Ever since I was a young girl I dreamed of having a career. I also dreamed of being a mom. Nowhere in my visions did I have to decide between the two. I worked hard to achieve a career and I did my best to be a good mom, but there were times when I had to choose my job over my kids.
I was new to being a single mom. Newly divorced and on my own with four girls. I went back to college to make information technology (IT) my new career. I had that knack. I lacked the experience. I needed that first job to set me on my new path.
I scored a temp to hire job very quickly. IT jobs were abundant then. I had my chance to prove I had what it takes. Working overtime and Saturdays was expected and I was there when they needed me, until the day my eldest woke up with a stomach bug. I sent her to school knowing that she really needed to stay home. I told her to go to the nurse if she couldn’t hack it. My employer couldn’t point a finger at me if the nurse called, right?
I got the call right before lunch. I clocked out, rushed to the school, picked up my kid, dropped her at home, and rushed back to work. I felt terrible that I left my sick daughter home alone, but I needed this job. I clocked back in and went to work while everyone else was at lunch. I dove back into work and finished the day with the highest productivity I’d ever had. I was the highest on my team too. I knew my performance that day should get someone’s attention. I got attention indeed. I got attention from a supervisor because I’d had to leave work for my sick kid.
Two days later another daughter was sick with that same bug. “Luckily,” she got ill while she was already in school. I finished up my job that day with higher numbers than the previous day when my oldest was sick. I was the most productive employee in my area again even though I had to clock out 90 minutes early. As I left, my supervisor pulled me aside to warn me once again that my sick kids were being noticed. I reminded him, sick kids aside, that I was always there and doing an above average job.
I didn’t dwell on his words because I knew my work ethic and ability would logically override the very small amount of time I missed.
Unfortunately, when it rains it pours and car problems came next. I found a coworker who agreed to take me to and from work. Even though I didn’t have a car, I still showed up at work. and then the bug hit me. Of course it would. That’s how it works. I called in sick and spent a miserable day on the couch.
That evening I called my ride to let him know I would be good to go back to work the next morning and needed a ride. He told me he’d heard I had been fired. No one called to tell me I’d been fired and I asked him to pick me up as usual. I showed up at the office the next morning. No word of my demise came during our morning meeting and I went to my station and begin to work. About halfway through the morning the supervisor, who had given me the warnings before, asked me to go with him. I followed as he made his way to the entrance of the building. I stopped and asked what was happening. He informed me I was being fired. I had no ride. It was over 90 degrees and I was dressed for working in a very cold environment. He refused my request to use the phone even though we were two miles from the closest pay phone in the days before cell phones. He went above and beyond to be cruel to me. I was clear that I was being punished.
My kids and I were ill and I was fired. As a temp to hire, which is a prevalent way businesses get out of giving rights to their workers, I had no rights. I was kicked out into the heat the day after I had a stomach bug.
I will share, so you don’t think that I am whining about consequences of a strict attendance policy that the friend giving me rides got time off to let the cable guy in for his neighbor. I watched him on another occasion ask and receive approval from the same supervisor for a Saturday off because, in his words, his cat missed him.
Luckily, I got a much better job very soon after this, but I wish I could say this was the last time I had to put what was best for my kids second to the needs of a job. I quickly learned that I had to be a bad parent in order to keep a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. I also learned my male colleagues were often held to a different standard. Ultimately it didn’t matter what a good a job I did. What mattered was that I was willing to put the needs of my kids over my job.
The choices I had to make and the resulting consequences of working while raising children on my own were never part of my dream and I am not alone. My past reality is now the present reality of mothers across our state every single day. Paid leave could go a long way for women who are striving to provide a safe environment and life for their children.
Pamela Kelly is a mother, grandmother, IT geek, podcaster, radio personality, and Pagan. She is disabled, an activist, traveler, Third Wave feminist and so much more in no particular order. She believes sharing stories creates community.