Sunday, May 14, 2023

Working mothers deserve better.

80s Child | Deposit Photos

First, happy Mother's Day to anybody who has a mom, had a mom, is or was a mom, and/or had to be their own mom.

And a special shout-out to all the working moms, who have had a rough go of it over the past few years. The pandemic exacerbated long-standing problems in finding child care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the child-care sector lost 80,000 workers between February 2020 and November 2022 -- about 6.7% of the sector's work force. It's never been a lucrative job -- the pay averages about $13 an hour, and 95% of child-care workers are female, most of them Black and Hispanic.

Even before the pandemic, finding somebody to watch the kids while you worked wasn't easy, unless you had accommodating family nearby. And if you worked weird hours, it was that much harder. 

My first day back at work after delivering my first child was a Sunday -- Mother's Day. Back then, I was working as an anchor-reporter for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, Virginia. I was scheduled to work about four hours that day, writing and delivering newscasts on the air. Kat's father was in the Navy and was out at sea that weekend, so I schlepped the baby, the portable playpen, and all the other assorted gear that an eight-week-old kid requires into the newsroom. I figured I'd keep an eye on her in the newsroom while I wrote my newscasts, then put her in the playpen and turn up the air monitor while I went into the booth to do a newscast. She would be able to hear me, even though she couldn't see me. Genius, right?

Not so much. She spent the first five-minute newscast screaming. I didn't think anybody could hear her over the air, but it messed with my concentration. So for the second newscast, I brought her into the booth with me, holding her on my lap. That worked great until she spotted the glowing red on-air bulb above the window and had to tell the world about it. For the remainder of the day, she spent my on-air time in the playpen in the boss's office. She still screamed, but at least the noise wasn't close enough to bother me...too much.

From then on, I left the kids with a sitter whenever I had to work. After the divorce, and as the girls got older, finding someone to watch them was often tough, particularly while I was still in broadcasting and worked an evening or overnight shift. Go ahead, try to find someone who's willing to stay at your house from 11:00 p.m. until 9:00 a.m. while your kids sleep. Let me know how that works out for you.

Anyway, it was a huge relief to switch careers and begin working for the big law firm, which let me work daytime hours and had an emergency daycare center on site. 

Parents -- not just me -- can be better workers when they know their kids are cared for. But when it comes to help with balancing work and family responsibilities, employees are at the mercy of the benevolence of their employers. And Congress hasn't exactly made fixing the situation a priority. So I was pleased to learn that last month, President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand programs for child care and elder care, including improvements in at-home care for veterans, better pay for child care workers, incentives for government contractors to include child care and elder care benefits in their bids, and a reaffirmation of the right of child care and elder care workers to unionize. It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start.


Speaking of Mother's Day and working: Today is my last official day of retirement for a while. Tomorrow, I'm going back to work, probably for the next several years. I like being retired just fine, but my condo building needs some major repairs, and the only way I can afford them short of selling the place is to go back to work. 

I'll be a full-time proofreader for the state Legislative Council Service. Alert hearth/myth readers know that I've been working for the legislature for several months each year anyway, so it won't be that big a change. I believe I'll be working from home most of the time. I'll still be able to volunteer at El Rancho de las Golondrinas during summer weekends, and I intend to keep writing these weekly blog posts.

If any of that changes, you'll be the first to know.


These moments of bloggy work-life balance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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