I love my job. It doesn't pay the big bucks but I like the diversity it gives me. I'm part administrative assistant, part nurse, part teacher, part career counselor, a wee bit image consultant, and sometimes I feel like a finishing school matron. I do career placement for the medical field. I try to open up doors to my students to a better life, but it takes a lot of effort on their part. I try to be sympathetic to their struggles, but at the same time I feel it's my job to prepare them for the harsh realities of the medical working world. It's literally a jungle out there and none to sympathetic to working mothers. Young single mothers face the biggest challenges that start when they're in school. The challenges become further amplified when they try to complete our externship requirements near the end of their education experience with us. Our externship guidelines closely mirror the real working world, requiring that they complete 180 hours within a six week period, working at least 30 hours per week, gratis, at a medical facility of their choice. They're given ample opportunity to make arrangements for this experience which we encourage them to approach like a job. A large part of my job is to groom them for this experience...get them to jump through the hoops, make a favorable impression on their potential employers, learn all they can, and be inquisitive. The best case scenario is that they do their externship, making such a profound impression on the employer, that they can't bear let them go. I had a third my students hired directly from their externships because they knew how to play the game. It requires people skills and what I thought was basic intuitive knowledge: showing up to work on time, not calling off, staying busy, getting along with a range of personalities.
My boss and I keep a jar in our office labeled "excuses". We have heard every one. In fact I have become pretty darned good at predicting who is going to get hired and who isn't based on behaviors and excuses freely exhibited during the externship period. Some of these students are simply not cut out for the medical field, and should probably go in another direction. They exhibit a range of phycological maladies that aren't going to be remedied in my career development workshops; I can't undo years of mismanaged childhoods or deep psychological troubles. The hardest part of my job is pointing out the excuses they use which will inevitably keep them from succeeding. I'm most sympathetic to the young single mothers. I tell them point blank that if they want to succeed in this field they need to have reliable childcare in place and back up childcare as well. Some of my older female students ask me if they might face age discrimination yet--this hasn't been my experience. More often I see the young single mothers discriminated against because they too freely discuss their children during interviews and then the employer instantly has a red flag raised about potential child care issues. Of course it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, race, marital or childbearing status, but it happens all the time; they will simply say the person didn't have the pertinent qualifications for the job. I advise my students that if they share personal information about themselves regarding children, then they had better allay the employers fears about childcare.
The lucky single moms are the ones whose one parents will help out with the kids or have lots of support from friends. The ones that suffer immeasurably are the ones that are truly on their own. I don't condemn these girls for their single parenthood status. Maybe they left abusive situations. I try not to judge...life happens, accidents happen. I feel for these girls trying to do it all themselves. Parenthood is the toughest and hugest of responsibilities. I shudder to think of myself doing it on my own. I recall the times I'm absolutely exasperated with my children and simply have to go hide in the bedroom...my husband takes over and visa-verse, when he's had it up to his ears...I take over. Fortunately, when one of us is feeling burned out, the other usually can take over. Parenting is a team effort. My marriage is not perfect, but my husband is a wonderful man...so I've decided to work through my issues rather than face the uncertainty of single parenthood. I am not that brave to take that course. Kudos to those that have taken that route; It's a rocky path that I choose to avoid.
I wish our society valued motherhood more than it does--single mothers and married both. I wish there were more resources for single mothers. My students are launching careers that do not pay much at entry level, but it is a gateway career leading in many directions with potential for better pay in the future with experience. How can they pay for exorbitant childcare, yet only be making $10.00 an hour? If they're not getting family free childcare, the math just doesn't make sense. I work only part time, but I worry about finding childcare over the summer You can't send an 11 year old to some childcare center overrun with toddlers, nor you can't leave an immature boy home all day by himself, unless you want trouble. When is a child old enough to stay home by themselves? I can't even let mine out of my sight for an hour. Last summer, I took a 20 minute run in the neighborhood, putting my eleven year old in charge for 20 minutes. The unthinkable happened, he answered the door to a total stranger and told whoever it was his mother wasn't home. Nothing happened, thank goodness, but it was a sure indicator that my son lacks the maturity and judgement to stay home alone for any amount of time.
So, what I've learned from my single mother students is this: I don't want to be in their shoes at all. I will do everything possible to keep my daughter from suffering a single mother fate. I will teach her that there is a preferred order for attaining certain life goals: you finish school, you get yourself established in a career, you choose carefully the man you want to marry, and then you think about bringing children in the world. This is a tall order and I might just screw it up, but it's a template to work within. We can only do our best, I suppose.