I was privileged to be interviewed for a Globe & Mail piece on childcare. You can find the piece here. When Roma Luciw interviewed me, we were pulling into Rivière-du-Loup Qc after 10 hours on the road. I wasn’t sure what the article would be about but I hoped that I sounded sane. The daycare tipping point, or the decision to stay home or go to work from a daycare cost perspective:
When does it make sense to put your career on hold and look after the kids versus going back to work and forking out the money for child care?
It’s a directed look at childcare and I am always in support of more public discussion about women, family, children and society. But the decision to work for a pay cheque is rarely as one-dimensional as the piece’s angle. I propose this series of posts as a reflection on childcare beyond basic math. It’s not about assigning blame or responsibility where no blame is deserved or responsibility owed. It’s a reflection about how we can do better for our sake and for our children’s sake.
The Globe article describes me as “itching to go to work” after 10 years spent looking after my family. It was more than an itch. After 10 years of pursuing traditional gender roles – me as the homemaker and he as the provider – my husband and I were yearning for better balance. He wanted to spend more time with the children, consider homeschooling; I wanted to do other things. Truth be told, I love being with my children but I am a lousy homemaker. The tedium of trying to maintain a bright, cheerful and tidy home with 4 young children was getting the best of my mental health. I was always happier at the park, the library or the museum but the late suppers, dirty laundry and omnipresent clutter was getting the best of my husband’s sanity. We decided that I would look for work and that we would transition our growing family from a traditional model to a new model whereby there would be the equivalent of one parent at home full-time and one parent at work but it wouldn’t always be the same one. We called it the Master Plan.
I looked for work in the usual places, followed-up with friends and family. But there is only so much that friends and family can do when your credentials are out-of-date and you have no work experience. The “normal” job-search channels all lead to dead ends and failed to garner even a passing interest. Someone offered me an entry-level job with long hours and high stress for $33,000 a year. During the interview for this job, my would-be boss asked point-blank, knowing I had 4 children: “Why should I hire you instead of a middle-aged woman with grown children or a new graduate? You will miss work; your kids will get sick.” I answered: “My husband can take time off to look after the children.” He replied: “No he won’t. Childcare responsibilities always fall on women.” I was stumped because he was right in part: my kids will get sick and I will miss work. I looked at him and said: “But somebody has to have the children.” He looked surprised and replied something along the lines of: “Yes, I guess, but not on my payroll.”
This is a widespread feeling when it comes to mothers in the workforce. As the French expression has it, we want the butter and the butter’s money. We want women in the workforce, we want to call ourselves progressive, we like the tax revenues and we wouldn’t be caught dead suggesting that a woman’s place is at home. That is, until we need to share the work, pick-up the slack, pay the parental leave. Mothers trying to reintegrate the workforce after staying home with their children are like the homeless who need an address to apply for social security and social security to get an address. Our experience is irrelevant, our credentials are outdated. Yet, nowhere in the workplace do you have more skin in the game as in home management.
We simultaneously wish women would opt-out of the workplace while their children are very young and require constant hands-on care, yet we refuse to recognize this experience once women try to reintegrate the workforce. We pay lip service to the great importance of motherhood and family but deny it by our actions when we refuse to recognize time spent at home caring for children as time well-spent.