Photographs by Chip Williams
Joyce Garbaciak had it all.
A Milwaukee celebrity and award-winning TV anchor for the coveted 10 o’clock newscast on Fox 6, Garbaciak had three daughters, a home in Mequon and a supportive, successful husband who helped make it all work.
Then she began to wonder about her life. Garbaciak worked part time, but that still meant working 6:30-10:30 p.m. five days a week, with extra hours some afternoons. A dependable caregiver filled in the gaps between the time Garbaciak left and her husband, Bernard, a labor and employment attorney with Foley & Lardner, arrived home.
“It was perfect when my children were at home,” she says.
But once they were in school full time and their after-school activities increased, they were home mostly when their mother was gone. “If I could work when they were in school,” says Garbaciak, “it would be the perfect happy medium. But there is no real demand for a newscast at 10 a.m.”
The station offered her a new contract, but she didn’t sign it. It was not an easy decision. Garbaciak had worked hard, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism, then working as a reporter in smaller markets before winning the anchor chair in Milwaukee.
Garbaciak decided that not spending more time with the children would have left her with more regrets. “I was chasing my tail and not getting anywhere,” she says.
So Garbaciak, now 43, left the station last year. Today, she freelances for a national magazine for TV anchors and subs on WKLH morning radio. But most of her time is spent volunteering at her kids’ school, sitting on her parish council, singing in the choir and, of course, taking her three daughters to their various activities. The calendar on her kitchen counter still overflows, but it now measures out a completely different life.
Inside her immaculate earth-toned North Shore home, Garbaciak seems so relaxed. The down-to-earth personality that won viewers’ hearts is still there, but she’s ditched the conservative suits for a stylish sweater. She appears younger somehow, with more of an inner glow. “For me,” she says, “a sense of peace came with the decision.”
Garbaciak is not alone.
More parents, rejecting the “Supermom” or “Superdad” image, are seeking that same sense of peace. Their version of having it all is not having it all at once. Rather than struggling with being super busy, they’re trying to become super parents.
For decades, more and more women chose employment outside of the home. Between the mid-1970s and the late ’90s, the percent of U.S.mothers of infants working nearly doubled, from 31 percent in 1976 to 58.7 percent in 1998. But suddenly the number began to decline, dropping every year since, to 52.9 percent in 2004, Census Bureau figures show.
Even among women with older children, like Garbaciak, slightly fewer now work. The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics says the percentage of working women with children ages 6 to 17 declined from 79 percent in 2000 to 77.5 percent in 2004.
The new trend has put domesticity in the spotlight. Last year, The New York Times described a growing number of female Ivy League students who have decided, even before beginning careers, to suspend them once they have children. A national debate ensued in the media: Were talented women “wasting” their education? Was the woman’s movement all for naught?
Writing in the liberal American Prospect magazine last fall, former professor Linda Hirshman argued that women who give up jobs for parenting aren’t “flourishing” and are undermining feminism. Hirshman advised young women not to have more than one child and to “marry down,” choosing a spouse with less earning potential so as to make an effective argument to stay in the workforce. “The family,” she wrote, “allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres.”
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks fired back: “Look back over your life,” he wrote. “Which memories do you cherish more, those with your family or those at the office?”
Besides, he added, “The deeper you get into economic or social problems, the more you realize the answers lie with good parenting and good homes.”
Of course, there are working parents who couldn’t afford to quit if they wanted to, but increasingly, educated, affluent married women – and a small but growing number of fathers – are jumping off the career track or pushing for changes in their work schedules to spend more time with their families. Generation X parents (born between 1965 and 1979, the oldest now turning 40) and younger Baby Boomers who had kids later in life are more likely to seek new models for balancing work and parenting. Nowadays, “stay-at-home mom” is no longer synonymous with a mother who does not earn income.
A Milwaukee-area chapter of the nonprofit Mothers & More (an international organization supporting mothers moving in and out of the workforce) is the second-largest of 150 chapters in the country. Local fathers look to Milwaukeedads.com, founded by Jason Kauflin, a full-time dad.
More and more people are looking for creative ways to combine work and parenting, says Patricia Geraghty, 34, Marquette University acting vice president for marketing and communication and a full-time working mom. “Even from the time I graduated from college, there has been a shift.”
And Milwaukee is definitely part of that movement.
Molly Boyle heard the baby crying.
Molly is just 3 years old and her “baby” is her doll, little Jelly. Letting out a big motherly sigh, Molly picks up Jelly and puts him on her hip. “How am I going to hold a baby and do the ’puter?’” she asks, referring to the computer she’s often seen her mother use.
“How indeed?” ponders Molly’s mother, Mary Boyle, a stay-at-home mom to Molly and 9-month-old Eamon and the full-time, work-at-home owner and founder of Northshore Professional Nanny Agency, L.L.C., based in the Boyles’ Port Washington home.
Boyle knows her daughter shares more with her than her shiny raven locks. They share an understanding.
“Molly is getting old enough to understand she is lucky because she gets to go to work with me, and most other children do not,” says Boyle, 30. “She’s learned to be patient when I’m on the phone or the computer, and when I’m done, I can read her a story or play.”
The phone rings. E-mail messages beckon. Molly wants to play and Eamon is hungry. There’s laundry to be done and dishes to wash.
“Most days I run around yelling, ‘Ireally need a nanny,’ ” Boyle laughs. But, she adds, “A nanny sending her kids out would be too ironic!”
Boyle worked for 10 years as a nanny on the North Shore prior to founding her placement agency. Talking business or how parents balance work and parenting, she is confident and articulate.
Boyle agrees with work-at-home parents who say they need at least a few uninterrupted hours by using childcare. But that’s not for Boyle. Her life isn’t perfect, but the time spent with her children makes it all worthwhile, she says.
She squeezes work in whenever she can, including evenings. “My clients and nannies understand when they hear a baby crying in the background or when I call them outside of normal work hours,” she says.
Boyle has witnessed a shift as more parents cut back on work to spend more time with their children, particularly since 9/11. Many only need a nanny part time or to cover odd hours that traditional daycare centers do not accommodate.
Cassi Crall, an attorney with the Milwaukee County Department of Child Support Enforcement, didn’t expect the birth of her first daughter to change her work life. She was planning to return to work full time after a month or so. But “during that month, I realized what my priorities were,” she says. “It’s simple: Kids come first.”
The 37-year-old Shorewood resident and Marquette Law School grad liked her job and “wanted to respect” her education, she says, but needed more flexibility. She lobbied her boss – repeatedly – to grant her a part-time job-share arrangement. The answer was always no.
Finally, Crall’s boss agreed – if, she said, they could find a qualified candidate. In a moment of serendipity, a law school friend called Crall that afternoon. The mother of two was moving to Milwaukee and had had a prestigious legal career but now wanted a part-time job to accommodate her parenting.
Several other very qualified candidates applied, too, a big surprise to Crall’s boss. In the end, Crall’s friend got the nod and now shares Crall’s once full-time position.
“Now, people try not to have it all,” says Crall, mother of 1-year-old Ava and 3-year-old Zoe. Your children, she says, “are young for such a short period of time.” When Crall is working, she takes her children to a daycare center near the family’s home. Her husband, Doug, a private practice attorney, leaves work early so he can walk the girls home.
Today’s husbands are often more involved with parenting than their own fathers were – a key, if both parents are to find a work-life balance. One local stay-at-home mother’s husband takes their 8-year-old to breakfast, just father and son, every Saturday morning. Another woman’s self-employed husband has limited the growth of his accounting business to spend time with his children. Boyle says she couldn’t handle her business and parenting without the help of her husband, Brendan, a construction company foreman, who takes charge of the kids when he gets home from work.
When Garbaciak was still anchoring at Fox 6, husband Bernard would usually let her “sleep in” until 8:30 or 9 in the morning, while helping the girls get ready for school and making their lunches. Since leaving the station, Garbaciak doesn’t fret if her husband is traveling for work. “I tell him, ‘I’m in charge, don’t worry,’” she says.
Roles are changing, says Stacey Oliker, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “The new ideal father is an involved father,” she says. “But ideas about father involvement have changed much faster than real practices.” On average, she says, fathers spend half as much time with their children as mothers do.
Still, some fathers are opening new doors altogether.
The setting: Bluemound Gardens in Wauwatosa, one of those sprawling Greek restaurants with customers ranging from blue-haired seniors to harried families eager for a break from the kitchen. On Wednesday mornings, twice a month, it also bears witness to a new trend in fathering.
In come the stay-at-home dads, with small children, toddlers and babies in tow. Diaper bags on their backs, sippy cups in hand, they settle down to eat and socialize. Nearby sit groups of older, retired men whose wives most likely never worked, men who may never have handled a sippy cup.
“They must not know what to think of us,” says Jason Kauflin, 33, a stay-at-home father of two and founder of Milwaukeedads.com. Some of the older men have poked fun at the younger guys, joking that it must be their day off. The young fathers brush it off. They’re used to it.
Though the number of stay-at-home dads is said to be growing, they’re still dwarfed by stay-at-home moms, making it difficult for the men to find each other. Enter Milwaukeedads.com, founded three years ago when Kauflin’s daughter was born and, more interested in parenting than his sales career, he stayed home while his wife, Cindy, continued as a project manager at Northwestern Mutual. Kauflin does everything from cooking to laundry and housecleaning while caring for the kids.
He organizes play groups for other dads and children at his modest Wauwatosa ranch. Kauflin, in athletic pants and a sweatshirt, has a friendly, humble style as he greets the other dads and kids one Friday morning. “What do us dumb dads know?” he jokes more than once. The kids call him Mr. Jason.
Inside the Kauflin home,there’s a big-screen TV and entertainment center stocked with DVDs, but the living and dining rooms are one big playroom, with a miniature kitchen, plastic musical instruments, puzzles and more. Some of the dads gather on the sofa with cups of coffee in hand. The conversation runs from fantasy sports teams to the merits of kids TVshows, “Dora the Explorer” vs. Little Einsteins, poker to installing Pergo floors.
Kauflin, captain of his recreational hockey team, brags that his 3-year-old daughter, Rachel, knows more about the NHLthan any girl he knows.
David Steinbach’s son, Alex, whizzes around the room on all fours, pulling himself up whenever he can, his hands busy exploring. Steinbach, 37, left a job as a health club operations director to care for Alex. His wife is a marketing and outreach director for a trade association. Steinbach works occasional weekends at the health club and contemplates future work arrangements, but his attention now is focused on Alex. He’s received some positive feedback from the older men he runs into at triathlons and running events.
“They say they wish they would have been able to do that, one or two years at least,” he says. “They look back and wish they would have had this opportunity.” Of course, he also gets negative comments from some men, “but to heck with them anyway,” Steinbach says.
Justin Kuehl, 31, is a stay-at-home father in Milwaukee with no other job and a 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, he watches as she sorts and re-sorts puzzle pieces on the coffee table. A relative once asked Kuehl, “So when are you getting a real job?”
“I think what I’m doing is a real job,” says Kuehl, whose wife works as an attorney for American Transmission Company.
When Kauflin first started Milwaukeedads.com,the same handful of fathers came to all of the planned activities – breakfasts, play groups, outings to the zoo, the annual trip to a Packers practice. Now the group has more than 100 members from southeastern Wisconsin, most between 30 and 35 years old. Kauflin estimates that 50 to 60 percent of the dads generate some income: Some work from home, others second shift, still others on weekends. Some, like Kauflin, do not work for pay at all. Almost all are the primary caregivers for their children.
The Internet has opened up a new world for stay-at-home dads. The national At-Home Dads convention met for the 10th time last November. Kauflin and other locals attended. Its founder, Robert Frank, a psychology professor at Oakton Community College in northern Illinois, where the convention was held, estimates that 100 to 150 dads attend, coming from as close as Chicago and Minneapolis and as far away as overseas.
A one-time stay-at-home dad himself, Frank has done research showing that “primary caregiving” fathers don’t fill the same role as the traditional mother. At-home dads (as many call themselves) do all of the things at-home moms do – from preparing meals and feeding children to changing diapers and playing with the kids – but moms fill their traditional roles once they return from work.
Still, Frank says, kids with at-home dads have more equal relationships with their parents than kids with at-home moms. He says the “at-home dad family model may move society to further transform some of the gender role stereotypes.”
On a warm and sunny fall day late last year, Sarah Langerman and her husband, Jess, took a walk to the park with their 1-year-old son. It was 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, but it was no problem skipping out of work for a couple of hours because they both work at home.
Sarah works full time as a vice president in sales for a Chicago advertising company. She works alongside her husband (who’s employed by another Chicago company) in a basement home office while a nanny cares for their son upstairs.
“Some people think we’re nuts,” says the no-nonsense 34-year-old mother, with a half-laugh. “They say, ‘How can you work together in the same office?’ ”
Langerman was able to get her employer’s okay for working at home after the couple moved to Milwaukee and the baby was born, she says, because her company’s president valued her work. “He thought I would leave for another company,” she says. “My power was in my sales and productivity.”
Casandra Mahoney has had a similar experience. The hard-charging 33-year-old Hartland mother worked full time before her daughter’s birth about a year ago. Now the client relationship manager for Mercer Human Resource Consulting works a 70 percent schedule from Monday to Thursday while a nanny cares for daughter Maddie. Mahoney spends one day in the office and the remainder of her time meeting with clients or working from home.
Mahoney and her husband, Mark, a small-business entrepreneur, love the arrangement: “We are both hard-core career people, really driven,” she says. But something had to give.
Mahoney credits her track record with the company as her ticket to getting a more flexible job schedule. “Who hires part-time employees with the responsibility and flexibility I have?” she asks. “I’m a proven entity. It was an easy conversation to have with my boss to make it work.”
Garbaciak’s marquee value was such that Fox 6 agreed to let her go part time after the birth of her third daughter in June 1997. She says she felt fortunate having that opportunity and appreciated the station offering it to her again last year. But not all employees have such clout. And not all employers are so flexible.
“The workplace is not keeping up,” says Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, a Madison-based firm that counsels employers on how to attract and retain young workers. “I think the vast majority of organizations are run by Baby Boomer bosses for whom this was the way it was when they came up.”
Many companies may have family-friendly policies on the books, but they are not implemented, says Pamela Finberg, an Elm Grove stay-at-home mother who holds a volunteer senior management position with the national division of Mothers & More. “They’re a fraud,” she says.
Many employees “worry about being seen as less committed and less promote-able if they use the family-friendly policies their workplaces offer,” says Oliker.
That makes it very tricky to assess how good or bad an individual company is for parents. Some mothers told us that family-friendly workplace rankings like those done by Working Mothermagazine are “a joke” because so much comes down to individual relationships with co-workers and supervisors. Those who seek to balance work and family can encounter everything from subtle peer pressure to outright criticism.
To prevent peer complaints, Mahoney is generous with her cell phone number and makes herself available at all times. Still, she says, some people can’t get used to the idea that she’s “not sitting in the office.”
Another mother told us her co-workers wouldn’t accept her part-time Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule, so she often had to take work home to meet their deadlines.
Because so many employers lack a truly family-friendly atmosphere, Ryan notes, those that are being offered “are being gobbled up by men, too.”
Bearing a resemblance to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, South African-born Pamela Finberg exudes a sense of elegance and professionalism. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in science and an MBA, Finberg traveled the world with a career in upper management – from the biotech industry to financial planning to higher education.
“Never in a million years had I imagined I would be home full time,” says Finberg, 47, the mother of an 8-year-old son, Jack.
She and her American husband, William Rhead, relocated from Australia to the United States while she was on maternity leave. Her husband is now a pediatrician at the Medical College of Wisconsin, but Finberg felt she couldn’t find a new job and balance that with raising children.
A growing group of career women like Finberg have gone a big step beyond finding new ways to balance work and parenting: They are forgoing paid work altogether. But unlike the moms of an earlier generation, who usually lacked a career, today’s stay-at-home moms have already worked professionally for some years and often feel little regret about leaving it behind.
However, society can still place pressure on these women to get back on the career ladder. “When women do choose to stay home, and they have advanced degrees… they run into a certain amount of criticism for not using their degree, which is ridiculous. Raising a child takes all sorts of intelligence and skills,” says Nancy Cannon, a mother of three grown children and a psychologist with a Mequon office who counsels parents and teaches parenting classes. Cannon has been a stay-at-home mom and a mother who worked outside the home.
Wauwatosa mom of two Anne Coulling, 42, left a job in public relations to become a full-time mother. Her husband, Timothy McMahon, is a Marquette University history professor. At least in suburban areas, she’s found, full-time mothers are more accepted and less likely to be viewed as “dumb” or unqualified for paid work.
Of the more than 600 registered members on Milwaukeemoms.com (which caters to mothers of 6-year-olds and younger), 70 percent are over age 30. But more and more older women, like Garbaciak, are leaving careers to raise their children, too.
Garbaciak worried not just about missing time with her children but with her mother, whose health was failing. Garbaciak’s parents had retired in Phoenix, where her father had died in 1996. In 2004, her mother faced kidney dialysis three times a week – alone. Garbaciak rushed to Arizona.
“You can’t live alone anymore,” she said, begging her mother to come to Wisconsin. Garbaciak found her a place in an assisted-living facility just three minutes from her family’s Mequon home, and they enjoyed the Christmas season together. But Garbaciak ran herself ragged between her job, her children and taking her mother to dialysis appointments.
She said to herself: “This has to stop.”
Tragically, Garbaciak’s mother died just days after her daughter made the decision to leave Fox 6. But her children still need her, Garbaciak says, and she still needed the change.
Garbaciak calls her mother a “wonderful role model” who worked part-time jobs, then went full time when Garbaciak, the youngest of five children, was born. “Not a lot of women worked outside the home [then],” she recalls.
Garbaciak says her mother “was reluctant to give her blessing” to quit Fox 6, knowing how hard her daughter had worked to get there and knowing the angst of working moms.
Garbaciak sees her departure from Fox 6 as a time-out rather than a retirement. Returning to a prime-time anchor job may not be possible, but she’s keeping her options open.
Visiting family members have asked her to play the recording of her last newscast, but Garbaciak isn’t ready to look back yet. Her boxes from work are in the basement, still unpacked. She’s content to live in the moment.
For now, she savors dropping off 8-year-old Grace in the “kiss and go” area at school and driving Caity, 14, her oldest, to and from volleyball, something Garbaciak couldn’t do while working at the station.
On one trip, she turned to her daughter. “I’m really loving this,” she said.
Her daughter replied: “I’m really loving this, too, mom.”
Where To Find Support
Milwaukeemoms.com: A one-stop shop for mothers (employed or not) of children 6 years old and younger. Includes a very active discussion board, activity calendar, advice columns and more.
Milwaukeedads.com: A place for fathers to connect with others caring for children during the day. Activities include play groups, breakfasts and trips to local venues for dads and kids, as well as a dads-only dinner and poker night.
www.mothersandmoremilw.org: Mothers & More – The Network for Sequencing Women is a local chapter of the international nonprofit with twice-monthly moms-only evening meetings and a multitude of activities for moms and kids, families and moms alone. With 7,500 members worldwide, it provides a network for “mothers who are – by choice or circumstance – altering their participation in the paid workplace.”
Natalie Dorman is a Milwaukee Magazine contributor.