September 28, 2021 • Working Motherhood

How Am I Supposed to Work?

Daytime, nighttime, what is time anyway? (Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash)

I resisted as long as I could, but my kids are back in sports and activities. A reality that feels surreal given that kids under 12 aren’t vaccinated and in many schools in Middle America there are no mask mandates. 

But here we are forcing ourselves back to a “normal” no one wanted in the first place.

And it’s hitting me all over again, as I schedule lessons, and input games and practices and my school’s mandatory volunteer hours into the calendar, that if I raise my kids with the society-prescribed level of activities, I will not have time to work.

I’ve spent the past two months trying to find and schedule a clarinet teacher. And this past weekend, it took a dizzying array of coordinated efforts to get me to my job teaching at a literary festival and my son to his soccer game. 

Today, I am writing this frantically hoping to finish before a volleyball game, where I will have to dish up stale popcorn to unmasked adults.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I love that my kids are trying new things and exploring new interests, I just don’t know why it has to consume my life. I am a single mother. And while I share custody of my children, I still do the majority of the planning and scheduling. Additionally, my ex remarried and his partner stays home full time. So the balance of caring for our children is not, nor ever will be equal. This is a fact that our school has yet to understand.

In March 2020, when school’s shut down, I told the school’s principal that I was unable to keep up with the expectations of my children’s school and my job. He was dismissive. “Other families make it work,” he said. When I took my concerns to the school board, the president of the school board, a man, suggested that I might have to work on the weekends as if I wasn’t already.

This is not always the case. Schools and teachers have shown enormous empathy for struggling parents in the past year. But our American system of childcare is our schools and they still operate as if there is one stay at home parent. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics in 2020, that among married couples with children 59.8 percent had both parents employed. 

Despite that economic reality, the expectation that a mother give up her life and dedicate it to her children prevails.

Since the myth of the soccer mom emerged in the pages of The New York Times in 1996, we love to judge the hyper-involved sports parent. The one who screams at the coach and puts all their hopes and dreams into their child’s sporting career. This past week, the Times wrote about the tyranny of the cheer mom, who is often portrayed in reality TV shows as a gossiping villain, out to destroy the careers of other kids to further her daughter’s hopes and dreams.

But more often ignored is the pervasive sexism that tells mothers that being a mother is their highest calling and they must do everything in service of their children. We laud mothers who give up careers for kids. Give up dreams for their kids. Why is sacrifice considered the norm, when you have this one life to live?

It’s the old trap: Require a mode of behavior for a woman, ridicule them when they perform that socially sanctioned role to the extreme. 

My kids, blessedly, will not be kids forever. The whole point of sports and activities is for me to help them find their own passions and interests as human beings. So why am I being recruited to make hair ribbons for a home game, when I need to be reading a book for work?

And not just need, want to be reading a book. Because I want to be clear, I love my work. I love what I do. I enjoy working and having an identity as a human being outside of who I am as a mother. I have always hoped this attitude would free my kids to become their own people as well and to feel free to be whomever they want without worrying about what I will think. I always thought this was healthy.

Yet, in 2021, schools and sports and activities still act as if there is a stay at home parent there to pick kids up at 3pm, shuttle kids around and manage schedules and help them with homework. Schools shut down intermittently, host big events in the middle of the day, and in some schools, requiring volunteer hours. A study done by the Center for American Progress found, “Throughout the school year, schools are closed for 29 days, more than two workweeks longer than the average private-sector worker has in paid vacation and holidays.”

Add in sports schedules and again, I ask you, how am I supposed to work?

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