The American school system is fundamentally out of synch with the working hours that parents keep. It’s even out of synch with higher education calendars.
I noticed this of course in California, but this has slapped me in the face here in Hawaii.
Schools do differ, but the majority of public schools in Hawaii start at 8am and finish at 2:15pm. Wednesdays are short days and finish at 12:20pm. They receive 180 days of instruction per year.
The average working hours are 8-5pm, so obviously there is a big discrepancy. Added to that, school leave is not at all in coordinated with paid time off for parents.
I struggled to find after-care solutions.
The search was even more complex with my daughter with Down syndrome and my son on the spectrum.
The after-care solution had to be safe enough for me to trust them (in terms of sexual abuse and to keep her safe in case she eloped/bolted), and with my son, stimulating enough intellectually but also accommodating with regard to noise and sensitivity.
In my town, there were precisely two options: one has the kids sitting in a cafeteria for hours upon end after school and required to be quiet and look busy. The other has the kids essentially running around in a far more loose environment (- and is it safe?!). Neither is always open for those surprise “teacher planning days” that my kid’s school swings our way.
What this means is that – as happened this week – us parents will find out via some note in our child’s planner – that there is no school on Friday, and there is NO CARE AVAILABLE for our kids. The choice is either stay at home with our kids or stay at home with our kids.
I Want People to Be Aware of This
We talk up a storm about the economy, jobs, education.
We talk about how we should end public benefits, about drug testing for people who receive SNAP food benefits. We have a huge amount of mistrust for anyone who has to tap into The System for help, but The System is SO SCREWED UP.
I mean, if I had a regular job right now (and I have wanted to – a regular job sounds lovely!!), I would be caught between paying half my paycheck for school aftercare that only taught my kids how to sit nicely on a cafeteria bench for hours and look busy, needing to constantly take off work for all of the school vacation time, and numerous teacher planning days.
I have tried to figure a way around this for TWO YEARS, and it’s just not an option. I can’t do that to my kids, and I don’t want to get hired just to get fired for all the time off I’d need.
So I’m going back to school.
I thought that would be a way safer bet in terms of being able to be present for my kids, and it is. BUT when there is a planning day, or when my kids’ school vacations stretch on and on, I am stuck with the same choices. My professor is allowing me to bring my kids to class, but how many would do that?!
We Do Not Have a System That Favors Working Parents
Our system was set up, what, 80 years ago, when families were typically two person, mom and dad. Mom stayed at home and Dad went to work.
I think the two-person family and the stay-at-home-mom is a rarity these days. Most families require both parents to work, and with both parents working, how on earth can they be successful with their jobs or education and “get ahead” unless their children have proper care and education as well?
Add Disability to That Pot and Stir It
The other thing to remember in this is that SO MANY KIDS have disabilities.
This enormously affects things because you usually can’t just drop them off and wave ‘bye’.
I had hiccups with Micah and his aftercare program that took weeks to resolve (related to Autism), and issues on the regular with Moxie (and Down syndrome: flop/drop, bolting, impulse control).
I honestly do not think it’s possible anymore for parents – least of all a single working parent – to get ahead in this system. I think it’s just a matter of treading water to stay afloat and try and get ready to leap forward when your kids are old enough to take care of themselves a bit more.
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Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.