To parents who work outside the home, after-school care programs rank just below water and air in terms of survival.
So when author and speaker Lauren Smith Brody realized that the registration window for her sons' after-school care activities would open while she was in the middle of speaking on a conference panel in a different state and no one else could complete it, she did what she had to do.
She paused in the middle of the panel, and she did it herself.
The New York City-based Brody, 41, wrote the book "The Fifth Trimester," which explores how parents and companies may collaborate to improve workplace culture for new mothers. In between two speaking engagements at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston earlier this month, she received a calendar notification about after-school care sign-ups for her sons Will, 10, and Teddy, 7, at noon that day. "I'd dropped the ball and forgotten to plan for it," she told TODAY Parents.
"I was fresh off of being on my soapbox at that earlier speech about how important it is to be able to be open about parenthood in the workplace," said Brody. "I knew that I could have called friends to help... but anyone from school who knew the system also needed to be online at that exact moment for his or her own kids too."
Brody's husband, Ben, is usually "truly my partner in parenting," she said, but navigating the "antiquated" school log-in system and managing the boys’ after school options is "one of the things I handle wholesale." Brody decided that even if her husband wasn't seeing a patient at the hospital where he works, it would be too complicated to teach him how to work the system in time to help.
After asking her fellow panelists and conference organizers for their blessings, Brody decided she would bring her laptop on stage with her and, at noon, she paused her participation in the discussion in front of 500 conference attendees and completed the registration. It was a moment all too relatable for other working parents.
Brody gave her audience a warning that she would have to tune out. One audience member even shouted out the time to her to remind her to jump on and register. The process took only three minutes, and Brody returned to the discussion with no other word about it.
To Brody, after-school care "means, very simply, that I can work," she said. "It's been noted time and again that the school day is set up to support a single-income family structure. Thankfully, many workplaces are becoming more flexible, but very often — because of cultural norms and the existing wage gap — it's Mom who fills that late afternoon gap with her kids."
After-school care is essential for parents like Brody, she said, because it "evens the playing field so both partners can work a full work day if they choose," she said. "Simply put: When my kiddo is learning chess from an awesome teacher after school, I feel no guilt and can focus on the career I love."
Brody said she knows that schools try to make things equitable for all kinds of family circumstances, "but a log-on at 12 p.m. in the middle of the work day really does make the assumption that at least one parent has enough agency over their work to turn to something personal right in the middle of it," she noted.
In this case, Brody knew she'd be able to get some sort of after-school programs, but she needed to log on and grab slots right away because her sons were hoping for specific, popular activities that had a limited number of slots.
"I think a longer sign-up period that's not first-come, first served would be helpful. Perhaps a lottery for activities that are too popular or simply a second session of those activities" would help working parents, she said.
When Brody posted about the moment on social media, other mothers chimed in with their own stories. "I just caught kid puke in a plastic bag while on a conference call, quietly excused myself to clean up, and rejoined," commented one mom.
"If only every mom out there had a room full of supportive women whilst trying to nab that last martial arts spot," said another.
Though she feels she handled the conflict well, Brody stressed that she realizes she should have planned ahead better. "I dropped the ball," she said. "And I feel like it’s important to own that — and to role model the consequences and rewards of imperfection."