During the roundtable, she listened to my story. You can watch the roundtable discussion on Twitter:
My name is Sonia Ballinger. I’m a proud mom, grandma, and member of MomsRising. I have three grown kids and two bright, energetic grandkids, ages 9 and 7.
Throughout my life, my family has struggled because caregiving isn’t valued or supported in this country. When my eldest daughter was born, I was a single mom. Because I couldn’t afford the high cost of child care, I had to build my work schedule around my mom’s, so she could watch my daughter. That meant I could only work a few nights a week.
So shortly after my daughter was born in the 1980s, I got a part-time job at Domino’s. That wasn’t sustainable. I wasn’t paid a living wage and we struggled to afford the basics.
After a lot of hard work, I found a full-time job that could sustain us. At that time, I had two daughters. Thanks to a small child care subsidy from the county, I was able to enroll my younger daughter in daycare. But we could still barely afford it, and there was no way I could save money or get ahead. Those were really tough years.
I never imagined that when my daughter grew up and had kids of her own, she’d face the same caregiving challenges I did.
When my daughter became a mom, she didn’t have paid leave, and neither did her husband. He had to go right back to work when my granddaughter was born, and my daughter lost her paycheck while she recovered from birth and cared for their baby.
That meant her family struggled to make ends meet at the same time they had all these new expenses -- diapers, baby clothes, and more. I wish they’d had paid leave so they could have focused on the joy of becoming parents and adjusting to life with a newborn.
When they had their second child, my grandson, he was born prematurely. He spent several weeks in the hospital. Thankfully, by this time they had new jobs that offered the paid leave they needed to care for him. On the other hand, I took intermittent unpaid leave from my job to help care for my granddaughter during that difficult time.
Once my grandson came from the hospital and his parents needed to return to work, they struggled to find and afford high-quality child care. There was no way they could afford full-time child care for two kids, pay rent and bills, and pay down their student loans.
When my grandkids were 4 and 2, my daughter asked me for help, just as I had asked my mother for help all those years ago. I left my job to care for my grandkids. I’ve been out of the workforce ever since. Last year, I facilitated remote school for my grandkids so their parents could stay in their jobs.
My mom was also a single mom and never had much money. On the other hand, my mother-in-law is wealthy. It’s been striking to see how that’s expanded her options for elder care and end-of-life care. That’s not right. Everyone deserves options and high-quality care.
My mom couldn’t afford paid care, so when her dementia worsened, I cared for her from 9am to 9pm each day. In the last month-and-a-half of her life, I hired a home health aide to look after her a few nights a week. The cost was shocking: about $600/week.
It was exhausting to care for my grandkids and my mom at the same time. Because our country doesn’t have a care infrastructure, everything has fallen on my shoulders. Right now, I’m juggling providing afterschool care with making sure my mother-in-law, who lives in an assisted living facility, is well taken care of and has everything she needs. There’s no way I can return to the workforce.
Investing in care is long overdue. I don’t want my grandkids to struggle the way their mom and I have. We need to make high-quality child care accessible and affordable for all families. We need to invest in elder care so everyone has options, regardless of income.
We need paid family and medical leave so we can care for ourselves and for our families. When I was pregnant with my youngest, I was working as a school bus driver. Toward the end of my pregnancy I was put on emergency bedrest. Thankfully, I had paid leave. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to pay to keep my older kids’ spots in daycare, and would have been pushed out of the workforce. Everyone deserves paid leave, but right now, the vast majority of workers don’t have it.
Families like mine need all of these policies to thrive. We’re counting on the Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act by the end of this year. We can’t wait any longer for progress.
#WeAreMomsRising uses personal stories to showcase what it means to be a mom, a woman, a family member in America.