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4:43 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Oh, The Snow: Killing Parents' (Futile) Attempts To Balance Family Life

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 12:23 pm

Schools in Baltimore and all around the state are closed again because of the snow. The kids, most likely, are delighted.

But parents are wondering if they’re going to make it out of this merciless winter alive.

When work, kids, and often marriage are balanced like a house of cards, a snowstorm can feel like a wrecking ball.  And when it’s the seventh day your pre-school has closed this year, it’s more like an avalanche.

Meghan Rich has a three-year-old who has been out of school for seven snow days.  She’s also an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Scranton University in Pennsylvania.   She says she only has anecdotal evidence - and personal experience - because there’s no research out there.  But, according to Rich, women will pick up the slack.

She points out that when it comes to deciding who will stay home, it’s usually the one who earns less money. And that will be the woman, more often than not. Research shows that women earn 78 cents to the man’s dollar.  And that hasn’t changed much, she says,   Twenty years ago, it was 74 cents. "We really haven’t come that far since the early 1990s. The more education women have, the gap gets larger between them and their male counterparts.  So, a college educated woman makes less than a high school male graduate," she said.

But it’s not all about the money.  Dr. Noreen Honeycut is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who sees couples as well as individuals. She says many couples don’t discuss these kinds of unforeseen circumstances. The Baltimore therapist says the resentments begin when there’s not a plan. And those plans can be negotiated with more fairness than just looking at the paychecks. “For example,” she says, “if a person...has leave or the other doesn’t get paid when they’re not working, it shouldn’t be automatic that the person who makes more money goes to work.  There’s all kind of value in everybody’s time."

Honeycut says many parents have their days scheduled to a tee and these snow days only highlight their quest to manage family life.  “When we’re living by the clock and there’s no wiggle room, [anything that] interrupts the usual schedule is going to cause a lot of anxiety and stress.”

And it’s that anxiety and stress that can push parents – married, single, and same-sex couples alike – to the edge of sanity.  She says her clients are feeling the pinch of snow days. “People are saying things like, 'if there’s one more snow day, I’m going to lose my mind.'  And I think they really feel that way – even if it’s metaphoric,” Honeycut points out. These kinds of stressers add up.  “The fact is that there’s only so much time people can take off; employers can only be so understanding.  So many people have used their vacation leave, [and] now there’s no vacation this summer. Not everybody has family backup.  Not everybody can afford the daycare that they need to help, and their jobs become jeopardized."

And yet Heidi Bell, 47, a single mom of twelve-year-old twins, says she’s got it under control.  She was picking up a six pack in Baltimore’s Lauraville neighborhood late last night at Lou’s Liquors on Harford Road. “Is it a struggle sometimes? Absolutely, one hundred percent. But I’m not alone. I bet eighty percent of the parents in Baltimore city feel this way."

So, by her reasoning, misery loves company. Which makes us less miserable.

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