According to the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, almost two-thirds of California households with school-aged kids have both parents working outside the home. But striking the balance is an issue all families grapple with. Reporter: Rachel Dornhelm
Host Scott Shafer: Call it work-life balance, the juggle or the seesaw -- many parents in California are doing it. According to the Sloan Work and Family Research Network in almost two-thirds of the state's households with school-aged kids, both parents are working outside the home. And single parents make up almost one-third of the state's labor force. Striking the balance is an issue that all families grapple with, as reporter Rachel Dornhelm found out.
Rachel Dornhelm: Kafi Payne's alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. on weekday mornings.
Without waking her husband, and 4- and 7-year-old boys, she pops-up and starts going down her list: checking email, doing an exercise DVD, starting a load of laundry. By the time her husband, Macheo, emerges around 7 a.m., she has showered and packed a lunch to take to her full-time job as a program coordinator for the Oakland Unified School District.
Macheo, who also works full-time in education training, starts in on the dishes that piled up the day before. He's in charge of food in the family. He says for dinner, sometimes he cooks, or sometimes...
Macheo Payne: Sometimes they'll eat cereal. Cause that's what they want. There's food prepared. It's like really? That's what you're going to eat. Cheerios? Okay!
Dornhelm: Kafi comes in and the two talk logistics, which can change every day. They coordinate which of their cars the babysitter will borrow, and Kafi glances at a clock to see what time it is, 7:15.
Kafi Payne: Rushing in the morning is no fun at all, guaranteed to have disaster trying to get a 4-year-old to hurry up and put on clothes.
Dornhelm: As if on cue, the boys pad out. Seven-year-old Eijah pours himself a bowl of cereal and the sweet smell of maple fills the kitchen as Kafi helps 4-year-old Cameron make instant oatmeal.
Toothbrushing almost gets lost in the shuffle, but someone remembers and then Elijah is headed out the door to walk himself the few blocks to school.
Macheo follows. He has to be home from work by 5 to relieve the babysitter and take the kids to swim lessons.
If this all seems to be running very smoothly, Kafi wants you to know it didn't always. Last year the former teacher put in 12-hour days as a site administrator and then brought work and stress home. One day, Macheo called her at work, saying Elijah couldn't breathe and they were going to the emergency room.
Kafi: We had back to school night and I was talking to a parent about this suspension and discipline issues, and it was like, I have to go.
Everyone said, but we have this, and for me that was the beginning of a shift where I [realized that I] have to make some different decisions around prioritizing and getting myself in balance and taking care of myself as well so I can take of other peoples' children and take care of my own children as well.
Dornhelm: She jumped when another job opportunity at the district appeared and starting making time for herself to go to a ballet class twice a week, where she doesn't think of anything but where her feet have to go next.
Trying to schedule that personal time is key to many working parents. For Karen Witham, a writer in the financial industry, it means reading on her bus ride home from San Francisco to Oakland. One recent evening Witham arrives home to see her family: 4-year-old Dominic, her husband Bill and almost 3-year-old Genevieve.
Bill stays home with the kids during the day. Karen says that doesn't mean they don't have a juggle.
Karen Witham: I think there is this perception that if there is one parent who stays at home you're affluent, and on easy street and one or both of you have it easy.
Dornhelm: Karen says despite an understanding workplace, it hurts to leave the kids in the morning. And she treasures reading to them at night.
Bill says balance is also elusive as a stay at home parent.
Bill Price: I mean when she was on vacation over the holidays, I [thought, I] guess this is my occupation. So technically I don't have a vacation. [I] really have a greater appreciation for what my mother and her contemporaries went through. I had no idea.
Christine Carter: We don't just feel more isolated we are more isolated.
Dornhelm: That's Christine Carter, sociologist, author of Raising Happiness, and a single parent to a 9 and 11-year-old. She says even though parents may feel completely maxed out, joining groups is important.
Carter: Because that really impacts our happiness, when we feel connected and we feel we have a safety net, and we feel like we're not the only ones who don't have it figured out.
Dornhelm: She says, you can't fix everything overnight, try and focus on one small area each month. And, she says, prioritize a regular time when you do something that's a hobby or a passion. It could be ballet, or reading, or in stay-at-home-Dad Bill's case: music.
For the California Report, I'm Rachel Dornhelm.