The Working Mom Series: Celeste

Editor’s note: One month ago, I was on assignment to write about the high cost of childcare and the impact on women’s careers. I put a query out on social media, asking for women who wanted to share their stories, and received a flood of responses… way more than I could have ever included in the original Women of Denver article. Yet, all of their stories were so profound and so important, I felt they needed to be told. So today, I am publishing the first story in our Working Mom Series. I hope you will follow along as we explore the complex issues surrounding working motherhood, seeking solutions to the unique challenges women face. And, I hope you will consider sharing your story, too.

Right now, my childcare is just people I know.

I work at Circle Graphics, a digital printing company – a production/manufacturing kind of job. I work in the canvas department. We make canvas portraits that people buy online.

I am single and have one 4 year old girl. My sister’s friend who has two kids wants to be a stay-at-home mom, so she offered to watch me and my sister’s kids. My sister has a son. So we are paying her $20 a day. This includes watching her for 8 hours or so, maybe more if needed, and feeding the kids. She is not licensed by the state, it’s just basically a friend. But her house is a bit of a drive for me. I have to leave 40 minutes before work every day so I have the time to leave the city and then come back. So I’m trying to find someone else. I have this other friend who works nights. She offered to start watching her next week during the day.

My biggest challenge is not being able to keep a stable babysitter.

You don’t know if suddenly they’ll say they can’t watch kids anymore for whatever reason. It has happened to me before, to where I have to find someone the next day. It makes it really hard because I have to miss work or have to be late and I always panic. Most of my managers have been understanding, because I’ve been late a few times, but I try not to call in. I’ll be late but I never call in. I reach out to my sister or my mom if I absolutely have to. But they both work. When she’s sick she still goes to daycare. I just give her some cough medicine or wrap her up in a blanket and the sitter is pretty good at giving her medicine as needed and doesn’t take them out in the cold.

We are out here trying to work and trying to focus on our careers but it’s hard to find childcare assistance.

It’s really challenging to find resources to navigate the childcare situation. They make it really complicated and put all these limitations in the way. I tried to do it on my own and use the CCAP (Childcare Assistance Program). They give you a list and they say, “Call and check out these places and see which one will work out for you.” So you call and say, “Do you have any spots for kids with CCAP?” And 99% of them say no. I could never find a spot available for my daughter, so I kind of gave up. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but I was calling all these places… And then afterwards you have to get child support and this and that, and so it makes it really complicated. It’s not just like help is available. Maybe I gave up too soon, I don’t know.

Another thing – not only is childcare hard to find and expensive, but for me, I was on Medicaid with my daughter. And there was a pay increase at work – not just for me, but the whole company got bumped up from $11.50 to $12.50 per hour. When that happened, they took everything from me. All of a sudden I couldn’t get Medicaid for me or my daughter, and they didn’t offer me anything else because I was $100 over the income limit. So I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get childcare assistance if I couldn’t even qualify for Medicaid.

At one point, through my job, they were giving out gift cards for doing extra time during the busy season. That was actual money I was counting on – I was going to get groceries with that gift card, because money gets a little tight sometimes. But there was a mistake. They were like “Oh, you’re not on the list.” I had a meltdown. I said, “That’s my money, that’s my kid’s money!” One of my coworkers heard about this, and referred me to WorkLife Partnership**. She said, “Hey, you know what? They helped me out when I was struggling, you should get in touch with them.” So WorkLife has helped me out with my utility bills and they may be able to help me find childcare in the future.

I’m very limited in what I can do.

I would prefer to work in a different department than where I’m at, where there’s better pay, but it’s a 12 hour shift with a rotating schedule and I can’t do that because I can’t find childcare. It is frustrating having to bother people to watch my child, and ask around and not have that stability. Especially because people only want to watch kids during the day so they have their evenings or weekends off. So, I don’t have the opportunity to do as much as I’d like to, like stay for overtime or go in on weekends if needed. Even if I wanted a second job for the extra income I’d have to find a night babysitter and that’s twice as complicated and I’d have to pay twice as much.

When I was younger I wanted to get into criminal justice. That’s something that I always wanted to do. I did one semester of it in high school, and that’s when I got pregnant. I was pregnant at 18 while I was working as a temp. So by the time I was 8-9 months pregnant, they had to lay me off – I wasn’t a full-time employee so they couldn’t guarantee a shift. I had to stop working for three months until I found something else after having my daughter.

Now, I want to do something related to beauty school like cutting hair, something I’m really good at. It’s where I want to be by the time my daughter is in school. But it gets really complicated because it takes a lot of time going to school, and I don’t have a lot of support around me – I don’t have a lot of family nearby. But that’s something I want to look into in the future. Right now, it’s a little complicated.

** From the WorkLife Partnership website: “Unlike traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs), WorkLife Partnership provides personalized and localized assistance to low/middle-skilled employees who need new skills and/or resources to address challenges such as finances, health, child care or transportation — which endanger their ability to make a living, contribute to the economy and drive company productivity.” To donate to WorkLife Partnership and help working families in Colorado, give here.

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