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EDITORIAL: The economy is built by bad moms

Katie Tabeling

Daycare proves to be critically important to maintain equilibrium in Delaware’s economy. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ADOBE STOCK

This week, I forgot the chocolate chips for Gingerbread Cookie Day. 

Nevermind that my daughter and her classmates aren’t even a year old and would spend most of the decorating session smearing frosting everywhere but the cookie. I still forgot the chips, which I signed up for three weeks ago in a fit of festive cheer and eagerness to be involved.

The mild spike of panic in my chest once I realize I failed yet another “good mom moment” is a familiar feeling at this point. This spring, we welcomed our first daughter into the world. I’ve been navigating the world of working motherhood, joining the legions of other women who struggle with breast pumping on the job, sleepless nights with a 9-to-5 job and ill-timed sick days.

Back in 2021, I wrote that I felt like there was a ticking clock on what I could achieve before I became a parent. I was half right; the ticking clock starts every single day, counting down the minutes on what I can achieve.

Katie Tabeling

Most days, I watch the clock count down. I feel myself getting closer to the gates of what I call Mom Hell.

Mom Hell is being trapped in rush hour traffic on Interstate 95 with the car seat base in my car, so I was late picking my daughter up from daycare by 10 minutes. It’s staring at the ribbons of tail lights over the Roth Bridge, with the endless loop of criticism in my head. If I had just left Wilmington 10 minutes earlier, if I had just stayed at home that day, if I had never put her in daycare in the first place she wouldn’t be wondering where Mama was.

Mom Hell is when mothers fail to meet the high – and often impossible – standards to perform perfectly.

The baby caught a cold after trick-or-treating? You’re a Bad Mom.

You didn’t check the weather because you were late to drop off and sent your child to daycare without a coat? Yep, a Bad Mom.

Deciding to go to the once-in-a-lifetime Eras Tour when your child is a month old? Guess what: You’re a Swiftie Bad Mom!

The reality is, you’re a Bad Mom when you’re human, make mistakes, and more importantly, want to have an identity outside being a mother. There are these expectations mothers put on ourselves because we want our children to have the best in life – including cookie decorating at daycare. But it’s an impossible standard to meet when you’re trying to write a story about President Joe Biden’s impromptu visit to the Bear Amtrak facility. Some days, you have to choose between sleep and going to the grocery store to get those chocolate chips at 9 p.m. 

Ever since I landed my first breaking news story as an intern on a potential ban on dogs at a farmer’s market, I’ve been addicted to finding the truth and sharing it with our communities. It is a privilege to do it in the state that I not only grew up in, but where my grandfather worked at DuPont and my Pop Pop worked at the General Motors plant. This ambition is part of who I am.

But it’s also important to realize that having the choice between having your own identity and being a “Good Mom” is a privilege in itself. And like most privileges, a family’s economic situation determines those options. In October, the Rodel Foundation released a survey that found Delaware’s middle-income families continue to struggle to afford child care. Half the respondents said their child care costs more than groceries and utilities separately. More than one-third of parents said child care was more expensive than their mortgage or rent.

That’s not even taking into account another major expense hitting Delawareans. Student loan repayments resumed in October, and Delaware has $4.8 billion in student loan debt held by 127,800 residents, most likely those under 35. The average debt held by a Delawarean borrower is $37,560, and the Pew Research Center found it’s about 10% of a borrower’s personal income.

Beyond the generational wealth gap that’s weighed down by this debt, that disparity grows when we consider race. The Education Data Initiative found that Black bachelor degree holders have a national average of $52,000 in debt, $25,000 more than white college graduates.

I have the luxury of choosing to follow my ambitions because of the support network we have with our families and daycare at all. It’s easy to forget that when you’re struggling to breast pump at the presidential checkpoint or wrapping up a story before your sick child starts screaming.

As more time passes since the COVID pandemic upended the economy, the disparity between generations, genders and race continues to grow wider and wider. We need to find viable solutions to support Delaware’s working families, notably with child care access and financial support, so that other women can have the choice of being a Bad Mom. Otherwise, we stand to lose a good portion of the state’s workforce for good.

Editor’s note: Associate Editor Katie Tabeling is editing the annual Women In Business issue this week. Editor Jacob Owens’ column will return next edition.


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