Motherhood and the Mental Health Load: Chris Evans
The house is still and quiet. I just clocked out from my second job to write about my experience as a working mom in fundraising. The dim light reminds me that I’m not alone. My three-year-old lays asleep with a fever in my guest room-turned-office. She’s been vomiting all day and I’m beyond stressed about tomorrow. Before my husband went to bed, he and I debated which one of us will take time off work to stay home with her. The conversation about which of us has a less important day seems endless and sometimes comes with a strain on our relationship. For months, we have both been saving our paid time off in preparation for the birth of our third child. Neither of us will receive parental leave when the baby comes.
As I have moved around the country and my family has grown, my experience as a working mom of young children has varied greatly. One organization gave me three months of paid maternity leave. This time around, I will have none. I get more surprised reactions when I mention the paid leave. I have been afforded the flexibility to take my children to medical appointments and I have been told that I cannot work from home if I’m also caring for a child. I’ve had a supervisor ask if they can come into my office while I pumped because “donor relations can’t wait”. Every supervisor and organization leader I’ve worked for has claimed to support working parents, yet I’ve experienced myself the incongruity between words and actions.
When the pandemic hit, I felt my fundraising responsibilities required me to ignore my children all day while I zoomed into meeting after meeting. I was grateful to have kept my job, but I knew this was not sustainable. I was incredibly sad by the new reality for my children of excessive screentime and no playdates. Priorities were put into perspective, though many of us had trouble choosing. I either parented my children during the day, one of whom was less than a year old, or I worked all day, including raising funds for those affected by the very pandemic straining my own family.
A year into the pandemic, many employers expected staff to be back in the office full-time, mine included. As a working parent, I had to navigate going into the office every day, while schools and daycare classes were closed frequently due to COVID exposure. Maintaining any sort of PTO reserve was nearly impossible, which meant no self-care and limited family time. Every day was survival mode, constantly waiting for things to get a little easier, for things to feel normal again. Yet, our fundraising work continued as if COVID didn’t exist. In-person events resumed, goals continued to rise, and staffing shortages created additional assignments and responsibilities.
As fundraisers, we know the services our organizations provide are desperately needed in our communities. We are called to this work because we want to make a difference. As a working mom, doing my job well has a deeper meaning. I want to create a better world for my children, the next generation of changemakers.
I recently took a new position at another area nonprofit. My saving grace as a working mom has been finding an employer that offers flexibility and trust. If my kids make an appearance during my online meeting, it’s met with smiles because this is the new normal. Rearranging meetings because my child was exposed to COVID, starting my day early so I can make it to soccer practice, and still being recognized as a valuable fundraiser to my team are all my new normal. This should be yours, too.
Imagine working on a development team full of working parents. When one member has a sick child, another member reschedules their meetings or makes their phone calls. When someone announces a pregnancy, the team plans a baby shower. Team building activities and social hours are only scheduled during the day because our supervisors understand that our time away from work is sacred. This is the work environment we would all thrive in; these are the future teams I want my children to be a part of. I would love to see more organizations give working moms grace, understanding that as we build a better world through our organization’s work, we are also raising the next generation of changemakers in our own homes.
I encourage our nonprofit leaders to look beyond the working parents’ need for flexibility and see the benefits of having working parents on your team. Consider how your policies impact working parents on your staff, especially moms. Research shows us women make less than men. Support your moms, promote them when they are pregnant. Give them a raise even though they use their PTO and require flexibility. Consider your mission, not only through the lens of your clients, but from the perspective of every member on your staff. Does it align with not only the work you are doing but with the passionate people doing the work? Your working parents need to be treated as valuable assets, not an inconvenience.
It’s time that fundraisers, our current changemakers, stop being expected to give everything to their mission and community, while their own family suffers. It’s time for organizations to acknowledge their own employees are part of the very communities they serve. Single income households are becoming more unrealistic. Our sector can choose to offer more support to working parents or continue to push them out. Who do we want our future changemakers to be?
Chris is a native New Yorker and has worked for nonprofits in Colorado, North Carolina, and most recently Texas. She fell into fundraising while interning at a mental health support center for eating disorders and earning her BA in Psychology. Her passion for serving her community doesn’t stop with her fundraising career; she volunteers for the AFP FW Metro Chapter IDEA committee and is the 2023 AFP DFW Philanthropy in Action Conference Chair. She also volunteers with the Junior League of Fort Worth. Her inspiration and motivation for everything are her three children and husband.