When your child starts school, assuming you are a parent who works outside the home, you quickly begin to sense that the entire educational system has been set up to drive you out of your ever-loving mind. There are 9 a.m. start times for first graders — which is great because it allows them to sleep in a bit more — but is pretty terrible for the parent who has to get to the office by 8 and has an hour-long commute. There are half days (seriously, what are those about?), 2 p.m. dismissals and at least a handful of vacation days each month that leave you scrambling to find a sitter.
A new study suggests that children’s school schedules are designed for the 1950s household, in which there was usually one parent (mom) home at all times. Since about a bazillion more women are working outside of the home now, does it make sense to keep school exactly the same? Or to keep insisting that children need two months of vacation during the summer — a ridiculously long break that not only wreaks havoc on working parents’ schedules and financial situations (because, hey, day care is crazy-expensive), but also results in them forgetting a lot of what they learned the previous year?
The report found that the average full-time employee uses up all of their paid vacation and holiday days to care for children when they’re off from school — and still needs to shell out an average of $6,600 a year to cover the cost of care for them for an additional 13 days during the school year. Given this information, it really isn’t so crazy that one of the recommendations that has come out of the report is for schools to extend their hours to 5 p.m. This isn’t about forcing teachers to work longer hours for less pay — I’m sure there are educators who would volunteer to work a few extra hours a day. This is about providing children with more instructional time and time to socialize, as well as suiting the needs of families that are struggling to adapt to their children’s school schedules and are poorer in pocket because of it.
As a mom who works from home, I am fortunate because my husband earns a decent salary, we have an affordable health insurance plan and we were careful to spend less on our mortgage than what was approved by our bank. Even so, it kills me to know I could be putting my degrees to better use as a full-time employee. I realize I’m preventing myself from furthering my career and from putting my family in a position to earn more, but my husband and I crunched the numbers early on and realized it made less financial sense for me to commute to work and pay for sitters than it did for me to take on less work and stay home with the kids. This shouldn’t be the case. Working mothers need more support to help them achieve their career and financial goals so they don’t have to forfeit everything they’ve worked hard for because they want to raise families.
Before my children started school, I assumed I would only be home with them for a few years. But now, with my daughter in kindergarten, I see the error of my thinking. If both my husband and I worked, we’d have to arrange for early morning child care, after-school child care and of course, coverage for all of those many days when there are parades, holidays, professional days, you name it. And I haven’t even cracked open the jar of other expectations placed on parents: mid-morning tea parties, early afternoon PTA meetings, stepping up ceremonies and nursery school graduations.
And summers? I shudder to think about the amount of money most families are paying to ensure their kids are cared for so they can work. Even worse, how many children are left alone at home because there simply isn’t enough money in the bank to pay for day care?
More: Pulling kids out of school for family vacation: Yay or nay?
It’s time to step up, re-evaluate our school system and bring it up to date. Offering parents more flex-time and paid leave is fantastic if you can get it — but we’re ignoring a key way we can benefit both children and working parents.