By Chelsea Maxwell & Hope
The demand for workers in the human services sector, including case workers, probation officers and counselors, is projected to continue to grow at a faster rate than the average of all other occupations. As more workers are employed by the human services sector, it will become increasingly important that employers follow the lead of other sectors.
Hope is a social worker. In her role, she provides parenting training and helps families deal with barriers to housing, childcare and transportation - all while struggling to protect her time for her own daughter.
It’s time for all of us to re-envision work and design work to be supportive of workers like Hope, who are pursuing callings of both work and family.
CM: When did you learn you were going to be a mother?
H: I was in high school when I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend was away at boot camp, and I freaked out. I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. I couldn’t help but think, “What the heck do I do?” For the most part, I kept my pregnancy a secret. I was almost done with high school, and I had seen how my community treated other girls who got pregnant in high school. I needed some normalcy. So I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to graduate and be done.
I remember when I first saw my daughter. I knew that her father and I wouldn’t make it. And I knew that she would probably spend her life going back and forth between us. Everything I didn’t want her to go through, she would have to. I remember holding her and crying. I had tears down my face and told her how sorry I was for the situation we were in. I told her I was so sorry for everything, but that I would do the best I could. At that time, I didn’t think I could be a mom. I was doubting myself, and I had a lot of shame because I was a single mom, and I was a teen parent in a rural, religious community.
The day she was born, I didn’t realize the strength that I had. But being a parent is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I think you learn a lot through having kids yourself. I always hear talk about how your kids need you, but I think that parents need their kids too. She teaches me these little lessons in the middle of Walmart. She’ll say, “Mom, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.” There is so much more meaning to that coming from her.
When you have time with your daughter, what do you do together?
My daughter loves to dance in the kitchen, so we always have dance parties. She is very social like me, so we like to go over to our friends’ houses. Or, we go and spend time with Gram and Grandpa or watch her uncle’s sports games. She loves being outside, so we spend time going swimming, going for walks and riding bikes. She also loves to do her hair and put on makeup, so we spend time doing “princess” things. I try my hardest to schedule my visits for work so that I have as much time as possible with her, but what we have now isn’t enough. I feel like I never have enough time. That’s the thing as a parent: you are racing the clock silently begging, “Please, stop growing up.”
What paid work do you do, and how do you balance it with the work of being a mom?
I’m a social worker, and I love my job. I have this deep love for people, and I know this is the Lord’s calling on my life: to look out for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and the poor. I get to show up for families when they are struggling and say, “Hey, this is life right now, but there’s so much hope. There are things we can do to improve, get better and heal.” Specifically, I am an in-home consultant, so I work with families that have been referred by the Department of Human Services. We work on addressing the recommendations made by the court. This might mean I am connecting families with therapy or doing supervised visits. I also teach parenting skills and life skills. For example, I help parents learn how to praise their kids or connect with a teacher. Sometimes I help family members get employment, find stable housing, study for their driver’s license or overcome transportation barriers. It is based on the needs of every family.
When I started my job, I had a caseload of 12 families. Now it’s 18. I serve a set of communities, so I’m seeing people anywhere from five minutes to two hours away. I am also always on call for the families I am working with. I set boundaries with my work, but the nature of the job and expectations of the work cuts back on my time with my daughter. My daughter recently started Kindergarten. Before, when she was in preschool, I would schedule my visits for the afternoon and evening so we could spend the morning together. With Kindergarten and a larger caseload, I just can’t be the mom I want to be. And, I feel like a hypocrite. I am teaching families how to be better parents, but here I am, not with my kid. I know she misses me, but I have to say, “I’m so sorry. I want to spend time with you, but I also want you to have food.”
Being a single mom is not easy. There are things you don’t have to worry about as much when you have a partner. I always have to ask, “Who is going to watch my kid while I run errands?” As a parent I have to weigh whether it is worth going to the grocery store with my kid and have a 1-hour trip, rather than a 10-minute trip if it was just me. With my job, I am on call 24/7, so I always have to have a backup plan and someone to take care of her if I get called.
It sounds like you’re in a difficult place. What do you see as your options for resolving the conflict between being a mom and being a social worker?
I need to find a different job. My employer is great, very supportive. Which I’m so grateful for, because not everyone gets to do what they love and work for a good organization. But, the structure of the position just isn’t sustainable. I’m looking for something else and being mindful of how it will impact the time I have with my daughter. Who will provide childcare for her when I’m working? Will I need to figure out her transportation to and from school, and if so, who am I going to be able to rely on? What am I going to do when she’s on Christmas or summer break? On top of those considerations, I need good health insurance and benefits and enough pay to take care of us.
Part of me doesn’t want to find a new job because I feel like I’m quitting on my dream. I know the Lord has called me to this work. But, at the same time, I need to be a mom, and I have been called to this mom-job as well. I wish the world would stop pitting my two callings against each other. It doesn’t have to be this way. Jobs don’t have to be “on-demand.” They don’t need to shape our entire lives. We can structure workplaces differently and reimagine what work looks like, even for jobs like mine.
After the interview, Hope sent us an update: “I put in my two weeks today. I took a job as a teacher aide in a special education room at a local middle school. They offered me the job in the interview. When I got out, I sat in the car and cried. I cried because I actually get to be a mom and have supper with my kid and be involved in church. But, it’s hard. I just love my clients so much, and I know I won’t be able to see their progress or hear about how they’re doing. I don’t enjoy choosing between my passion and my family.”
Hope is a devoted mother and follower of Christ, loving mercy and seeking justice in her community. She shared her story for Time to Care under a pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy.
Chelsea Maxwell is the Program Associate of Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, and the contributing editor of Time to Care.
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