Working parents share experiences in juggling professional and home lives, discuss what support is needed
Lake Effect examined some local research from Kane Communications that revealed half of working women in Wisconsin were considering leaving their jobs since the pandemic began.
READ: Report: How the pandemic has impacted working women in Wisconsin
To get a more personal perspective on this research, a group of working parents came together to talk about their experiences trying to balance work and parenting, as well as how the pandemic impacted them.
Amalia Flatley is the marketing manager for The Boldt Company and a mother of four. Donta Holmes is the senior program director for Safe & Sound Milwaukee and a father of 12 between him and his wife. Darian Pruitt also works for Safe & Sound as the community organizer and he became a new father in January, and Valeria Navarro Villegas is WUWM’s digital editor and a mother of one. They all joined Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski in studio.
For most working parents and new parents especially, one of the biggest challenges to navigate is adjusting to parenthood while consistently fulfilling their professional responsibilities. This balance is also impacted by a company’s maternity and/or paternity leave policies. Flatley explains that she worked for a company that provided six weeks of leave with a caveat: only five weeks were paid maternity leave. To receive the sixth week of paid leave, an employee would have to take a week of their paid time off (PTO). Further time was permissible, but would not be compensated. Despite being able to arrange for 10-12 weeks of maternity leave and her husband being able to supplement care with his own paternity leave, Flatley still would’ve liked to have more time available.
"I feel like once you come back to work for my scenario, your kid is about three months old and they're just starting to get a personality that you're just getting into the routine. So it was a little hard for myself to get back into the work routine," says Flatley.
For Navarro Villegas, the flexibility of her position proved to be invaluable. Having just onboarded six months before her son's birth, Navarro Villegas was not yet eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, and instead took a leave of absence. Because of this, half of the leave was paid and the other half was used with vacation and sick time. "When I came back [to work] I had nothing to use for when [my son] was sick, if I got sick, any emergencies," she notes.
"Granted I have a very supportive team and we worked around my schedule to accommodate those hours that I've missed because it does happen. The babies do get sick." Navarro Villegas continues, "I wish it was longer than three months. I had a C-section so I was just starting to feel [like] myself again, recovering as my body was getting more strength."
She adds she didn't have much time to spend with her son the first three months because she couldn't lift or carry him due to weight limitations she had to follow. But despite the difficulties of feedings and other physical challenges, Navarro Villegas says, "I wouldn't have been able to be a working mom had I not been working at the station all this time."
Navarro Villegas says she comes from a very traditional Mexican family and has different cultural expectations when it comes to parenthood. Although she says they are deviating from the traditional "the woman does everything" standard, she still gets comments from her family. "[My dad] doesn't understand the concept of working from home, the concept of the baby alone is a full time job," Navarro Villegas explains. "I'm not able to do both and cook and clean. So those comments, even though I'm not doing them, are signally that I'm expected to be doing everything... And my partner is not saying those, but you know there's constant comments from our parents of the way we are raising our kid."
From the fathers' perspective, Pruitt says his primary frustration adjusting to parenthood is the time constraints in this new lifestyle. "You know, she's a new baby so I want to spend as much time as possible and when we get home in the night; by the time we do dinner and get her all ready, I mean it's like 5:30PM and we're tired. So we're trying to get to bed by 8:30 or 9:00, you know? So, just the lack of time." Pruitt didn't have any paternity leave through his work, and instead took a week of PTO.
"I definitely just felt bad leaving in the morning for work, especially after we'd have a night where the baby wasn't sleeping through the night or just my wife was really tired, or breastfeeding wasn't working. Just kind of being torn away to go to work was a harder thing for sure, not being able to be there for that support," he adds.
Holmes, however, has a different mindset due to his status as a near empty-nester. "I was a college student [when I first became a parent] so there was no leave time. There was work, school, child. Work, school, child... My wife's father was retired so he kind of helped throughout the process for just about all of our children where we rarely had to use daycare, we rarely had to worry about who was going to pick up after school and things like that because we were blessed enough that he was able to assist... It's a team approach," he explains. "It sounds easy talking about it now as I'm ending my term as an in-home parent, almost an empty-nester. But I can relate to everyone's struggle."
The dynamic of the working parent continues to evolve thanks to remote options since the COVID-19 pandemic and the expectations of the workplace adjusting to fit with current lifestyles. However, the U.S. still does not have resources like universal family leave, covered daycares or even a wide availability of designated pumping areas.
When asked about what better support for working parents would look like, Flatley says more time off is the top priority. "The time you get with your kids when they're this young, you don't get back. It's going to change and we need to change and we need to have people advocating for the change," she says.
Navarro Villegas adds, "I am a huge advocate for some resource signaling where there's like pumping area around the city. I would love to see a map —where can I go? ... That accessibility to be more places."
For Pruitt, standard paternity or a general family leave is important to him so that he could spend more time at home with his wife and child, "especially in the beginning."
"I agree with what everyone is saying," notes Holmes. "I think there should be additional time for parents outside of PTO, sick time. I think there should be some benefit for parents to be able to allocate time to their family and children. I think that would be definitely helpful."