Editor’s note: This article is comprised of several excerpts from Lean On and Lead, and published here with permission from the author.
By Shay Chan Hodges
About a year and a half ago, I worked for a group that was advocating for child care providers in California. One of my tasks was to interview parents about how they balanced work and family, and I was surprised by how the stories affected me. Though my sons are now teenagers, the challenges of reconciling work and parenting, though less acute now, are still very real. Furthermore, the stress of finding caregivers, figuring out child care swaps with other moms, and working late at night to make up for missed work during the day feels like yesterday.
I decided to transform these interviews into Lean On and Lead, an interactive and robust collection of 30 first-person narratives that provides a deep and personal portrayal of what it takes to participate in the 21st century economy while raising children. The candid and accessible interviews with working mothers and a few fathers include health care workers, teachers, students, CEOs, a US Senator, other Hawaii lawmakers, students, media executives, Head Start workers, engineers, inventors, and more — and are complemented by authoritative research and data in the Apple iBooks digital platform.
Stories from Lean On and Lead
Nika Terrell, Student & Owner, Caregiver Services
Nika has seven children altogether, including a stepson who is 23, two daughters who are 19 and 12, and four sons who are 11, 9, 4, and 2. She goes to school part-time, operates a caregiving business, and owns a small eco-friendly commercial cleaning service.
It’s definitely been a bumpy road getting to this point. Because of health issues with my pregnancies, our family child care needs, and restrictions on my husband’s work options, we’ve had to be very creative and resourceful.
We also don’t have any family help. My mother works full-time and my husband doesn’t have much family.
I hope that other mothers and parents know that they can start new businesses and find ways to get off the system. There are so many things that can happen to you in your life and you never know where it’s going to take you, but it’s never too late. Every day that passes is going to pass anyway.
(You) need to own your life. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, that’s fine too, but you have to own that. I’ve made my choices. When I chose to be a bus monitor, I knew that would get me to my next point, so that’s what I did.
Sue Smith*, Director of Research and Development, Biotech
Sue grew up in San Diego, got her undergraduate degree at UCSD, then worked for a few years in the region in the biotech field. After getting her
PhD in biological chemistry, she went back to work in biotech in Santa Clara as a scientist. She now lives in San Francisco with her partner and their 9-year-old daughter.
Eight years ago, my partner and I adopted a child from Guatemala. Unlike with a pregnancy, the adoption process is very uncertain. (With a pregnancy, you know more or less when the baby is arriving, for example.) A year after we got the referral for our daughter, we were finally told that we could come get her—with basically no advance warning. Everyone at my company was very understanding and the situation was as good as it could have been.
We had to hit the ground running with our daughter because she was already a year and a half old when we brought her home, and she was starting to speak her first Spanish words. My Spanish is ok, but it was important to us that she be able to continue to speak Spanish as well as learn English. We were lucky to find a day care in a private home with a Spanish-speaking provider. After about a year at the family child care home, we wanted her to have more interaction with other kids, and we found a preschool that was also Spanish language-focused.
We were very lucky. Both situations were very good, extremely easy, and open until 6pm. That was really important because my partner and I both worked.
We do not have gender-based issues when it comes to sharing caregiving. Because she works in the city and has a shorter workweek, my partner takes care of the school drop-offs and pick-ups. She also enjoys cooking and has more time for it so she does that job as well. I think we have a pretty even partnership and we’re good at compromise.
Karen Fisher*, Medical Interpreter
Karen works as a Spanish medical interpreter in California. She is also an early interventionist for Early Start, a program for young children aged 3 and under with developmental delays. She works with kids in the Spanish speaking community on cognitive and language skills and cotreats them with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. She also helps families connect with Head Start and Migrant Head Start child care. She loves her jobs. Her son is 5 and her daughter is 11.
For three years, child care expenses had me constantly evaluating why I had even returned to work. Half of the amount I made working part-time as an interpreter and an in-home child education specialist went to child care. And unfortunately, we needed the measly sum that was left over.
But I also continued to work because I loved my jobs and I didn’t want to disconnect from work sources while I was waiting for my son to be old enough to attend public school. Now that he is in kindergarten, I am beginning to look at the option of working toward becoming a speech pathologist (finally, at 42!)
But for now, I still work part-time and I’ve picked up a few more work hours. I haven’t started thinking about the specifics of trying to continue my education yet. The balance of getting the kids ready in the morning, working while they’re at school, picking them up, doing laundry, cleaning, cooking dinner, helping with homework, then getting them to bed is pretty overwhelming right now. Having a little extra money is helping though. I bought a new car and computer with the money I’ve saved on child care.
The expense of child care is so high, state programs reimburse so low, and licensing is ridiculously strict on centers. Painfully, the field is underpaid and under-respected. Well educated, nurturing people are caring for and helping to raise our children while we work to pay the bills and have our own careers. Maybe as a culture we need to address our attitude toward the people (mostly women) who are caring for our most precious resource all day.
*Not her real name
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Shay Chan Hodges is the author of Lean On and Lead: Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy, which introduces the idea of Family-Centered Design. This conceptual framework advocates for designing our society and economy around the real needs of families, rather than the other way around. Shay resides on Maui with her husband and two teenage sons, and writes, speaks, and consults about these issues. Connect further with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.