The Juggling Act Every day, working mothers scramble to do too many thingsat once. Today's summit on working family values looks for solutions -- before the balls start dropping.

June 03, 1998|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

When Cassandra Tancil arrives at La Petite Academy day care center with her two children, she looks like a woman in the middle of a list of things to do.

It is a breezy morning and she is carrying light jackets for 4-year-old Jillian and 6-year-old Evan and she is asking them to hang up the jackets, but while she is asking, she is doing it herself.

The children have already drifted away from her, distracted by their friends, a breakfast snack and a room full of kid-sized stuff.

She says, "Remember to put on your listening ears for the teacher," but the listening ears must still be in the children's pockets.

And if Cassandra Tancil isn't late for work, she is giving a good impression. But when she calls Evan and Jillian back for one last embrace, the day stops and she lingers for huge hugs and extra kisses.

When Tancil finally moves toward the exit, Jillian leans out of her classroom door and issues the only marching orders that matter on this chaotic morning: "Remember, mom. 4: 30!"

This is the place and the time in a working mother's day when her juggling act is most apparent, when all the balls are in the air at once. She is somewhere between mother and worker, turning her children over to another's hands and assuming a role for which she is paid.

Behind her is a sink full of dishes or unmade beds or an empty gallon of milk or an emotional blowup during the family's exit from the house. Ahead is a work day, a mad dash to the day care center before it closes, dinner, homework, sports practice, bedtime rituals and that old standby -- the 11 p.m. load of wash.

As a working mother moves from one world to the other, she hardly draws a breath.

"You never get out of the house at the time you'd like to," Tancil says later from her office at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where she is the clinical coordinator for the pharmacy department.

She lives in Randallstown, about 25 minutes from work, but the day care center where her children are enrolled is on the campus of GBMC.

"They don't want to get up. They are dragging. You try to hurry them and they get upset and then you have to deal with that.

"But my kids are pretty good. By now, they know the drill.

"Juggle? You bet I juggle," said Tancil, whose husband, Lucien, just finished getting his master's degree in health administration while working full-time as the operations manager at Liberty Medical Center. She has her doctorate in pharmacology.

"All my plates are spinning, but they are all full. They're not falling yet. I'm still keeping them up."

Because she performs the same kind of juggling act, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lieutenant governor of Maryland, wife and mother of four daughters, is convening a summit on "working family values" today at the University of Maryland, College Park.

She has asked 100 leaders in business, government, academia, journalism and advocacy groups to spend a day hammering out solutions to the strains on working mothers that threaten the health and well-being of their families, and ultimately, our economy and our quality of life.

"Because this is something I face, too -- and I have a helpful husband, a staff and a somewhat flexible job -- I felt it was it was up to me to demonstrate that this is not a private challenge, but something that we as a state and nation must address," Townsend said.

"The stresses that so many parents face are not of their own doing but part of a larger challenge that we have to deal with."

The summit is titled "Solutions: Women's Juggle for Time," and that's what Townsend wants -- solutions.

"What I hope will come out is real answers," she said. "I want solutions. I want to know what business can do better and what government can do better and what communities can do better. And what individuals can do," said Townsend.

More working mothers

And, according to recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, 77 percent of mothers with school-age children are working. That includes 62 percent of mothers with children younger than 6.

According to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Census, 55 percent of new mothers returned to the work force in 1995 within 12 months of giving birth. In 1976, when the Census Bureau first began tracking the trend, the number was only 31 percent.

Besides juggling jobs and families, women must also contend with the disapproval of those around them. Polling data released last month by the Washington Post, Harvard Unversity and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of the people surveyed said it would be better for the family if the mother could stay home and care for the children.

"I don't feel like I'm juggling. I feel like I'm treading water," says Christa Meyer, who has just dropped 3 1/2 -year-old Morgan and 18-month-old Hailey at La Petite. Both have been in day care since they were 8 weeks old.

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