By Jessica Foley, Contributor, theWedge.LIVE
I’ve suffered through being a “working mom” for ten years. In the beginning of this journey I enjoyed getting out of the house, socializing with my co-workers, and experiencing the uplifting consciousness of life outside my own four walls. But as the years flew by this emotion evaporated.
When did I succumb to the idea that leaving my children to work for someone else is a goal to aspire to?
In my imagination a working mom was a career woman, someone who had a high paying job and was the main breadwinner for her family. The reality is not that at all. Women with children are in the workforce out of sheer necessity.
The startling reality
Over the last forty years the number of mothers in the workforce has gone up over 35%. That means 70% of families now have a mother who works outside the home. And that same percentage is shared by dual income earning families where both parents routinely go to work.
For many people, working outside the home is not a choice. Did you know the cost of living has quadrupled since the late 70s? (source: Bank of Canada) That means if you paid $100 for something back in 1979 it would cost $400 now. That’s mind-boggling.
What is even more startling, average wages have not increased to cover this inflation. Since 1980, the average working wage has increased 13%. (source: Statistics Canada) That means if you made $100 a week in 1979 you would only make $113 a week now.
Wages are not rising in step with the cost of living increase. Not by a long-shot.
This enormous gap between earning and spending leaves a sinkhole families are struggling to fill. Dual earner households are the reality now, and the way the economy is heading there won’t be a change any time soon.
Numbers don’t lie. Families can’t survive on a single income any more. Parents need to find new and innovative ways to balance both parents earning an income to support their family, and being primary caregivers for the next generation.
My consistent weekly grind
In my life, I am striving to work less outside the home. I’ve worked at a pharmacy for seventeen years (ten of those are “mom” years.) While I love the people and the atmosphere, my job is often tedious. Counting pills and doing paperwork doesn’t stimulate my mind – there’s no creative outlet for me there.
Writing has become my passion over the last five years. I’ve been writing a blog, contributing stories, and I’m very, very slowly inching toward penning a book.
My goal is to leave my outside-the-home job and work freelance in a writing capacity. I don’t know yet if I’ll ever get there, but that’s my dream.
Currently, I work four days a week at the pharmacy, and my husband is a networking consultant who works at least forty hour weeks. My daughters dance eight hours a week between them across four nights, and I take a class at the dance studio once a week as well. We also do swimming lessons on Saturdays and my girls go to church on Sundays. We cap the week off with family dinner with our in-laws on the same day.
A typical day sees one of us walking the kids to the bus stop for their 7:45 am bus. Then we head to our respective jobs and work a full day. Often my husband collects the girls from after school care, feeds them (at home if there’s time, Tim Horton’s if there isn’t) and heads to the dance studio.
Depending on the night, one of us will go home with my younger daughter when her class ends and the other will stay for another hour to wait for my eldest. Then it’s a quick evening routine of snack, teeth, story, bed so we can get them up and going again the next morning.
This reality is shared by many mothers I know in my personal life. 86% of Canadian children participate in at least one extracurricular activity per school year. (source Health Reports) Combine that with the 70% of parents who work outside the home and you’ve got an intense schedule to maintain.
The problem with absentee parenting
Canada has a generous maternity period. When that ends, many mothers re-enter the workforce and their children are cared for by others.
We were fortunate to find care for our girls close to home, and with a family who treated them as if they were their own children. But it still tugged my heartstrings every morning, leaving my daughters in the care of a stranger. We grew to know and love our caregiver, but she still spent many more hours a day with my daughters than I did.
Are we even raising our own children?
How well are we imprinting on our children if they’re in someone else’s care all day?
I’m not suggesting parents are doing a poor job raising their families. We are all doing the best we can inside our own circumstances.
Rarely do parents see first steps, or hear first words any more. Instead we get a video from our caregivers sharing those moments with us. It’s heartbreaking.
How do we change our circumstances? There’s no magic way to make finances balance, or find a higher paying job for our specific skill sets. It feels like our social system is letting us down.
Working moms share their exhausting experiences
“If I could do it all again, I would have stayed home. My children are the most precious diamonds and I left them every day to have a career,” Maggie M, Editor of the Wedge intimated.
“After working in my industry in a full-time capacity for over sixteen years, ten of which as a working mother of two, the light bulb finally went on. I wanted, and needed, a change. Professionally, I was ready to make a move from the traditional corporate structure of larger business. Personally, I wanted to be available to my children, now eleven and nine, in a more flexible capacity.
“One of the primary reasons I chose independent consulting, and the flexibility to work from anywhere/home, was to have more control over my time so that I could be readily available for my kids. Having a non-traditional work schedule and not going “into the office” means I can more easily facilitate dentist appointments, make dinner, walk with my son to school, and go on field trips. And it means no Before/After Care!
“In the past I would often be stuck late at the office and I loathed being that parent who showed up at After Care with only a minute to spare. I now have an extra 1-2 hours with my children every day and that’s huge. Volunteering at school has also opened up relationships with my kids’ friends. I get high fives in the hallway and the kids know me by name so there’s also a very gratifying connection not just to my kids but to the school community as a whole. It’s meant other sacrifices and changes to our life, but I value being available to my kids, while still being able to work, earn money and challenge myself professionally.” Andrea S, Principal HR Consultant and Owner of Northwell Consulting
“My teens are capable and responsible and do dozens of things every day that only they can do: important things that are feeding their futures. But doing all those things takes a lot out of them, and they need nurturing and care poured back into them.
“That nurturing and care does not just happen in some convenient 8 to 9 time slot every evening. It happens at 5:30am when they’re rushing around getting ready for school, and it happens at 3pm when all the stress of the day comes pouring out. I need to be a safe place for my big kids to land so they can reset themselves for the next thing they need to do that only they can do.
“I know many moms who work outside the home who are able to be this landing place for their kids with skill and grace, and still do that other job with excellence. I am not one of those moms. My husband and I have chosen to make some sacrifices–which we understand we are privileged to even have the choice to make–so that I can be physically, mentally, and emotionally available when our children need that physical, mental, and emotional nurturing.
“Our tweens and teens know they are the future. That is a heavy load, but they carry it with admirable determination and skill. But while they are pursuing that future, I believe my job is to support them in the present. To me, that feels like a full-time job in itself and the most important I’ll ever do.” Elizabeth S, writer and stay at home mom.
Single mothers’ lives are exponentially more difficult than this story reveals.
“I’m a solo parent. If I don’t work, quite literally there is no money to pay bills and buy food. I believe that being a mother was my purpose in life. I think overall we live in a patriarchal society that doesn’t value women, and for some reason when we become mothers we are valued less. Many women are forced to choose to be great at one thing, motherhood or career, when we should have support to be great at both (if we choose to pursue both.)
“As my daughter gets older her schedule is gets busier. Working, even working from home, means that moments I could try to squeeze in for us to spend together are usually spent catching up on my blog and our hair accessories business. If I worked less hours, then I could spend the time that would normally be spent building someone else’s empire to build my own, and still have time to enjoy my baby before she grows up and moves out.
“I want to be able to work less because I want to enjoy my daughter. I want to not feel guilty about missing time with her for things that at the end of the day don’t really matter. As an only child raising an only child I want to fill her childhood with beautiful memories and continue to bond before she is ready to begin her journey in the world as a grown woman.” Melissa V, working single mom and blogger at JustaBXmom.
“I live in the UK. Childcare costs here are high and many find themselves with hardly any money after paying someone else to look after their children while they work.”
“My daughter is 7 and I’ve worked around school hours for the last three years. Her morning starts earlier than most. She goes to breakfast club at 7:45 so my husband and I can start work at 8:30. I work 30+ minutes away from the school and wouldn’t be able to start after 9:30 if I had to drop her off at the normal time. Four days each week I finish in time to pick her up from school, which is great as I don’t miss any time with her. On Tuesdays she goes to after-school club until 6pm so I can work a full day.
“I feel I’ve got a good balance as don’t miss much time with her, however I do feel the pressure to work more hours. Financially we’re ok, I don’t desperately need to work more, but I have a full time job that I struggle to fit into part-time hours. I refuse to take my laptop home as I know I’d end up checking emails and not getting paid for it, and I don’t want that to eat into my time with my daughter. The only reason we can afford for me to work these hours is because I took on freelance work which I do in the evenings. Without that I’d have to work at least another full day each week.”
“It was much worse before she started school. I only got to spend 2 weekdays with her and the rest of the time she was at nursery (day care) or with grandparents. I still hate the fact that I missed so much time with her before she started school. We couldn’t afford for me not to work, and I didn’t want to lose my job by saying I could only work 1 or 2 days.
“I think it is possible to get a good work/life/kids balance BUT only if you can afford it, which many can’t. There’s a lot of pressure on mums because they have to work and usually still have to do everything else – housework, sorting anything to do with kids & school etc. I don’t think it’s easy for Dads either though. It’s still not really acceptable for them to work shorter hours so they miss out on a lot of time with their kids as well.” Sarah C, working mom and blogger at Digital Motherhood
Necessity is the mother of invention
A study conducted by the Vanier Institute found that 72% of working mothers polled said they were satisfied with their work-life balance. Frankly, I find that hard to believe. A little further digging found that women with flexible work schedules were 12% more satisfied than those who had more rigid scheduling.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Personally, I enjoy working, contributing to society, being part of a team, and helping others; but, I know I can work from home and be more fulfilled in my life. Having my girls come home right after school, giving them unstructured time (after homework, of course) and making them help with dinner is the life I want them to have. At home. With me.
Working moms are superstars – there’s no doubt about it. They are multi-talented, and hopefully, manage most aspects of their lives with finesse. I’d bet many of them would prefer to spend more time with their children.
Chasing the time we have left
I miss my girls. I see them every day, but rarely do we spend quality time together. You can’t make that time up later.
Raising children should be the most rewarding part of your life. I feel like I’m missing that. There is so much societal pressure to live a certain way or have all the “things” that perhaps we’re missing the point of having a family.
Family is a support system, the heart of the home, and where we should be focusing our energy. Motherhood is a gift. Our children are precious, and we should be in the moment with them as much as possible. You can’t raise good people if you don’t spend time with them. How we can expect our children to learn from our example if we’re rarely there?
My girls are growing up quickly, and the crushing reality is I am missing so much. I don’t know my daughters school friends, I can’t often make it to field trips, and I even miss events happening at the school. How do I get that back? I don’t, unless I can change my own circumstances.
My dream is to write – for myself and for others. I want to schedule my own hours, find my most creative times, and be present for my family on their schedule. I want them to know Mom is here for them, all the time. Because I am – whether I’m at my workplace, at the grocery store or in the laundry room.
I’m missing out on the shaping of their whole lives.
Jessica Foley is a blogger and a busy mom who enjoys writing, photography, dancing, spending time outdoors, and reading. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Kingston, Ontario