GUEST BLOG: Balancing Work and Family without Paid Leave

Today, the Montana Budget and Policy Center will hear from one Montanan and her story of trying to balance family and work.


Like many people of my generation, I have what is called a “patchwork” income. I teach online writing classes part-time for the University of Montana, Central Texas College and occasionally other schools. I also do freelance writing, editing and instructional design to make ends meet. I am a hard worker–in fact I really enjoy working and keeping busy. None of the schools I work for have ever offered me full-time work, or even have full-time positions available. I organized my life around this reality, paying for private health insurance and working my own retirement accounts into shape. All of that was fine with me until I became a mother.

Because of my “patchwork” income, I don’t get much time off. None of my positions offer me sick leave, maternity leave, or any type of paid family leave as a part-time or contract employee. So, hours after the births of both of my daughters I did something I should not have had to do–I opened my laptop and got to work. During the first few sleepless months, I chugged some espresso each morning and graded papers. And the next day, I graded more papers. Regardless of my hard work and loyalty to these institutions and their students, I did not get maternity leave.

Natalie pictureHaving to live this way is not good for me–but I can handle that. I can set my own needs aside. But it is also not good for my daughters, whose mother has to balance a set of unfair demands. It is hard to be calm and refreshed while juggling so much. It is also not good for my students, who pay tuition and are pretty sure a real professor is on the other end of their WiFi signal, not just a disposable contract employee with no long-term ties to the institution.

I am lucky, though. I have a supportive husband and wonderful friends that have swooped in to save me along the way. I also had private insurance and a savings account. Many people in my situation do not have those things.

One would think women would have the right to some rest after the physical toll that having children takes on your body and the sleepless nights an infant brings after that. Children should have the right to a rested, devoted mother, at least for a little while.

Being a working mom is hard, but it would have been a bit easier if I had time to heal and care for my newborn children. As I look forward, it’s scary to think that, by not having access to paid leave, I risk losing my income and even possibly my job, if anything serious should happen to my daughters, my husband, or myself. Paid leave would help me be a better mom, wife, teacher, employee, and member of my community. I’m excited about what is happening around the country with paid family and sick leave–I hope Montana pays attention.

Natalie Peeterse

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