The following essay was written by my good friend Caitlin Muciek-Balkus, a young mother from the mid-Michigan area. In it, she describes the difficult position parents are in right now as things open up after a year-long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While I appreciate the strong desire of so many to get people back to work, I think it’s important that we all realize that things have changed, probably permanently, due to the pandemic. If we don’t begin making different choices in terms of how we support parents in America, far too many of them, mostly women, will be left with little choice but to leave the workplace while their kids are young.
Child care during a global pandemic
Being a “working mom” sometimes means that we can’t work. We all know the feeling when the mom part of working mom takes precedent over our careers and our family budgets. The truth of the matter is that far too many moms put careers on hold as kids stayed home for school, our child care fell apart or we made decisions to keep others safe.
Prior to the pandemic I worked in Special Education. My primary source of child care for my infant son was my parents. My parents offered free child care, which was exactly in my budget since the field of education isn’t known for having overly high salaries.
When COVID-19 hit I wasn’t willing to put my aging parents at risk of exposure. My job involved very close contact with the students, and I just couldn’t figure out a way to put both mine and my parents mind at ease. To me, the only solution was to take a leave from my job. This eliminated any exposure that I could potentially bring home with me. I briefly thought about seeking other child care options, but nothing was available that fit my budget or that would put my mind at ease during the pandemic. While my decision was not the easiest, it had to be done.
Fortunately for me, I was able to walk away because I also have a husband who has a decent paying job. Thankfully he has been working remotely since last March. For us, the pandemic was hard, scary and challenging but it also offered both of us more time with our young son.
For single parents, or lower income families this would never be an option. A parent should never have to choose between the safety of their family and paying the bills.
For those families, safe and affordable child care is a must. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, child care has become even harder to come by and in many cases more expensive due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations.
The simple fact of the matter is that child care is part of the infrastructure that keeps our economy working. Just like we need roads, internet access and office supplies to ensure employees are productive, child care is vital.
That’s why I support expanding child care in Michigan. I’m proud of the fact that Governor Whitmer has proposed $370 million to expand access to child care and give raises to child care workers who will be the frontline workers who help get parents back to work.
As a mom who does what it takes to get things done, I’m hopeful that the legislature does the right thing and works with the Governor to increase child care pay and accessibility.
[Graphic image credit: Alex Zoltowski, used with permission]