This is a shout-out to Christy Meares of Wilmington, North Carolina, a woman I have never met. She’s a “mommy blogger” who writes under the moniker Frugalful, “a money-saving blog for women living the pretty life on a budget”.
An article Christy wrote for TIME.com caught my attention, “How to Use Flex Time to Reduce Summer Child Care Costs”. As a lifetime working mother with two daughters (who thankfully no longer need child care), I know how hard oversight for the patchwork summer camp and swimming lessons schedule can be. I read the article so that I could pass it on to other mothers still in the thick of the child care quest.
More than some good ideas to pass along, I found in Christy’s article the validation for “where there is a will there is a way”. She talks about how she and her husband toggle work schedules so that one of them can always stay at home with their two-year-old son. Her work schedule includes freelance web site design and a part-time evening job at a movie theater. She works at home during the day and her husband is home from his day job when she leaves for her second paid job at night.
Throughout the article Christy shows that she and her husband have done a lot of creative thinking about how to make work work. It sounds like they want and need two incomes, and they are not letting any barriers stand in their way. My observation is that a lot of couples do not engage in as much creative thinking and too quickly assume that expensive child care makes it impossible for both mother and father to work. That’s the implication in “When Being A Stay-at Home Mom Isn’t A Choice”.
This Huffington Post article quotes Anne Weisberg of the Families and Work Institute who says that “the economics of parenthood is a real problem in this country”. The stated issue is that more mothers who want and need to work are staying home because a) they can’t find a job, or b) they can’t find a salary that exceeds child care costs.
Without question child care is a huge expense—especially for mothers at the lower end of the income scale. And it’s also a fact that today no employers are begging for candidates to take jobs. It’s a bit of a perfect storm—a difficult job market and rising child care costs.
But back to that maxim, I believe that where there is a will there is a way. In my coaching practice I find women at all income levels who are not conducting a tenacious, professional job search. In every coaching session there are at least a dozen major job search suggestions that I pass along…all that women have never considered. And there’s no getting around the fact that most job seekers—from the administrative to the executive levels—spend too much time in the Internet black hole (with online job postings) and too little time with strategic and expansive networking through many life acquaintances and Linkedin.
Unlike Christy, most women also see work within one narrow definition: the typical 9 to 5 corporate job. It’s getting harder and harder to find those jobs—but through networking, it’s getting easier to find part-time, freelance, project or other flexible work at small to mid-size companies. Then add in the myriad ways women can earn an income at home through entrepreneurial ventures of even the smallest scope and size. Christy’s web site work most likely did not require her to write a business plan or set up a complex operation. She simply found work that she can do at home—and “at home” work could be anything from phone sales to flower arranging to writing corporate reports.
My sense is that Christy also just “does whatever it takes” to keep her family financially safe and secure. A second night job would not be high on anyone’s list of most desired activities, but that’s a way that she can generate additional income while her husband is home with her son. Too often I see women who really need to work after a divorce, a husband’s job loss or another life “you never know” unwilling to seek out a more “public” retail job or think more creatively about opportunities that could be far beyond the online listings of full-time work.
The other issue is that when a mother and father cannot toggle work schedules to assume all child care responsibilities, it is indeed still “worth it” for a mother (or a father) to pay out in child care as much as is earned in salary. By no means is this the ideal (or a situation that should endure for years on end), but whatever time you invest in a job that provides no (or little) leftover money is productive time that brings you closer to a higher-paying job. In the big picture, time out of the workforce for any reason does not save you money: women typically lose 16% of their earning power in just the average 2.7 year voluntary hiatus. Each year beyond that is a greater and greater earning power loss.
In my family and professional circles I’ve been awed by women who refuse to be victims of any life challenge or misfortune. A grandmother who once entertained presidents and other dignitaries in her living room who found a way to work and support her family after a difficult no-alimony divorce. Another grandmother who reinvented herself over and over again as bank teller, seamstress, factory owner and more with only a high school degree. And the woman who cobbled together affordable family and community child care for her three children in three different towns and then drove 60 miles to work.
With very few exceptions, I believe we all have the power to support ourselves and our families. Thanks, Christy Meares for not throwing up your hands in defeat faced with the challenge of work plus child care. Thanks for not blaming the “system”, the government, the economy, the job market, men who out-earn women or any powers that be. Thanks for being creative, strong and independent, taking initiative and writing your article that shows lots of other women they can also work, arrange child care and lead a productive, happy life. —KAS
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