With Day Cares Shut And School Online, LA's Working Moms Are Carrying The Child Care Load
On June 23 at 1:35 p.m., Delilah Ballesteros finally sent an email she'd been thinking about for weeks.
It starts: "After many prayers, I have decided that I won't be returning to work this school year."
The recipient was the principal of Holy Trinity Elementary School in Atwater Village, where she taught fourth and fifth grade.
"That was a hard decision to admit, 'OK, I'm a stay at home mom now,' because that's not what I wanted to be," Ballesteros said. "I wanted to be a working mom, but that's what my family needs right now."
Increasingly, research shows the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting working moms like Ballesteros.
A working paper from the University of Southern California found moms were more likely to be the caregivers for kids in two-parent households, and to reduce their working hours and feel more anxious and depressed than men and women without children.
"This COVID-19 crisis has the capacity to really represent a step back in terms of gender equality because we see moms are carrying more of the load than dads," said lead author and University of Arkansas economist Gema Zamarro.
LAist talked to SoCal moms who are working less, have left the workforce entirely, and delayed investments in their education during the pandemic. What many of them have in common is that the child care they relied on before doesn't exist right now. Researchers worry that even when child care becomes largely available again, women could face career setbacks.
"This has the potential for women to have long-term consequences because also we know from research that once women leave the labor force, it's very hard for them to come back," Zamarro said.
'I HAVE TO JUST LET THE GUILT GO'
Ballesteros is a mom to a 4-year-old daughter, an almost-2-year-old son and another daughter who was just born in December.
She planned to return to the classroom from maternity leave after spring break.
Then her daughter's preschool closed and the family's day care was only open to essential workers. Her husband asked if she'd consider staying home. He'd support the family with his job in marketing.
"I kind of brushed it off, because I thought, 'OK, that's not realistic'," Ballesteros said. The money they saved for her maternity leave wouldn't last.
But by the summer, the certainty of staying home was more appealing. Ballesteros was calling and emailing countless day care centers to find a place for her kids.
"Once I made that decision (to resign), relief sunk in -- as a mother, like, 'OK, we're home'," Ballesteros said. "We're safe here, as safe as we can be."
Then came the guilt.
First for leaving a job she loved.
"I would come home and talk about my students. I referred to them as my kids," Ballesteros said. "I didn't feel like it was work at all."
Second, because being a full-time mom to three kids under 5 in the middle of a pandemic is really hard.
"So when I, kind of vent about it, or if I come across like I'm complaining, a sort of guilt sinks in -- like, should I be happier about this, should I be enjoying it," Ballesteros said. "I have to just let the guilt go. I am working on it."
'THEY'RE GOING TO QUIT THEIR JOBS'
The acknowledgements section of Zamarro's working paper includes: "We are thankful to our partners for providing childcare so we could write this paper during these challenging times."
Zamarro is a mother of two elementary school-aged kids -- our interview was scheduled for one of the days they'd be in school.
"The way I cope with it as a researcher is I want to know how much of a problem this is," Zamarro said. She and co-author Maria Jose Prados analyzed national survey data collected during the pandemic.
- One-third of working mothers in two-parent households reported they were the only ones providing care for their children, compared to one-tenth of working fathers.
- Women were more stressed out than men, but there was a gap between women without children (41%) and women with children (49%) who reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- 42% of employed moms reduced their working hours during the pandemic, compared to 30% of employed dads.
This could make the existing wage gap between women and men worse. The Associated Press reported more than 1.3 million women have left the labor force since February. Research by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve found women ages 25-44 who aren't working right now are three times more likely than men to report it's because of child care demands.
Sociology professor Caitlyn Collins of Washington University in St. Louis is also studying how working moms' lives are changing during the pandemic. Her recent research found women with young children had the most significant reductions of working hours.
"My fear is that women will be terminated, they will be overlooked for promotions and raises," Collins said. "Women are, as they feel this increasing sense of guilt, overwhelm, stress and exhaustion month after month of the pandemic here, they're going to quit their jobs."
And the guilt many moms feel?
"What I try to drive home to women is that this is not their fault," Collins said. "The stress and the overwhelm they feel is not on them to resolve. They're already trying their best."
Collins said part of the problem is that unlike many countries, the U.S. doesn't have national policies to support families like paid parental leave. A bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk would extend 12 weeks of job-protected leave to small business employees in California.
"All of us benefit when children are raised well, right? And all of us deserve supports to reconcile work and family," Collins said.
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FOR A SINGLE MOM, 'IT'S ALREADY BEEN HARD TO MAKE THINGS WORK'
At the beginning of 2020, Loretta Madrigal felt pretty stable. She lived with her mom, stepdad, and younger sister. Her three sons ages 6 to 10 could walk to their elementary school across the street and a state subsidy helped her pay for child care.
She taught swim lessons and enrolled in business calculus at Citrus College in Glendora. She earned an associate's degree in 2007 and wanted to ease back into school with the goal of one day opening her own swim academy -- a dream she's had for more than a decade.
"I feel like I've always tried to get on my feet and then something happens," Madrigal said.
On March 13, the kids' school and daycare provider notified her they were shutting down to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus; the swim lessons she taught were canceled and the car she was borrowing from her brother died.
"My insomnia basically was just at a new level of not being able to sleep at night because I was so uncertain," Madrigal said. "Being a single mom and already on a low income, it's already been hard to make things work."
She applied for unemployment immediately, but says she's still only received about $400.
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Madrigal started teaching swim lessons again this summer, but there's less demand so her paychecks are smaller. Day care is still closed.
"My family's like 'You don't have enough hours, but we're sick of watching your kids' and it's like, 'Well, you guys are putting me between a rock and a hard spot because if I get more hours, then I'm going to be away from them more."
She doesn't see life going back to normal until her kids are back in school -- safely -- and she has more help with child care. Madrigal didn't enroll in any college classes this fall.
"I don't ever want to stop chasing my dream, but it's definitely kind of on hold right now," Madrigal said.
'I WANT MY DAUGHTER TO SEE HER MOM ... BEING PASSIONATE ABOUT SOMETHING OUTSIDE OF THE HOME'
Back in April,Gov. Newsom said, "Child care is foundational to getting people back to work. If they cannot get the kind of quality child care that they deserve they are less likely to get back to work and jump start this economy."
That might be the reality for Maggie Kelley, a Santa Monica High School teacher and new mom. Her daughter Mara was born in June.
In her pre-pandemic plan, her daycare would have been 30 seconds down the hall from her English classroom.
The district laid off the majority of its child development services staff this summer and it's unclear when the high school's early education program will reopen.
Kelley extended her maternity leave until January.
"I am really trying to just give myself a break because there's only so much that I can do right now," Kelley said. "I am worried when the time comes to go to this child care, that whatever we find, that it's not going to be my first, second, third, fourth, or even maybe my fifth choice."
Her husband, a director at a sports company, isn't opposed to being a stay-at-home dad.
"The problem just simply is financially it would make a lot more sense for me to take the pay cut or the unpaid leave," Kelley said.
Kelley says her job is protected for up to a year, but she might miss out on a raise and retirement savings.
"I feel like that would be a really bad thing for my career, but it would possibly be good for my mental health," Kelley said.
She's also trying to set an example.
"I want my daughter to see her mom adding value to this world and being passionate about something outside of the home," Kelley said. "I'm definitely gonna have to figure out a way to get back because I want her to have that experience."
'OK, I NEED A BREAK. I'M GOING TO WORK'
Child care is a large part of the reason actor turned part-time computer technician Jaylee Maruk is able to still work.
She carefully calculated the cost of training for the new job, negotiated the rate at her 2-year-old son's day care, and got financial help from her own mom to pay for it.
"This is what works for me and this is how I can make money,' Maruk said.
She's reassured that the center only accepts children under 3, separates kids into small groups and staff wear masks.
"My child loves it," Maruk said. "I can see the difference just emotionally, how happy he is going there."
Entertainment industry jobs are still few and far between, but when they do return, she knows finding someone to watch her son won't be an issue.
In Lancaster, Ashley Wayne lives with her grandparents and relies on them to watch her 19-month old son.
Last year, when she was first hired as a Papa John's cashier, she started looking at local day cares and was shocked to find it would cost about $1,300 a month -- way more than she could afford at the time.
In retrospect, her family's help was the more stable option, since so many child cares have closed during the pandemic.
"Whenever I hear that other people are working at home through the pandemic, I'm always like, 'Oh, you're so lucky,' and then sometimes I'm like, "OK, I need a break. I'm going to work," Wayne said.