In September of 2010 I was forced out/resigned from my position with a company I had worked for on and off since early 2001. This is the story of how that came about, and how child care issues played a crucial role in cutting me off from more lucrative income production.
Upon graduating from college with a double major in Anthropology and English I was unsure on what direction I wanted to be heading in so I secured a job with a local financial institution. Over time I came and went, eventually securing part-time as I put myself through graduate school. As my thesis neared completion I approached my husband and made the argument that while I had such an awesome part-time job (22 hours a week with full benefits; 401k, paid-time off, health insurance and maternity leave) it would make little sense to leave it for a full-time job only to seek part-time work when we decided to start a family. It was as that point we decided to start our family. For the next 5 years (and two children later) I had the one thing many mothers dream about. I worked 22 hours, allowing me to take a break from parenting two and a half days a week while spending the rest of the week with my children. I was even blessed to have family nearby so that when I was at work my girls were either with my mother, my mother in law, or my husband. In other words, I didn’t worry about them when I wasn’t there and we were granted the gift of financial security. There were thousands of times over those years that I thought to myself how lucky I was to have the job that I had. So many times I would stop and marvel at how grateful I was, despite the fact that the work was not my ideal career choice.
Then came the summer of 2010. My husband and I still refer to that summer as “the summer from hell.” In spring my beloved grandmother became ill with pancreatic cancer. By June she was gone. The first funeral was held towards the end of June with plans to travel back east in July with the entire extended family to lay her to rest with her husband of 50+ years and conduct a second funeral for the small town in which she grew up. After the first funeral, but before the second, my family and I were packing up to go to the fireworks display on Fourth of July when we found our new puppy collapsed in the backyard minutes after we had let him out. Turns out, he had been poisoned in what was suspected to be a random dog park poisoning. Despite a grim prognosis he managed to pull through, but with a hefty price tag attached. My girls were thrilled but my husband and I were worried about the cost. The very next week, before I left for the second funeral, I received a letter in the mail. The church where I worked a second job as a coordinator had disbanded the program and was letting all the moms know (apparently they had forgotten that employees needed to be notified, so I found out I had no job through an impersonal form letter). And that was where we were at when I left for the second funeral, feeling snowed under and stressed out.
Now, I only bring all this up so that I can properly set the scene for what came next:
Upon returning from the second funeral and coming back to work, I was called into the conference room late in the afternoon. I was anxious because it wasn’t review time and I couldn’t think of anything I could have possibly done wrong, I nervously inquired, jokingly, if I would need a box of Kleenex or not. My boss assured me it was nothing bad. She sat me down and proceeded to tell me, “I have an exciting opportunity for you…..”
As it turns out, the opportunity was neither exciting, nor really an opportunity, although as a childless career woman I am fairly certain she was utterly baffled by my reaction to what came next. The long and short of it was that our new head honcho disliked part-timers and had decided to eliminate all the part-time positions from our area. I was not being let go, but instead being offered the “opportunity” to take on a full-time position.
I will admit I handled the next part poorly. I cried my eyes out. I cried all over the big conference room table much to the confusion of everyone in the room. I kept thinking, “This isn’t fair! What am I going to do about child care? How am I going to break this to my husband? What on earth am I going to do?” My boss was perplexed by my outburst and said so after all, more hours meant more money she told me. I blinked at her with frustration at her utter cluelessness of how badly this little “wrench” was going to mess up my perfect world. My child care, previously conducted by family members couldn’t stand up to a full time schedule.
My husband and I agreed that there was no way we would be able to afford for me to stay home, so I began looking for child care. I had been given almost 3 weeks to make a decision, but we had plans to leave on vacation in two, so they gave me an extra week. I did EVERYTHING I could think of. Our problem lay in the fact that my husband worked similar banking hours of 8:00 to 6:30 or 6:45, so we needed childcare that went to at least 6:30 or 7. This was not so easy to find. I looked and called and researched and came up empty handed. I then called the local government child care referral program only to receive their deepest condolences that while they have never had to tell someone this, they were unable to find anyone. I called our HR department and had them interview employees with kids to find out how they were managing. In ALL cases they either had a spouse with a 9 to 5 job who could pick up at a normal time or a spouse at home or a family member who took care of it. Apparently our family was a unique case. Finally, in an act of desperation I placed an ad on Craig’s List, “Bankers need child care too!” requesting a personal nanny a few days a week from the hours of 8-7 for X number of dollars. We received ONE response. Luckily we interviewed her and she was fantastic. Her references checked out, hooray. Problem solved and my full-time start date was set. Two weeks after the bad news we left on vacation.
Three days before the end of vacation I received an e-mail from the nanny we had hired (she didn’t even have the decency to call) informing me that her husband had lost his job and she was going to have to take a full-time job that paid more. That was it. Three days away from my start date we had no choices left. We had to leave our vacation early and drove 22 hours straight through with the kids just so I could get home by Friday morning and have at least one business day to salvage the situation. By Sunday we knew it was hopeless. Monday morning they gave me an extra week, but I knew that I had already exhausted all my resources and that child care open that late did not exist in our price range. I tendered my resignation that day. I didn’t want to. I was angry. I had no idea how we were going to provide enough income for our family to pay its bills (we had nothing to cut out, we didn’t even have cable), but my employers weren’t willing to bend on hours and there was no other choice.
The saddest thing….my story is far from unique. Every day in this country a mom is marginalized, forced to pick between her job and her kids, forced to resign because care doesn’t exist for her personal situation. The same problem exists for elder care as well. We have a real problem that demands a real solution. Work/family balance should not come down to hard choices, or in many cases, no choices. We should have options for caretakers to maintain roles in income production and we should have options for care for both elders and children that are not relegated to certain hours and price ranges. How we get there is what we, as an American society, need to start discussing.