Stay-At-Home Moms Forced To Re-enter Workforce

A number of stay-at-home Moms are re-entering the workforce as a result of the current economic turmoil. "Economommies" now find themselves partially supporting to their families as earnings from only one parent become increasingly inadequate. Regular parenting contributor Jolene Ivey, a mother of five who is also an elected official, is joined by fellow working moms Felicia Bradford, a mom of two, and Melissa Day, a mom of three, to discuss re-entering the workforce.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead, we continue our series, Tell Me More About Women's History. That's in just a few minutes. But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner.

We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. This week, you may have noticed, we may have mentioned it maybe two or three or 18 times: We're in a recession, and the effects are being felt in just about every sector of the economy and at home.

Today, we want to talk about families who had committed to having one parent at home, but now find that they need to go back to the paid labor force.

Now somebody came up with the phrase economommies, and we're going to speak to two economommies now. They are Felicia Bradford and Melissa Day. Both were stay-at-home moms who've recently returned to the paid labor force. And we're also joined, as usual, by TELL ME MORE regular contributor Jolene Ivey. Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

Ms. MELISSA DAY: Thank you.

Ms. FELICIA BRADFORD: Hello.

MARTIN: Melissa, I want to start with you. You stayed at home for 10 years.

Ms. DAY: Ten years.

MARTIN: You have three boys. Why'd you go back? Was there any one precipitating event? Sometimes when there's a specific thing like somebody's going to college or somebody needs some special educational support, that'll be the catalyst.

Ms. DAY: Actually, yes. I wanted to go back to school.

MARTIN: You wanted to go, okay.

Ms. DAY: And I started back to school just a little less than a year ago, studying prerequisites for pharmacy school, which is going to be even more money. But I work part-time, and I needed a little extra money to help with that, as well.

MARTIN: Felicia, what about you? You have two boys. You're an occupational therapist by trade, and what happened for you? Did you feel you jumped or were pushed?

Ms. BRADFORD: Well, I think pushed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRADFORD: Let me see. At the beginning of fall last year, we have - we have an old house, and there's always something happening. But our boiler started to act up. So we had to get a new boiler. But it was just a combination of that and the price of utilities going up and the price of groceries. It just became more evident that I needed to bring in a little bit more money.

MARTIN: And your husband's a teacher. Did he agree with this decision?

Ms. BRADFORD: Yeah. He did, but there were some things that had to be clear, though. I'm also home-schooling my kids, and so I had to make it work. And so I didn't want to take time away from my kids, and it's very important for me to home-school them and to be at home with them.

So what we decided to do was when my husband came home, then I would go out and try to work a couple hours during the week, and then, like, Sundays is my day that I work all day.

MARTIN: Well, I want to hear more about that, because that's tough. But Jolene, I know that you - a lot of listeners, regular listeners to the program know that you are a state legislator, but you had a number of years as a stay-at-home mom.

Ms. IVEY: I was home for 16 years.

MARTIN: Sixteen years, mom of five boys. Do you think it'd different if you jump or are pushed? Because you definitely jumped. You didn't have to do this.

Ms. IVEY: I jumped. I didn't have to do what I'm doing, but I needed to do something because you just pointed out, I've got five boys, and my oldest is in college now. He's in his second year, and it's really expensive. And we just weren't able to save all the money that you need to save to put your kids through school. I mean, it's really incredible.

MARTIN: Your husband's also a public servant, I should mention.

Ms. IVEY: He is.

MARTIN: He's the state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. So…

Ms. IVEY: Yeah. And whereas it makes a decent living wage, it doesn't make enough for us to be able to save for retirement and put our kids through school. So I knew I needed to go back to work, and, in fact, being in the legislature isn't big money, and right now I'm looking for an additional job. I want to stay in the legislature, but I want to be able to bring home more money, too, so actually, I'm looking actively right now.

MARTIN: Do you think you felt differently about it, though, that you were kind of pushed, but it was a slow push. It wasn't a jump-off-the-cliff push. It sounds like, you know, Felicia had some crises which just had to be dealt with. Do you think it feels different?

Ms. IVEY: It must. And I know that for years, I mean, years ago, my husband would say when are you going to go back to work? Not that he was trying to push me, but he wanted me to be ready. And I just kind of figured, well, when the time comes it'll be right and we'll know it and it'll work out. And indeed, I think it did. But, yeah, I definitely did it on my own terms. And that makes it easier, I think.

MARTIN: Melissa, do you feel like you're doing things on your own terms, or is there a part of you that feels torn? And I have to say, as a person who's never stayed at home full time, except when my kids are -maternity leave. I feel torn two or three times a week, so don't feel like, you know…

Ms. DAY: No, initially when I decided to become a stay-at-home mom, I said at a certain point I was going to go back to work or either school, and that was when all of my children were kindergarten age or older. And when my youngest son was in kindergarten, I decided to go back to school part time and work part time. So I wasn't pushed.

MARTIN: Yeah?

Ms. DAY: It was an economic decision, but I had already made a plan prior to doing this in the beginning that I would wait until they were all into school and then go back to work and to school.

MARTIN: So what are some of the adjustments that you've had to make in order to accommodate this, and is it what you expected? Is it what you remembered from when you were working before?

Ms. DAY: No. Actually, it's a lot different because I'm having to balance a lot more, having children. When I was working before, I didn't have any kids. I didn't stop working until I became a mom, so I'm balancing work and school and family all at the same time.

MARTIN: What's the hardest part?

Ms. DAY: Working in the evening and not being there to help my children with their homework and putting in them in dad's hands, and that's scary to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAY: Maxwell, my six year old, has come home crying because something was wrong on his homework that his dad didn't understand and he says it's all daddy's fault, and I should be there to help him with it. But that's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

IVEY: Guilt. It's always the mother's fault. They do that to you.

MARTIN: Felicia, what about you? What's been the hardest part for you?

Ms. BRADFORD: Keeping up my energy, because I have to tell you, when my husband gets home, I am so running out that house. I am happy. Yay, I'm going to work. So I don't feel any guilt. You know, and in fact, I was listening to what you said earlier, and I feel like I pushed myself because I just didn't want to have all of the financial burden on my husband. He does quite a lot, and so I kind of pushed myself out there. But I have to tell you, it's been wonderful.

MARTIN: What about for the kids? Do they - are they doing a head trip on you, saying don't go, don't go?

Ms. BRADFORD: Oh, no. No, because I - you know, I'm home with them all during the day and we're around the city. We are doing a lot of different things. And it's kind of like their special time with daddy. And I don't go out every single night during the week, so it's not like a lot of time, you know, I'm gone. And…

MARTIN: What about on Sundays? You work all day Sunday? What's that like, and has that been a real challenge for you? For a lot of people, that is family day.

Ms. BRADFORD: Well, yeah, our family day - we switched our family day to Saturday. And so Sunday, I think it's probably more a challenge for my husband because he can't, like, watch football. He can't watch March Madness, any of those things because he has to, you know, get up and do stuff with the boys like all day. But I think my kids are adjusting well.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jolene Ivey, Melissa Day and Felicia Bradford about stay-at-home moms who've returned to the workforce due to economic conditions. Jolene?

Ms. IVEY: You know, my kids gave me a hard time when I went back to work. They really did, except for the oldest, who said you want to leave mom alone. You know, she's done enough for us. It's time for her to do something for herself, and I really appreciated that. But the rest of them, they did give me a hard time.

MARTIN: Like what?

Ms. IVEY: They just said mommy, do you have to go out again tonight? Why? You know? And at first, I didn't feel guilty, even though they tried to make me feel guilty because I had been home full time for 16 years. I mean, enough's enough, right? It's okay for me to leave the house now. But at this point, I am starting to feel guilty. A couple of years into it, now I'm starting to feel guilty about being away from home so much during the time.

MARTIN: Why?

Ms. IVEY: I don't know.

MARTIN: You think stuff's not happening that you think should be happening…

Ms. IVEY: No. You know, maybe I feel…

MARTIN: Hair not cut, shirts not tucked? What?

Ms. IVEY: No. I think that maybe I'm feeling a little left out of things because things have changed. I mean, I used to be the center of the universe, and I'm not any more. You know, you have to share that a little bit when you give up that role. But they all seem happy and doing well now. I think I'm the one going through the adjustment right now, and a little later than I expected.

MARTIN: You make an important point, though, about some of it has to do with who you think you are in that story. I know when I first went back out after my maternity leave concluded, I was hating life, because I felt like my baby sitter got all the good stuff. I felt like - it wasn't that I was jealous of her in the sense that my kids didn't know who I was. They always know who I am. They always run to the door, and, you know, I've always gotten that, but it was more that I felt like I was the dad. And there was something about that I really did not appreciate, particularly, you know, when you've breast fed and very physically close and all of a sudden you're not any more.

I didn't like it. I didn't like it very much. But Felicia what about you? Does the fact that you need the money make a difference in how you feel about it, do you think?

Ms. BRADFORD: Oh, yeah, definitely. I have to say I'm blessed to have a job that's flexible, that I can really set my own hours. And I think that helps because if I had to work a nine to five, I would probably be devastated and you would be talking to a whole different person. But because I can see clients around my schedule, it helps out tremendously.

MARTIN: But do you find yourself sometimes turning down work because it doesn't fit your schedule and do you feel - is that hard?

Ms. BRADFORD: Right now, I'm not turning down any money, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRADFORD: But…

MARTIN: Duly noted.

Ms. BRADFORD: Yeah. No, you know, I kind of feel like I'm really pitching in -not to say that, you know, when I was just primarily staying home that I wasn't pitching in. But I feel like I'm pitching in like in a different way. You know, it just - it feels a little bit better, actually, and I feel like I have a little bit more time by myself even though I'm at work. That's helping out a lot, too, because when I come home, I feel like I just have a clearer head.

MARTIN: What about your husband? If you don't mind my asking. How does he feel about it?

Ms. BRADFORD: Oh, he loves it. He wants to be a stay-at-home dad. He's like, well, you know, you can always go back full time. And I'm like no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRADFORD: But no, he loves it. He has no problems with a woman making money.

MARTIN: Well, that's good to hear. Melissa how about you? How is your husband reacting to your not being as available?

Ms. DAY: Like one of the kids, like, you know, why do you have to go to work? Why do you have to move - he's okay with it. But he kind of resents it a little bit because it's more on him, where in the past, it was almost a 100 percent me.

MARTIN: He had no - he had very few responsibilities at home.

Ms. DAY: Very, very - probably none, I would say. And he was talking about on Sunday how he liked to watch football and do all those things. I worked on Sundays also, and my husband still tries to watch football and watch basketball and watch the kids. So he still tries to do those things.

MARTIN: It's an adjustment.

Ms. BRADFORD: A major adjustment for everyone.

MARTIN: Melissa, finally, what would make it better? And if you have any advice for people who are starting on the journey you've been on.

Ms. DAY: To try and find a balance between work and family by sitting down with your spouse maybe and discussing it first and really putting on the table exactly what it's going to take to make it work and have a clear understanding between the two of you.

MARTIN: Felicia, do you have any advice for people who are just starting this journey?

Ms. BRADFORD: Yeah, definitely communications. And also to have some limits, you know, how many years you plan to be out there, or months or weeks or whatever. I think just setting some limits would be very helpful.

MARTIN: Jolene?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I think that they're both right, that you absolutely have to talk to your spouse and talk to your kids about going back to work and about how everybody's going to have to pitch in more. Hello, everybody. Everybody doesn't mean just me. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: Or my husband. You know, the kids do actually have to step up more, and I think that's okay. It's okay to expect your kids to do more. I mean, most kids are pretty spoiled, when it comes right down to it. And I'm leaning on them more to, you know, fold your own laundry. I mean, why do I have to do that? You know, that kind of thing. So the more that everybody pitches in, the less resentful everybody should feel.

Ms. DAY: Right.

MARTIN: Okay. Jolene Ivey is a Maryland state delegate. She's a regular contributor to our TELL ME MORE parenting segment. Melissa Day is a mom of three. She's back to working part time, and she's enrolled in school to study pharmacology. They both joined me from our Washington, D.C. studio. Felicia Bradford is a mom of two, and she's just returned to work as an occupational therapist. She joined us from NPR in New York. Ladies, moms thank you and good luck.

Ms. BRADFORD: Thank you.

MS. IVEY: Thank you very much.

Ms. DAY: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now we'd like to hear from you. Has the economy pressed you or your spouse to take on more work outside the home? How's your family coping with that? To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. The number again is 202-842-3522, or you can go to our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org and blog it out.

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