When the work never ceases

Heather Monteith puts in seven-and-a-half-hour days as a bookkeeper then goes home to an even more demanding job — single mother to her three children.

Heather Monteith puts in seven-and-a-half-hour days as a bookkeeper then goes home to an even more demanding job — single mother to her three children.

“It feels like I have two jobs. I know some people would think it’s terrible to say that — that kids shouldn’t be a job — but you are trying to do a good job of raising them,” said Monteith.

When she re-entered the workforce eight years ago, Monteith was among 64.4 per cent of Canadian mothers with children under the age of three who worked outside the home.

According to the latest Statistics Canada figures, the percentage of moms who juggle a job while raising young children has more than doubled in a little over three decades.

In 1976 only 27.6 per cent of mothers of young children were employed.

Monteith, who works at Red Deer Child Care, can understand why the numbers have risen so dramatically.

Society has changed in many ways, she said — not only is it now harder to raise a family on a single income than it was in the 1970s, when men could hold the same job for 25 years and expect a good pension, but more women have now invested in a post-secondary education that leads them into the workforce.

The divorce rate has also risen, said Monteith, who got a job when she realized that she and her husband would be splitting up.

“It was certainly a factor in the decision, since child support wouldn’t be enough . . . I was lucky I had an education,” said Monteith, whose children were five, three and two when she went back to work.

On most days she barely had a moment to herself after number-crunching full time at work, then helping her kids with their school work after supper. Whenever frustrations mounted, she found honesty was the best policy.

“I would say, ‘Today you went to school and I went to work. I know none of us feels like doing homework now, but it still has to be done.’”

Things have gotten easier as her children have grown. Her oldest daughter is now a mature 13-year-old, who helps out a bit around the house.

The hardest thing, Monteith recalled, was when her children would ask her to assist in their classrooms, like some of their friends’ stay-at-home moms did, or attend daytime school Christmas concerts. She would have to explain that she couldn’t because she was working.

“They soon learned not to ask anymore.”

Joy Krath, a special education teacher at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, went back to work right after her year of maternity leave in January 2009. Her daughter is now almost three.

An additional catch is that Krath’s family lives in Edmonton and she commutes the hour and a half to Red Deer Monday to Friday. “I have a great job and I really like the challenge,” explained the teacher, who was hired by the Red Deer Public School Board before she had her child, but always knew she would go back after her maternity leave.

Krath said it was partly for professional reasons that she returned to the classroom (“I’m only in my sixth year of teaching and I didn’t want to give it up yet. It’s hard to give up your career”) and partly for financial ones. “We were used to a dual income and no kids. If I stayed home, we would have had to change our lifestyle,” including downsizing their home.

Most evenings are now spent in sharing quality time with her daughter. Krath said she also feels fortunate, as a teacher, to have summers off, as well as Easter and Christmas breaks.

The hardest thing about her schedule is getting up at 5 a.m. weekdays in order to start her drive south on Hwy 2 by 6:30 a.m. But because of early school dismissal times, she can be home by 5 or 5:30 p.m.

“Without my husband, I couldn’t do this,” she said.

At the back of Krath’s mind, however, is the thought that she shouldn’t be too dependent on anyone.

“Another mom in my mother’s group always said, ‘Don’t give up your job, because you don’t know what will happen. If you are going through a split, you will feel lucky to have an education and a job.’”