For Kim Cooke of Corbin, Ky. it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. “A business opportunity presented itself, and I decided to take advantage of it,”
Moms at Work
Cooke, a salesperson for a log home manufacturer, explains. She worked at home while raising sons Joshua and Kyle.
Self-fulfillment was a major motivator for Boston Herald columnist Jennifer Galvin. Although she loved staying at home with her three children, Galvin wanted something more. “I missed writing and drawing,” the Mountain View, Calif. writer reflects on her return to part-time work when her youngest child was 2. “I wanted to have a part of me that was just for me.”
No matter what the reason, numerous moms return to the workforce each year. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, more that 72 percent of women with children younger than 18 are in the paid workforce — and the fastest growing segment of the labor force today is women with children younger than 6.
No matter what brings you to the decision, once you decide to go back to work you’re faced with a major transition in your life – and in your children’s. To make that transition easier on all involved, a woman needs to recruit all her partners. Following some simple steps may help to create the ideal situation – the perfect combination of a supportive employer, a work-friendly household and a network of support that will keep life manageable on both fronts.
The Issue of Childcare
Foremost in importance – and in keeping your peace of mind during those hours you’re away – is securing quality daycare. Unfortunately, perfect childcare providers do not drop out of the sky like Mary Poppins, armed with a carpetbag full of magical games and medicines.
Instead, parents must search diligently, wading through the numerous choices and individuals, to find the people and the situation that will provide their children with care, encouragement, companionship and security. In short, parents are looking for a partner in raising their children.
The first step in securing quality childcare may be to determine the type of care you want for your child. Choices include:
A Family Member — This type of care usually assures that the caregiver shares your values, and the child already knows the person. However, it may be difficult to speak up about problems with the care since hurt feelings and strained relations may result. Your child may also be isolated from other children in this set up.
In-Home Care — A nanny, au pair or babysitter who comes to your home gives you a great deal of control in the child’s schedule and activities, and the child may be happier in an environment where he is comfortable. Also, he is exposed to less illness than in a daycare situation. However, an in-home caregiver is an employee, so you are responsible for tax paperwork. Your child is isolated from other children, the family may suffer a loss of privacy, and you need a contingency plan for when the caregiver needs a day off.
Family Daycare — Many parents take their children to a home where other children are also cared for. The settings here are warm and informal, hours are usually more flexible than at established centers, and the costs are usually lower. However, these sites are not regulated, sometimes aren’t educational, may be lacking developmental activities, and a backup arrangement is necessary for when the caregiver is ill or on vacation.
Commercial Daycare Centers– This may be the most reliable care because the center’s staff ensures adequate coverage when one staff member becomes ill. Centers must maintain state standards, and most offer a variety of educational materials and activities. Unfortunately, many daycare centers cannot take a sick child, so a back-up arrangement is also necessary. In addition, turnover at these centers is usually high, which may be unsettling to children.
Moms at Work
No matter what type of childcare is best for you, it is important to explore your options and make your decision well in advance of your return to work. This is not an area for “winging it,” so be sure to secure a caregiver — and, if necessary, have a back-up in place — before your first day on the job.
Negotiating Your Work Schedule
Once you have arranged childcare, you may want to ease the transition by discussing your home/work arrangement with your boss. Some jobs offer more flexibility than others, of course, but it’s important that both of you understand the demands of the job, and what may be negotiable. Keep in mind that, if this is a new employer, you may need to prove your worth before being in a position where you can request some flexibility. However, many employers are willing to work with you, as long as you can prove what you’re asking will help — not hinder — their business mission. Keep this in mind when you negotiate.
Also remember that gaining things like flexible hours may mean giving up something in the long run. “Working part time, I’m definitely out of the promotion loop,” says environmental engineer Diane Gow McDilda of Gainesville, Fla. “That’s fine with me.”
You also need to negotiate with your other partner: your spouse. You may want to coordinate such things as schedules, home responsibilities, and who takes off when your child is sick. “My husband and I work opposite hours, so he had them while I was at work and vice versa,” McDilda says. Others say sick child duties are delegated to the parent who has the most paid sick time.
Moms should also investigate shift work to make sure the hours they are at work are the ones that are best for them. Bookstore manager Paula Dundore of New Port Richey, Fla. prefers the flexibility in working any shift. “Sometimes I work a morning shift and am home by the time my children get home from school,” Dundore says. “Other times I am gone evenings and not back until after they’re asleep. I prefer nights at my job, but I do miss the kids.”
A Smooth Transition
After setting up childcare, negotiating with your employer and setting a schedule with your spouse, you should focus on the most important step: making sure your child can readily handle this transition. If possible, take them to your workplace before your first day, so they understand where Mom will be. It’s also helpful to allow your child a day or two at daycare or with the babysitter before you go to work. This may help avoid additional stress when the “big day” actually comes.
Explain your job to your children in terms they understand. If your attitude about work is positive, theirs will be too, which will go far in creating a good work ethic in your children. Emphasize that family still comes first by honoring “their time” as much as possible. Also let children that you are always attainable to them if they need you. If possible, arrange a time for a phone call during a break so they know you’re just a dial away.
And when you’re with them, make it parenting time, not a continuation of work. “When I’m with my kids, I try to shut other things out and spend time talking, reading, playing and cuddling,” says Kim Meredith, a personal assistant and mom of two from Kennewick, Wash. “Even though I work, I do anything to let my kids know they’re the most important thing to me.”