all of us.

      As an elementary school teacher, I’m an advocate for “tax payer supported pre school” which is much more than simple daycare. So much education happens between ages 0 – 5. As a society, we can’t afford to ignore this anymore than we can afford to have police officers only for the wealthy.

      By the way, not every child is a “choice.” Sometimes people have children they didn’t exactly plan. If you don’t believe me, ask your pioneer ancestors.

      • Tony Suggs

        How was it then, that in the ’50s and ’60 that children far out performed children today and did not have pre school education?

        It seems to me the more “education” was revised, tinker with, new standards set, we have gotten worse results.

        A 4.0 GPA was not good enough, so some districts upped it to 5.0. The 1200 SAT was not good enough so it was raised also. The minimum scores were also raised.

        We called for smaller class sizes as a way to improve performance. When I was in school our average class size was 28 and as high as 30.

        No, it was public schools, not private.

        Then there was the experiment in no grades at all, either pass or fail. No more single Valedictorians, we must not have anyone that is better than the rest.

        I meet young adults in their early and even mid ’20s that can not compose a simple sentence or write in cursive.

        One thing that the our “pioneer ancestors” did not have was access to birth control and the complete knowledge of how pregnancy happens. So, to try and excuse any unwanted pregnancy due to ignorance or lack or birth control today, is not a compelling argument.

        There are plenty of studies on both sides of the argument as to the effectiveness of pre school education.

        Since I have already proven that I am not “politically correct” let me jump all in.

        Maybe you are an excellent teacher and are very competent in your field of study. I know I had excellent teachers in the ’60s and first year of the ’70s.

        Yet education majors score the lowest of most college majors. So are we getting the best and brightest teachers teaching our children? Is starting the kids earlier a way to try boaster performance when they hit elementary school?

        One final point, I am amazed almost every time I watch the National Spelling Bee or National Geography Bee and invariably, a home schooled child wins or at least is one of the finalist.

        That point was also proven this week when the story about a 16 year Florida girl completed her college Bachelors Degree this year.

        She was home schooled.

        • JS

          The idea that people were more pioneering once upon a time has some truth to it. It is also highly mythologized too.

          The time period (50’s and 60’s) includes the introduction of major public subsidies to veterans of WWii. And pre-cursors to the GI Bill provided housing, healthcare, and education to a significant number of Americans engaging in the workforce and particularly engaging in a way that afforded class mobility that hadn’t existed before nor exists today.

          To say that people should live within their means and having more means is solely their responsibility is simplistic and ignores a whole lot of events and policy that have shaped our economy and family lives over the last century.

          But, based on you comments regarding minimum wage, I don’t think you’re interested in the experiences of people working and struggling to live a life. From January 15:

          “Tony SUggs
          January 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm
          When you give people the chance to “vote” themselves more money or other “stuff,” they will. Whether it is deserved or needed.

          They will not care who has to pay for it because they believe it will not have to come out of their pocket.

          If the Richmond City Council believes the employees in Richmond should have a higher minimum wage, then let them vote on it and pass a law themselves.

          Resolutions and propositions are a way for the elected officials to cover their butts if there is any fall out from bad laws they pass. They can always say that it was “voter” driven.”
          http://richmondconfidential.org/2014/01/15/richmond-takes-step-toward-upping-minimum-wage/

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