You’ve heard the news.
A few weeks ago, I hesitantly handed my boss the resignation letter I never thought I’d write. Those close to me knew this choice was out of character, especially for a woman with “so much potential” in my career. I’d recently returned back to work after maternity leave, still unsure of how to balance my professional life and my new responsibilities as a mother.
Halfway through my leave, I began agonizing over how to squeeze in everything at work and at home. As a mother, I still wanted to be fully involved in my son’s life. I wanted to continue to nurture him, feed him healthy suppers, take him outside to connect with nature, teach him, read books, and laugh, sing, and play. (Oh, and do his laundry from time to time!)
I also wanted to perform at work at the same level, and with the same passion and enthusiasm, that I had before I left. I knew that leaving altogether could be an option for me — for my family — but felt that was a drastic step. The thought of letting go of my job was like leaving a part of me behind. I considered it a big part of my identity; it gave me great pride and made me feel successful. I seriously considered the potential future consequences of leaving a paid position that I was genuinely passionate about. Resigning was not something I desired.
My boss and coworkers knew how much I loved being there. I practically skipped through the office. In my role, I was a planner and networker. I ignited various change and engagement efforts. My favourite part — the people behind the paperwork.
Yet, after three days (three glorious, air-conditioned, uninterrupted days) back, I knew what was best. I decided to leave the job I worked so hard to be promoted to. So, why did I do it?
It came down to one word:
There’s only so much of it.
Becoming a mother, in my particular family unit, forced me consider how time at daycare and time as a family would impact the amount of time I could spend in the workplace during my son’s formative younger years. Time with Alex was most important.
The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job. ~ Annabel Crabb ~ (Author of The Wife Drought, 2014)
Becoming a mother was a wake-up call for me as a woman.
Barriers to being in the workforce popped-up that I didn’t even know existed. Like the availability, cost, location, and quality of childcare. Like my spouse’s work schedule. Like the business requirements of my job.
Before I even moved to Edmonton, my university-educated, go-getting, networking self was a free agent. I was a motivated young woman on a mission to build her career, and I was educated on women’s issues. (Ahem, I still am.) Back in post-secdonary, I’d focused solely on my studies and graduated from university with distinction. I’d volunteered for a long stint at the Women’s Resource Centre on campus. I’d spent almost six years working professionally in Calgary, enjoying incredible roles in sales and change management. I was a member of Calgary Women in Energy for over two years. I moved up and ahead at, what I considered, the same pace as my male friends and colleagues.
When I met the man of my dreams, who I wanted to start a family with, I moved to Edmonton. But before moving, I made sure to secure a position with an employer that turned out to be the best one I’d ever worked for. Then, my career bloomed even more. I’d earned two promotions in just two years. I got engaged, and was married nine months later, at a hip local brewery. Life was at it’s prime. Just five months before I was expecting Alex, I landed my dream job. One that perfectly suited my education, skills, and years of work experience. I didn’t think becoming a mother could derail the upward climb. I would never give that up!
While pregnant, I thought, “of course I’ll go back to work… everyone does!”
And, “it’ll be easy, there are a couple of daycares in my neighbourhood… it’s a no-brainer.”
And, “if I ever have a baby, I’ll be smart and find a daycare or day home ahead of time.”
And, “why wouldn’t I want to keep the best job I’ve ever had? I see myself here until retirement!”
How could I ever “throw away” the job I loved so much?
Yet, there I was, resigning.
Time at daycare…
Early on in my pregnancy, the reality of childcare options sunk in. We live right in the heart of Downtown Edmonton, where childcare availability, quality and price can be real issues. I even gave birth downtown! CBC Edmonton wrote an article on February 23, 2016 about the City attempting to “tackle the downtown daycare deficit” as Councillor Scott McKeen wanted to see more families living here. The Edmonton Sun also admitted that daycare spaces were a concern. As downtown dwellers, daycare was the only affordable and accessible option for us — and we wanted to pick one carefully. Once we began to tour facilities, we became discouraged.
As my return-to-work date approached, I was able to register Alex last minute, very close to our loft.
The daycare cost almost $1,800 for a full-time spot. Luckily, our part-time spot cost “only” $1,100 per month. Despite the price, I registered him, knowing that the close proximity to my work would we worth it. As we spent time there to meet the caregivers and children, and see how their daily routine went, I saw it was not a good fit for him. We researched a few other options.
I had put my name on another downtown daycare waitlist in October of 2014 was I was six weeks pregnant. I still didn’t have a spot by the time I had to return to work, almost two years later. Two years!
A dayhome may have suited us better — but dayhomes don’t really exist in downtown. (See the Dayhome Registry) I would have had to commute out of the core in the morning to drop him off, drive back to park at home, walk to work, walk home for the car, and commute back out of the core to pick him up, then come home again. Doable, but not ideal.
Also, hiring a live-out nanny was an appealing childcare option. But after paying one a decent hourly wage of $12, $15, or even upwards of $20, I wouldn’t be pulling in much net income, if any, on my paycheques. A full-time nanny was out of the question. (See Nanny Services and Nannies on Call for options and rates) Financially, it did not make sense.
Time as a family…
My husband’s work schedule influenced my decision. He’s the higher earner in our family and his job requires working weekends and late shifts, with days off during the week. With my job being the usual Monday through Friday, we’d rarely spend time together as a family. Working opposite hours would lessen Alex’s time in childcare, but would also mean very little time together.
Since I am the main caregiver for Alex, I would be doing the brunt of the work at home, plus working my full-time job.
For my family, I wanted simplicity. I loved the article recently written by Tracy Gillett (of Raised Good) about how simplifying life can truly make happier children. I wanted to make room for Alex to play, to relax, to be with his Mom and Dad, not be shuttled and hurried along between us as we both attempted to work full-time with opposite schedules.
The only way I could continue to work, without burning out, was to work part-time.
Time spent at work…
I knew my workplace required full-time hours from all employees due to business requirements. My position was not an exception; it was a demanding role that needed someone in the seat all week.
Two flexible full-time options were available: modified work hours (where start and end time can be shifted) and a compressed work week (work extra hours to earn 1 day off, bi-weekly). There were no flex-time, telecommuting, or job sharing options. There were no positions “set aside” for employees that might want a reduced work schedule due to personal demands. There was no on-site employee daycare facility, nor any direct assistance from work to assist in finding good quality, affordable childcare. I was not directly offered reduced hours. However, I did have a very supportive boss who was open to my concerns. I was granted a part-time transition period, with the expectation that I would be returning to my position full-time.
I resigned trying to make the best choice for my family.
My choice does say something about our larger culture…
Stephanie McLean, the first Alberta Cabinet Minister to give birth while in office, hoped that her raising her newborn at the Legislature of Alberta would start the conversation about workplace culture. I loved the interview that Global News did with her only a couple of months ago. She said:
It’s that cultural shift — that’s what I’d like to see — about normalizing children, normalizing motherhood, normalizing parenting in all spaces.
Although women have babies every single day, and this is no new thing, it seems that workplace culture still needs to change to support them better.
Take, for example, the company Patagonia. They offer on-site childcare (since 1983) because they insist women can work and be mothers at the same time. (See their You Tube video) Patagonia makes it possible for their employees to be with their children, while they work, raising them as a village. Their employer became “a partner in parenting” with them. What an incredible community!
For most women, and parents in general, finding good quality, affordable, available childcare is the most daunting task.
Edmonton’s Metro News just shared a story on why fewer Canadian moms are working compared with other rich countries. Alisa Fulshtinksy, creator of the Facebook group Toronto Mommies, said:
Mothers are looking at a choice between going back to work and staying with [their] child, since daycares are far from available or affordable… this is the most educated group of women in human history, and they’re pulling out of work because of daycare.
I will absolutely miss my job, and hope to return back to it in the future.
Until then, I will work on raising my son simply and reinventing myself. I will change the way I view my “career” and continue pursuing learning and development opportunities, just with a better family balance.