Splitting Time

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Samantha VanHoef

Stella Pohl runs through her backyard with her mother, Stephanie Pohl, on Oct. 5, 2016.

With a rising cost of living and higher pressure to be ever-present, part-time work may be the new ideal for Michigan moms.

Stefanie Pohl starts her day at the office. By 8 a.m. Pohl’s checked her email, had breakfast and has a plan for her day. From 8 a.m. to noon, Pohl works as a writer and editor in the Michigan State University Communications and Brand Strategy office. At 12:01 p.m, Pohl feels guilty.

“At work, I feel guilty when I’m up and leaving right at noon because I feel like people think I’m headed out the door and won’t do anything extra,” Pohl said. “I feel guilty, even though those are my hours, for leaving early … You still feel like you’re not having enough time with them even though I’m only away from her for four hours out of the day.”

Pohl is a part-time working mother to Stella, a three-year-old with a toothy smile and a “contagious giggle.” Initially, Pohl planned to return to her career at Fox 47 News full time after Stella was born. But as her post-maternity leave start date loomed, she found out she’d be working more than she thought.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just 20 percent say full-time work is the ideal situation for them. This 2007 figure is down from 32 percent of mothers who said this back in 1997. Additionally, 60 percent of today’s working mothers, up from 48 percent in 1997, say part-time work would be their ideal.

“As I was getting closer to coming back, and thinking of the logistics and how that would work, [Fox 47] kind of indicated that they would want me there more often that I thought … so I made that split decision to go ahead and step down and be part time. As far as scaling back, that was sort of the impetus: knowing that I really loved being at home with her and what went into that, then realizing that stepping in and doing an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day wasn’t going to work well for us,” Pohl said.

“It’s a balance”

“The first several weeks especially, you’re just in survival mode, then just as your starting to get in a rhythm or starting to sleep again a little bit and at that point you’re expected to go back to work,” Pohl said.

The adjustment period for new families like the Pohls can include new routines, new priorities and new mindsets on the relationship between work and time at home.

“What’s difficult about going from full time to part time in the same position is figuring out what things you’re going to give up,” Pohl said.. “I still felt like I was trying to get everything done in a shorter amount of time each day.,” Pohl said.

I feel like it’s important to indicate right away who is speaking. But, since you’ve only been referencing one speaker, you can disagree with me on this edit. Same for the rest of the quotes in the story.

Pohl’s current work with the Michigan State University Communication and Brand Strategy team allows her to focus on both her future career plans and her family, including her “spirited and healthy” second daughter due in December.

“I think [Stella] has a really good opportunity to spend a lot of time with family and spend a lot of time with me,” she said; “I definitely don’t regret it. I also don’t regret keeping one foot in the door in terms of career. Really at this point things seems like they’re going pretty well.,” Pohl said.

Scribbles & Giggles Child Care Center Director Brynn Lazarus agrees that a balance of family and child care throughout a weekly schedule is the best option for young children. According to Lazarus, when families who schedule child care for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (thus leaving the child home for a four-day block), the child is more fussy than children who are on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday child care schedule. The spread of child care throughout the week creates an easier adjustment children and the parents.

“Especially in part-time families, when parents spread out their time, those kids adjust a little better,” Lazarus said.

Diana Perilla, a caregiver at Michigan State University’s Spartan Child Development Center, has also noticed the effects of parents balancing child care with a part-time schedule.

“Children whose parents stay home fully with them for more than three times a week, they’re a little more sheltered and a little less independent,” Perilla said. “I feel like that’s a huge difference … just being more sheltered. But children where the parents are full-time or at least working when they are a younger age — they know what to expect. They’re a lot more socially independent.”

Pohl can see this independence developing in Stella as she gets older.

“She’s older now and starting to go to school a couple days a week, so she’s becoming more independent, but it is nice to be home by lunchtime and be able to have lunch together … Sometimes I wish I could have just not been working. There were plenty of times where I was feeding her where she was basically in my lap breastfeeding and I had my arm over her head on my keyboard. You just make it work. Just like if I was in the office I’d have to be pumping at my desk — you just make it work,” Pohl said.

“Mommy Guilt”

Pohl and her husband decided that hiring a babysitter or nanny was the best option as opposed to traditional daycare, but said that leaving your child in the care of another person still brings a level of guilt.

“It’s the mommy guilt of having your kid in daycare throughout the day and the cost of it. Everyone has to make these decisions. I think no matter what there’s that feeling like you’re not doing enough,” Pohl said.

Perilla has noticed “huge differences” for both the parent and child depending on the families’ chosen care schedule.

“When the child first starts, you can tell if the family hasn’t been in child care before and have just been at home — drop off is completely different,” Perilla said. “Compared to somebody whose child has already been in child care, the mom or parent definitely lingers and it’s more emotional.”

Perilla also describes how the manifestation of parent guilt at drop off may cause more harm to the child than good.

“It’s a lot easier though to have a quick drop off,” Perilla said. “If the parent stays, it’s going to give the wrong message to the child. They think ‘My mom will stay a half hour or an hour after drop off’ and that won’t always be the case, which will disappoint the child even more.”

In terms of feeling guilt and commitment to her career, Pohl feels the pressure of a person with a child differently than she did while childless.

“You also feel the pressure to prove yourself coming back from being gone and saying ‘Hey, I can handle doing everything I did before and being just as committed to this job.’ I think that’s a struggle that maybe only woman deal with when going from being a childless person to then having a child and being in the same job,” Pohl said.

Ultimately for Pohl, the benefits of working help to counteract the guilt of leaving Stella at home for part of the day.

“I feel like no matter what those feelings of guilt never go away. If you stay at home 100 percent of the time you feel like ‘why am I not helping to earn money for my family?’ For me this has been a happy medium. If I had the choice I probably could just stay home 100 percent of the time, but there’s something to say for the satisfaction if you accomplish something really great at work and that interaction with people,” Pohl said.

Effects on the child

Opinions on the effects of working mothers have changed considerably in the last few decades. According to the 1985 General Social Survey, when asked about the impact that a working mother might have on a young child, 55 percent of adults agreed that “a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.” By 2012, only 35 percent of adults agreed with that statement.

For the Pohl family, they initially relied on her mother and sister-in-law to help take care of Stella. They also had a neighbor who came to help. The advantage to this was that the help came to Stella, not the other way around.

“It’s nice because Stella can stay in one place,” Pohl said

This system has worked well for them as Stella has transitioned into school.

“So now regularly Stella is in preschool a couple mornings a week and Marie (our neighbor) will come to our house a couple mornings a week so we’re not having to take Stella to daycare somewhere where we’re having to take her out of the house every day. We’ve tried to have someone always come to our house,” Pohl said.

Pohl’s husband works full time and she has afternoons off, so Pohl is able to spend afternoons at home with Stella for impromptu Disney sing-alongs and homemade lunches. Pohl feels that this will help set a good example for their daughters in the future.

There’s research to back up this idea. According to data by the Pew Research Center, daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers, after controlling for demographic factors, while sons spent seven and a half more hours a week on child care and 25 more minutes on housework.

“Especially having daughters with my second girl on the way, my mom has had two major careers and that was really inspirational for me, so I want my daughters to know what it takes to pursue your dreams and that they can accomplish anything they want to accomplish,” Pohl said.

At what cost

According to the Ingham County Census Bureau, Michigan parents paid an average of $9,724 a year for full-time, center-based infant care in 2015 — which is over one-fifth of the county’s median household income.

Families across the country are also feeling the pinch of rising child care costs. According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, since the recession ended in 2009, the cost of child care has increased at a 2.9 percent annual average — a rate that outpaces inflation, which rises 1.6 percent annually. Additionally, the study reports that full-time preschool is more expensive than average tuition at a public college in 23 states and infant care costs more than average rent in 17 states.

“There really is no formula,” Pohl said. “I feel bad for the people I know that really struggle with child care costs, where you’re really just depositing your salary into child care. Why do I work when all of that income goes into child care when I could stay home?”

According to Michigan Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., both the access to affordable child care and the quality of affordable child care in Michigan are currently not enough.

“I know what the costs of child care are like. I calculated that with my four kids, we’ve spent over $120,000 in child care,” Hertel said. “And I know even as a public servant in the middle class, some people don’t even have the same opportunities as that.”

Hertel understands that no family balances work and home exactly the same way.

“It’s not the state’s job to regulate child care based on hours worked by the parent — lots of families work all sorts of hours,” Hertel said. “The average cost of childcare for a family in Michigan is almost $10,000 and the average family income is about $40,000 for a family of four … But if you’re trying to buy a home, pay off student debt and pay for child care, it’s impossible to do all three things.”

Regardless of cost, Perilla believes that families who participate in a balanced care schedule are not only happier, but better off in the long term.

“It’s easier on the child if he or she is in a child care facility more often than not,” Perilla said. “Children need consistency and they need a schedule. Once they establish that, then it’s easier on the child. Yes, they’re emotional at first, but they’re learning to be a lot more independent socially and emotionally. This affects everything in regards to their growing up. Basically it comes down to adjustment for the child.”

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