Do you have stories from your past that stick in a way that others don’t? Stories that leave you wondering, what if? I have a few of those stories and I am going to share one with you because it seems so relevant to the national conversation.
The story is about a girl I worked with in a previous job at a nursing home and assisted living. I will call her Sandy to protect her privacy. I worked as the Administrator and Sandy started as a Nursing Assistant. She was interested in a promotion so we paid for her to go to school to become a TMA (Trained Medication Aide).
Sandy was skilled and efficient at her work. She took pride in her job and was very dependable. Sandy was also a single Mom to a young boy. The Dad was not involved so Sandy managed her full-time job, and duties as a Mother with some help from her family. I admired her work ethic and as a Mom I knew the challenges she faced.
Like many of our employees, Sandy had to work every other weekend and holiday. I write this on Memorial Day when many Americans have a day off. I think it’s important to remember there are millions of people who are working to keep vital services available to our most vulnerable citizens.
Abruptly, Sandy started bringing her 7-year-old son to work on her weekends to work. This wasn’t completely unheard of. We ran a business that was open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The services we provided were critical to the residents we served so occasionally, if a parent, or even a grandparent was in a child care bind, we would allow children to come to work. This was typically done as a temporary measure because we needed someone to work and there was no other option for the employee or for us.
This was not an ideal situation and would often create questions from other employees and managers about fairness, and the standards we were setting. I wish we lived in a black and white world, but there is often so much grey.
The complaints started coming from co-workers about Sandy’s child being disruptive and causing issues at work. Her Supervisor addressed the situation with her and informed her she needed to find day care for her son on the weekends she worked. Sandy explained her Mom had been her day care provider but they had a falling out so she was no longer willing to watch her son. While her Supervisor empathized with her situation, she explained because of the necessity to maintain performance standards, bringing her son to work would no longer be allowed.
Sandy’s son stopped coming to work and we assumed she had arranged for a babysitter. One day a police officer showed up at work to arrest Sandy. Sandy had made the decision to leave her son at home while she went to work. He had left home, and was being disruptive in the neighborhood and she was arrested for child neglect.
This hit me hard. I felt terrible Sandy was put in the position to decide between her job and her son and I have forever wondered if I could have done something more to help her. Some may judge Sandy for being a poor decision maker, or worse, a bad mother.
That is not what I saw. I saw a girl who tried to make the best of the cards she was dealt. No question her life involved many choices and had she made a different choice, she may not have ended up in the circumstances she did. What person doesn’t have that story to tell?
What I saw was a girl who tried to do the right thing when the choices were hard. When she unexpectedly became pregnant, she chose to have her baby. She got a full-time job to support her son, even going to school to better herself. She didn’t want a hand out so she didn’t quit her job. But Sandy certainly needed a hand up.
Sandy represents so many women in America today. Many of the decision makers we have elected, have likely never worked with a woman like Sandy, but she played by their rules. She did not get an abortion, she worked full-time, and she did not expect government to take care of her. She was faced with a difficult choice and she made the best one she knew how to do at the time.
What some people don’t know is Sandy likely did receive government assistance, as many full-time workers do. Many people see welfare recipients as lazy people, living off someone else’s hard-earned tax dollars. Sandy worked
harder than most people can imagine. Are there lazy people on welfare? Yes. Are there lazy people with million-dollar trust funds? Absolutely. There are lazy, unethical people at all ends of the socioeconomic scale. But what about people like Sandy? She played by the rules and she just needed some support to help her succeed.
In some areas of our great nation, we are facing a worker shortage like we have never seen. With baby boomers retiring by the thousands, there are going to be significant worker shortages in many industries. When you go out to eat, we depend on people to cook our food, serve our table, and do our dishes. When we stay at a hotel, we count on employees who check us in, clean our room, and fix our shower when the water is cold. When our parents get sick, we count on people available 24 hours per day to save their life at the hospital. When our parents need care after the hospital stay, we depend on more employees to help care for them while we go to work. While at work, we hope there are qualified people available to care for, and teach our children. These are essential services for our society to continue to function in the manner we have become accustomed to.
I do not view finding solutions to Sandy’s child care dilemma and looming worker shortage as a partisan issue. I see it as necessary for our survival as a collective society. The reality is, we will need all the able adults working, and will need immigration to fill in the gaps. Eliminating barriers to work is what the government, employers, and all of us should be thinking of as we prepare for the future.
What can we do? The first step is awareness. You can start by paying attention to the many people you count on and expressing gratitude for their work. You can also ask what life would be like if those people were not there to meet your needs of the moment? Saying thank you, noticing hard work, and expressing gratitude for work that benefits you goes a long way to encourage people to stay in the work force.
You can also support candidates who have policies that support working parents and families. Although she is not a lawmaker, my understanding is, Ivanka Trump has been advocating for a child care proposal that helps wealthier parents but leaves Mom’s like Sandy with the same options as she has always had. Do I go to work or take care of my child? I applaud her for at least raising awareness about the need for policy changes.
I agree with Sister Joan Chittister, and do not believe it is ethical to advocate for policies that support birth, but not the programs that help the mother and child after the baby is born.
If we elect officials who have known women like Sandy, or even better, lived her life, perhaps a story like Sandy’s will not be possible in the United States of America. I truly believe we can and must do better.