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Parenting Can Get Complicated When One Partner Is Away

Parenting Can Get Complicated When One Partner Is Away

The moment my husband walks through the door after traveling for work — something he does about a third of the year — is pandemonium. Our two sons pounce on him. Our dog loses her mind. And I feel a mixture of love, relief and resentment.

Caring for our kids while my husband travels is nothing at all like single parenting. I do not bear the full emotional, logistical and financial weight of raising our children, nor do I face the isolation and overwhelm single parents so often experience. During the years when he left me alone with our baby and toddler, I could still cry on the phone with him. We split the bills and share a home.

Still, our arrangement often feels disorienting. When my husband is away, my two children and I are an efficient unit. Then comes “Dada,” with his bear hugs and spicy tacos — and a need to be reminded of who gets picked up from what after-school activity when.

Terrence Real, a family therapist and author of, “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship,” said direct, regular communication is especially important in arrangements like mine. He believes couples need to prioritize regular check-ins and explicitly “contract” household duties with each other, making their respective expectations and commitments clear.

“When one partner travels a ton, the other one often de facto becomes more of the primary caretaker,” Mr. Real said. “How does everybody feel about it? Well, nobody knows. Nobody ever talks about it.” I asked him and other experts for strategies that can help couples manage the emotional and logistical complexities of “solo” parenting.Focus on teamwork, even from afar.

Eve Rodsky, the author of “Fair Play” — a book about divvying up domestic labor, which has also spawned a documentary and nonprofit — said it is important for couples to agree that the partner who remains home is not the sole parent, and to proceed accordingly.

That means the traveling partner must stay engaged, Ms. Rodsky said, and not just with phone calls or FaceTime. Find practical ways to help from a distance, she recommended.

Perhaps the traveling parent can order groceries online from a shared shopping list, she said, or manage an extracurricular activity or two. That might mean doing things like making sure the soccer schedule is-up-to-date on the family calendar (itself an important tool) or coordinating weekly car pools.Treat arrivals and departures with care.

Military spouses have extensive experience with solo parenting, said Stephanie Allen, marketing and communications director for the Military Spouse Advocacy Network, whose husband has served in the Navy for more than a decade.

She noted that “homecoming briefs” for military spouses tend to emphasize the importance of clear conversation around expectations. Before her husband returns from a deployment, for instance, they will discuss on the phone or in an email: What has the routine been? Are there any new rules or conventions in place?

They will also talk about their own needs. Will her husband need some time to decompress? Or can he dive into being the primary caregiver for a few days so she can catch her breath?

Ms. Rodsky urged all couples to have a “re-entry check-in” within the first 24 hours. Put it on the calendar, and keep the conversation around 10 minutes, she said. Though you might be eager to catch up or even unload on each other after being apart, your sole focus is: What tasks do each of us want to handle this week?Dive into the “daily grind.”

I am much happier when my husband is home. We all are. But the first 24 to 48 hours feel chaotic, as our rhythms and routines shift.

Ms. Rodsky believes that having the returning parent focus on “daily grind” tasks may be a useful strategy for many families looking to mitigate some of that initial turmoil. That means housework (dishes, laundry and taking out the garbage), grocery shopping and making meals — tasks that are eternal and largely unchanging.

Of course, some returning parents will be eager to dive back into child care, and families will settle on different arrangements, Ms. Rodsky said. What matters is that each partner takes full ownership of their given tasks, from conception through execution, she said — noting that doing so can be an important antidote to the longstanding gender gap in housework and the mental load carried by the parent who stayed behind. So, if you are on garbage duty, you don’t just empty the bin; you replace the liner and take it out to the street.

“Think of your home as an organization and not just some place where you say ‘we’ll figure it out’ or ‘we’re going to default to the woman because of gender expectations,’” Ms. Rodsky said.

Beware of letting the traveling partner play the part of the “fun parent,” Mr. Real said. Instead, think of diving into the more tedious parts of caregiving as an act of enlightened self-interest, Mr. Real said.

“You’re dog tired, and you don’t want to,” he said, “but you do it because it’s an investment in your happiness.”

My husband and I have not done the kind of deliberate contracting the experts I spoke to recommended, but now it’s on the family calendar.

I will also give credit where it is due: He used to come home from the road and flop on the living room rug to play Legos, or doze off for a few minutes while the boys babbled on about their week. Now, he often comes home with arms full of groceries — then heads straight to the kitchen.


If Your After-School Program Has A Waitlist, Staffing Might Be To Blame

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If Your After-School Program Has A Waitlist, Staffing Might Be To Blame

California is pumping more than $4 billion into before-, after-, and summer school learning programs.

The “expanded learning opportunities” funding, first announced in 2021, is intended to help every public school district offer additional hours of care and activities for every student in grades TK-6 by the time school starts in fall 2025.

“It’s a real validation of the kind of work we’ve been doing for so long,” said Julee Brooks, CEO of Woodcraft Rangers, which provides after-school programs on more than 100 Los Angeles-area school campuses. “It’s also a recognition of how much student need has changed.”

After-school programs have long provided safety, food, and fun for kids while their parents work, but now programs are also filling gaps in access to the arts and mental health care. Many public districts see after-school programs as a key part of their pandemic learning recovery plan, but it’s unclear how much they may improve students’ academic skills.

The money comes at a time when there’s a nationwide after-school educator workforce shortage. More than two-thirds of providers told the Afterschool Alliance last fall that it’s been difficult to hire and retain staff last year. Other programs are fully staffed, but are still enrolling fewer students than before the pandemic.

“The intent is always wonderful,” said Susan Samarge-Powell, who helps oversee after-school programs in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. “Then the reality sometimes is where it is most challenging.”A funding history

In 2002, California voters approved a $550 million annual grant program to fund after-school care.

While the money increased access to programs, the level of funding remained relatively stagnant even as wages and other costs increased.

Find before and after-school care

There’s no one-stop shop for finding before- and after-school care. If your local school doesn’t have space or any recommendations, try your local child care resource and referral agency. Their staff can provide a free list of potential programs based on your family’s needs.

A 2020 survey from the Afterschool Alliance found 70% of Los Angeles students are shut out of after-school programs.

The expanded learning opportunity program will increase before-, after-, and summer school funding by 400% when it’s fully implemented in the 2025-2026 school year, according to a study from Partnerships for Children and Youth.

Here’s how that funding is distributed:Schools where 75% or more of students are from low-income families, unhoused, in foster care or are learning English receive $2,750 per child.Districts with fewer high-needs students receive $2,052 per child through the program.An estimated 40% of school districts are eligible for the higher level of funding.

Districts can use the money in a variety of ways as long as it contributes toward providing nine hours of in-person learning per day during the school year and during at least 30 non-school days. Examples of allowable uses include hiring tutors, literacy coaches, and paying for off-campus programs.A woman with a white shirt and medium light skin tone and long brown hair stands in front of a white board in a classroom-like space. There are two students sitting at a desk in front of her. One had medium light skin tone and long brown hair and holds a pencil. The other child has his back turned to the camera and wears a green shirt.

A Place Called Home Math and Science Coordinator Alethea Redclay helps a group of students work on their homework. “My goal is to have them love learning,” Redclay said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s dance, or music, or math or science or anything, I just want them to do critical thinking and love learning.”

The funding came with an acknowledgement that some school districts don’t have the resources to offer expanded after-school care.

“The Administration encourages schools to consider partnering with community-based providers to quickly scale up capacity,” per the 2022-2023 budget.

Woodcraft Rangers started seven new school partnerships this fall and has been able to expand some of its more popular and expensive programs — like mariachi — at other campuses.

“It’s a shift from scarcity to abundance,” CEO Brooks said. “It’s a wonderful shift, right? But it’s still going to take a little time.”Wanted: After-school educators

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offers an in-house before- and after-school program for elementary school students and also partners with the city and the local Boys & Girls Club.

“We have a variety of needs and they can’t all be served at the same place at the same time with the same people,” Samarge-Powell said.

The district received an estimated $4.26 million through the expanded learning opportunity program during the 2022-2023 school year, but isn’t yet able to accommodate every family who wants care.

Weeks before the most recent school year started, community and public relations officer Gail Pinsker asked media outlets to spread the word about before- and after-school job openings.

“We have a critical need and families on waiting lists because we do not have enough staff,” Pinsker wrote in an email.

The district was able to fully staff its existing vacancies, but dozens of families were still waiting for a spot in after-school care when the new school year started on Aug. 24.

Samarge-Powell estimated she could easily fill another classroom at every school site that offers after-school care — if she could hire enough staff.

“It’s never been a position that’s been … overflowing with applicants,” Samarge-Powell said. adding that it’s become particularly difficult since the start of the pandemic.Low pay is a problem

One challenge is that many of the district’s before- and after-school positions positions are part-time and pay between $15,000 and $41,000 a year. Full-time roles might require working a split shift between the morning and after-school programs. SMMUSD also requires a valid teacher permit and associate’s degree in child development or another related field.

After-School Programs Need Staff, But The Applications Aren’t Rolling In

Though state policies allow the district to hire staff with fewer qualifications, Samarge-Powell said that’s not an option.

“That’s just not a place we were willing to go right now,” Samarge-Powell said. “Primarily because that’s not fair to the kids.”

There are also free- and low-cost programs outside of the public school system.

On any given weekday afternoon, about 400 kids from ages 8 to 18 show up at A Place Called Home’s South L.A. campus.Five girls and an instructor with long curly brown hair and red sneakers are mid-dance move in a studio with a mirrored wall and wood floors.

Bachata is one of dozens of classes, including art, music, theater, offered at A Place Called Home.

“We’re not a school, but we are a wonderful partner to schools,” said Chief Program Officer Jewel Delegall. “We want to be able to do what schools can’t do.”

Classes include dance, art, soccer, music audio recording, theater, and gardening. The nonprofit also convenes peer support groups, offers therapy, and helps with homework.

“Here’s more fun than school,” said 10- year-old- Emmanuel, who likes to play basketball, soccer, football, and volleyball.

The offerings shift with the kids’ interests. For example, the recent addition of a half-dozen guitar classes.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s if a young person doesn’t particularly like something, they won’t come,” said Bernyce Talley, associate director of arts and creative expression. “We want to embrace them with full arms and say come on in and hang out with us.”

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California? What’s a story that’s not being told about your school?

Mariana Dale wants to hear from parents, educators, and students about what’s happening in schools — the successes and challenges.Ask a Question


Kids Are Back in School—But What Are Working Parents Supposed to Do Between Dismissal and Dinner?

The start of the school year is the light at the end of the tunnel for working parents. As soon as those school doors swing open, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and go back to a life that doesn’t involve hemorrhaging money on expensive summer camps and private childcare; or, for those of us who couldn’t afford it, spending two months in survival mode, hoping to hold down a job amidst a whole lot of chaos and piecemeal supervision. So yes, back-to-school season is certainly cause for celebration…unless you fall into the sizable category of parents who are struggling to find after-school programs and lamenting the fact that the standard work day doesn’t end at 3 p.m. In that case, you can join the chorus with a not-so-celebratory, Oh, shit.

The hours between the end of the school day and the end of the workday are a problem that families desperately need to have solved with affordable, quality after-school care…and many parents, regardless of socioeconomic status, are hard pressed to find a program that meets their needs, or any program at all. We did the research, interviewed parents and spoke to experts to get a clearer picture of the after-school care crisis in this country and, well, it’s bleak. Here’s what you need to know—and why you should care. (Hint: It affects everyone.)Meet the Experts:The After-Care ProblemDemand Is High with Few Affordable Options

If you have after-school care on your mind, you aren’t alone. Based on research done by the Afterschool Alliance, Grant tells us that “it’s estimated that there are 25 million kids whose parents want them to be in after-school programs but don’t have access and it’s mostly because of cost.”

What’s more, the expert informed us that “the vast majority of after-school programs [roughly 80 percent] are paid for with parent fees.” And as anyone who has researched the option knows, privately funded programs can charge prohibitively high rates. (A much-loved STEM program in my own Brooklyn neighborhood costs roughly $10,000 for the academic year if you sign up for care from 3 to 5 p.m., five days a week. There’s an additional fee if you need to extend the time to cover your commute.)

“Afterschool care in my area is either too full or too expensive,” one mom-of-two living in Washington State told us. “YMCA after care fills up immediately and it is basically impossible to get a spot for one of my kids (let alone both).”

There are lower cost options available to families in need, but those also fall short of meeting the demand. Per Grant, data from the Afterschool Alliance shows that only 11 percent of after-school programs are subsidized by the government. While some providers might be able to tap into childcare development block grants for school-aged childcare and access some state funding streams there, the experts say the application processes, which vary depending on the funding source, are reliably onerous.

The end result is a whole lot of unmet demand across the socioeconomic spectrum, particularly for low- to medium-income families. According to an extensive survey done by the Afterschool Alliance, 57 percent of low-income families and low-income families of color report that programs are too expensive, with low-income families of color facing the most barriers to affordable care.Even If You Can Afford After-School Care, You Can’t Always Find It

Considering that such a huge percentage of parents who participate in the after-school care economy do so directly out of pocket, it goes without saying that cost is the biggest factor when it comes to accessibility. Still, it’s not the only one. Or, as Herbert puts it “you can’t necessarily buy your way out of this problem.” Even parents who can cough up the often-exorbitant amount of cash are hard-pressed to find adequate after-school care that meets their needs in terms of scheduling and enrichment. There’s no denying that it’s infinitely harder for folks on the low-income side of the spectrum, yet the unmet demand plagues every working parent.

Herbert confesses to being personally surprised by the fact that “even very wealthy families talk about the pains of childcare a lot,” adding that “it’s a different lens, for sure, but theirs is more about finding the care that they need, the hours that they need and, primarily, the quality that they need or want.”

We spoke with one New Jersey mom-of-two who missed the deadline to apply for after-care at her daughter’s public school, which meant she spent all summer on the waitlist, unsure what her family would do if her daughter didn’t get in (one week before her child’s first day, she was offered a spot).

“Families are really struggling to find openings and a lot of places you hear stories of waiting in lines overnight just to register their kids and generally there is just not enough after school, out of school, before school, summer camps, all of it,” says Herbert. “It’s just incredibly burdensome on families and it really requires people to have time and real insider information and things like that.”

Or as another New Jersey mom-of-two we spoke with put it: “When finding and securing after-care for your kids feels harder than scoring Taylor Swift tickets, you know there’s a problem.”After-Care Programs Can Vary in Terms of Quality

Let’s say you do manage to find an after-care program that you can afford and has space for your child. Your next question might be what the hell your kid will actually be doing there all afternoon.

“The after-care at my son’s school has different activity options per day, but you enter via a lottery system so I won’t know what he gets into until mid-September,” a New York City-based mom told us, adding that the actual program won’t start until October. Although she is frustrated at the lack of certainty (“I’m a planner!”), she’s happy that her kid has options. However, not every program is so customizable.

State and federally funded programs are most beholden to quality measurements and regulations but as the experts explain, they don’t always appropriately address the needs of the kids who attend. One parent told us that last year her kindergartener was in an after-school program that involved a full hour of quiet homework time; the 5-year-old hated it so much that this year they decided to just let her stay home and play or watch TV while they work remotely.

“After school at every site is unique and that’s what makes it so special because you’re geared towards the kids,” says Grant. It’s precisely this uniqueness that means that the curriculum can vary so much from program to program…for better or for worse.

“There are no standards like childcare centers have standards, but [there are] definitely quality measures,” Grant explains, noting that federally funded programs tend to use academic measures to determine the quality of after-care programming. “We want to see [programs] stepping away from that and really saying, what are you trying to do with the kids? And let’s measure what you’re trying to do. Because if you’re really trying to do an ESL program, let’s not measure the kids by their math scores, but let’s figure out how to create an environment for kids to engage, get out of their comfort zone and develop all of these non-academic skills that are also key to academics.”

In addition to a lack of standardization and questionable quality measures, hiring and retaining staff can be another big issue. Despite the huge cost for families, after-school staffers are often being paid poorly and unable to get the full-time hours they need. Per Woods, “we’re seeing very, very low wages and therefore massive turnover and a need to fill empty jobs. And that’s what ultimately has implications for quality, because what you want is to have the best of the best teaching your kids.”

Ideally parents and kids could just walk away from a program they don’t like. However, with such high demand, many families are forced to take whatever they can get instead of what they really want.

For this reason, Grant recommends that parents “talk to the program directors [and] help design what the kids are doing in the program they go to.” And sure, it’s good advice to speak up if there’s something you don’t like about your kid’s after-school program, but realistically, many working parents don’t have the bandwidth to help create after-school curriculum (and arguably shouldn’t have to, considering how much they’re paying for the service already).Why You Should Care

OK, so you know that after-school programming has some major issues in terms of affordability, accessibility and quality. And if you’re a parent who’s trying to find care for your child, you’re already invested in the problem. But what about everybody else?

News to no one, the after-school crisis has a considerable impact on the economy. Parents who are unable to find care for their kids have to cut their hours or leave the workforce entirely. The experts say there are no stats specific to after-school care but there’s plenty of data on how the larger childcare crisis impacts the economy and it’s not hard to extrapolate (a recent study from ReadyNation found that a lack of adequate childcare translates to the economy losing out on an estimated $122 billion a year).

Woods says that summer care is the closest thing to look at, partly because it’s coming from the same funding pool, and that picture is pretty bleak: “A National Bureau of Economic Research paper that came out earlier this year effectively said that during this period from May to July when kids are out of school, the employment to population ratio of women who are working declines by 1.1 percentage points and increases for men, and women’s weekly earnings decline by 3.3 percent over the summer, and that’s five times the decline for men.” That’s an everyone problem because when families lose income due to inadequate childcare, they consume less—and businesses and taxpayers take a hit.

Ultimately, “we know that parents are infinitely more productive—to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year—when they know their kids are safe after school. But it’s also about enrichment. After-school care is really creating opportunities for kids to be successful when they enter the workforce themselves,” says Grant. Because, yes, parents rely on after-school care as a replacement for standard childcare so they can remain in the workforce—but it is also a valued form of enrichment that research shows leads to positive outcomes when done properly.

A 2022 study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found that participation in high-quality after-school programs is linked to improved academic performance, behavioral functioning and social skills among younger elementary school students and decreased delinquency, improved work habits and prosocial behavior among older, middle school children. The same study determined perceived quality to be an important factor with regards to positive outcomes and that “potential benefits of program participation may be compromised by inadequate resources [and] frequent staff turnover…”

Indeed, “decades of research reveal robust psychosocial and academic benefits of organized after-school programs…” and those are benefits that impact a generation and society as a whole.

Figuring out what to do with kids after school is out and the workday ends is mentally and financially draining—but it doesn’t have to be. As for a solution, all three experts agree that what we need is more public funding. Herbert recommends that parents find organizations that are advocating to improve the system (Neighborhood Villages is one of them) and then find ways to get involved. And if the idea of adding more to your ever-growing to-do list feels impossible, know that there are lots of ways—big and small—to advocate for change. “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Hop in on efforts that are already underway because they’re building a lot of momentum and just really need more manpower.”

You’re Spending *How* Much on Childcare? We Asked Moms to Share Their Number

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