I had a call with my boss that changed my life in the fall of 2020. Lockdown was in full swing and everyone was basically at their wit’s end as frazzled parents and families balanced work and remote school, all while trying to remain positive, eat right, and not lose their minds. Workdays stretched into nights and weekends. Zoom fatigue was the norm and patience was at a critical breaking point. For everyone. Globally.
I didn’t resign during that call. I hadn’t reached that point. I simply wanted to tell my boss I wasn’t doing anything well. Sadly, in hindsight, I realize I was approaching this like an apology. As if I needed to acknowledge that I knew I wasn’t performing at my normal levels and in trying to fix that, I was working every night and weekend. Desperately trying to make up for the time spent supporting my son and being a third-grade teacher.
I wasn’t looking for advice. I wasn’t even looking for solutions because I knew there were none. I actually felt guilty because I knew I should feel grateful with a steady income far greater than most, not being at risk of being downsized, and that we were safe. For some reason, I felt I needed to apologize and reassure my boss that I was still “on the job.”
The rub is that I’m also a single mom and, while we were in unprecedented times, I had been dealing with this same situation, to some degree, in the nine years since my son was born. While I’ve never outright hidden the fact I’m a single parent, I have gone out of my way to ensure it’s never used as a factor for anyone, especially male bosses, to make judgments about me or my ability to perform. It’s why I’ve always worked longer and harder, including most weekends and evenings. I haven’t taken a vacation since my son was born except for one trip to Disney World when he was 5. I never wanted anyone to question if I was able to fully show up and excel, and never, ever wanted to be viewed as not being able to perform because my kid or childcare issues got in the way.
This has cost me dearly financially and emotionally. When my son was a baby and enrolled in full-time daycare, the bill exceeded $26k a year. When he grew out of being a ‘little’, I kept a nanny on a monthly retainer so she was available on-demand when I needed to run to a meeting or attend an evening event. I paid extra to have her stay overnight when I needed to travel, which was often. My childcare bills exceeded my monthly housing and grocery expenses combined. Every day my first thought was always: “Please don’t let there be an unexpected expense or emergency” because I had no savings.
Then the pandemic arrived. I no longer had the nanny-on-demand but 50% of my income had evaporated since I was a sales rep whose compensation included commissions in an industry sent into disarray by the pandemic. Contract signing came to a screeching halt.
This isn’t, however, a “woe-is-me” story. I am fully aware of my advantages and knew I’d make it through. I still had a steady paycheck that exceeded that of most. I wasn’t an essential worker needing to put myself smack in the epicenter of the pandemic. I had food on the table and a roof over my head and yet I, too, was facing a breaking point.
Back to that call. While he was a kind and empathetic person who could relate to some degree being a single father himself, I got pretty much what I expected.
His response was filled with compassion and reassurance, but he still had bosses that expected results. These bosses were older men who either had no children or whose kids were launched. They expected my boss to perform and deliver and for him to do so, he needed me to do so.
His advice? Take advantage of the company’s mental health benefits. He suggested scheduling therapy sessions with our psychological services (I almost choked on my coffee, thinking: “WHEN? When do I actually have time for that? And how does that help me get my son’s math work done?”). The cherry on top was his recommendation to take more control over my daily schedule-blocking out time for child duties and never, ever working nights or weekends.
After the call, I looked into what my company offered to support working families through this crisis. This was a large organization and surely, I thought, they would be stepping up. Executive leadership had been holding “all hands” conferences to discuss their support and understanding of the challenges we all faced. But there was nothing.
I turned to my HR representative. I was at the “I simply cannot do this anymore” point and wanted to take advantage of the FMLA benefit, which had been expanded to include parents caring for children at home because school was not available. HR’s response? A link to an internal portal to view available benefits and a note saying they were not offering expanded FMLA benefits because it was not mandatory for companies with more than 500 employees. They had chosen not to participate.
Fast-forward to February ’21. I was broken, exhausted, and financially far worse than the “before times” even without crippling nanny costs. So I quit. I quit a job I loved and a career and professional network I had spent 25 years building. I simply could not continue. My son needed me and I needed me far more than my company or my profession did.
It didn’t matter I was on my way to building a company, EnrichedHQ, to bring an innovative solution to a childcare market that was a disaster even before the pandemic. It was the moment I joined the ranks of what would be roughly 4M women forced to choose between their job and their kids.
It’s not lost on me that I belong to a subset of these women who actually had choices. I knew I could make it work even if I chose to remain gainfully employed but most are not so blessed. This heartbreaking realization has strengthened my determination to dedicate my life’s work to fix what I can.
I’m tired, as are many, of talking about the problem. I want us to quickly move into solutions. Article after article reframes the crisis with new stats and new reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and others. Opinion pieces galore talk about why so many women, predominantly single mothers, are leaving the workforce when seemingly there are a plethora of available jobs.
This is expressly why EnrichedHQ exists. Childcare is broken, and we all know that by now. It was broken long before COVID. The difference now is that it’s hitting where it hurts most-the bottom line. Not just for parents and families (because this has always been the case) but for our national economy, our GDP as a whole, and a company’s ability to mitigate attrition costs by retaining talent and elevating themselves as an employer of choice in an exceptionally competitive labor market.
COVID-19 cost women globally over $800 billion in lost income in one year. Greater then the combined wealth of 98 countries. (Oxfam)
This is an incredible opportunity for various forces to finally bring real change. From proposed legislation with childcare subsidies and raising income levels of childcare workers, to private sector innovators, we are in an unprecedented moment where real and lasting change can happen. With companies recognizing the critical role they can, and should, play to provide greater support to working parents and caregivers, we can give rise to entrepreneurs bringing new, boundary-pushing solutions so desperately needed.
After all, childcare doesn’t end at daycare graduation. Everything parents and caregivers do for children in support of their development toward becoming a young adult IS childcare.
Our role in this is bringing EnrichedHQ to market by focusing on the K-12 set. We provide an easy, comprehensive way for parents to build an enriching care plan for kids that expands across all areas of what should be considered childcare, from a single spot. After all, childcare doesn’t end at daycare graduation. Everything parents and caregivers do for their children in support of their development toward becoming a young adult IS childcare, including social and emotional development, academic support, arts, music, STEM, and so much more. The EnrichedHQ Marketplace brings it together so families can engage in exceptional content without the logistical nightmares of finding, booking, and managing across multiple providers.
Our corporate clients engage us to provide this as an extension to the traditional childcare benefits of daycare stipends or nanny-matching services, which provide minimal support. Only 40% of a company’s workforce has kids of the age group who can use those services. The other 60% is left to fend for themselves.
There is hope, lots of it. We find ourselves at a pivotal moment where this can be solved once and for all. Frankly, we don’t actually have a choice. The lightbulb has finally been turned on — childcare, all of it, is essential to rebuilding our communities and our economy. Without it, parents and caregivers cannot fully return to work and our communities and country will continue to limp along.
We can emerge stronger and ensure we don’t end up here again. So yes, I am that mom. One of the many who has been forced to choose between my job and my child and I am thrilled with the opportunity it has provided me to fully dedicate myself to my passion of bringing change.
Join us in pushing your legislators, pushing your companies, and supporting innovators in bringing new solutions to the market quickly. Together we can fix this.
Carleen Haylett is the Founder and CEO of EnrichedHQ, The Kid Enrichment Company. We dare to imagine a world where families can easily access incredible activities for kids provided by best-in-breed providers. We believe that childcare support extends beyond traditional offerings of daycare and in-person care, and we elevate the entire care ecosystem by making it easily accessible to families.
Our corporate clients are leaders embracing the evolving individualized needs of employee caregivers by offering our services as an extension of traditional childcare employee benefits.
To learn more about EnrichedHQ, The Kid Enrichment Company, inquire about our corporate programs, or discuss investment opportunities, visit https://enrichedhq.com or email email@example.com. To see our virtual activities, visit https://enrichedhq.com/shop