Talk to young parents and you’ll be hard pressed to find any who entertain illusions about “having it all,” a long-discredited notion that a life of work and parenting can be an all-you-can-eat buffet of awesome.
BARRY JOYNER HAS taken care of other people’s children for so long that some of his earliest charges are old enough to buy him a drink.
Still, Joyner panicked when he learned he was going to be a dad nine years ago.
“It’s so different when it’s your own,’’ says Joyner, 35, a musician and writer who has worked as a before- and after-school teacher in Seattle for more than 16 years.
He shared his fears with his mother, who raised Joyner, his older brother and a friend’s daughter in West Seattle as a single mom while going to college and working two jobs. She reminded Joyner of the help she got from his uncles and grandparents, and told him he would never be alone.
“All these instances, where she was at her lowest, where she always had someone to help her. I guess that’s what helped me the most,’’ he says. “But it was a process. The first two years of Maya being alive I was not necessarily scared of her, but definitely fearful, like, ‘I’m not going to do this right.’ ”
Today, Joyner is a more confident father. He works a second job so Maya’s mom can stay at home with her.
“If Maya needs something and I feel she deserves it, I’m at a point in my life where I can go get it. It’s great,’’ he says. “Of course, I want to have my own home and things eventually, but that will come.”
Joyner says his living arrangement — he shares a house in Highland Park with two childhood friends — is the main reason he can afford to stay in Seattle.
Now, he’d just like more free time.
“I wish I could be more involved in her school,’’ he says. “You know, PTA dad. Bring doughnuts, stuff like that. Eventually, maybe I’ll be able to do those things.”
Joyner’s struggle for balance is familiar to any working parent with children. In Seattle, that struggle is complicated by shifting economics and growth that create new pressures on families. It’s enough to tempt even resolute city dwellers to seek relief in the suburbs.
“For the city to have a future, it needs families,’’ says Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. The city’s progress toward a $15 minimum wage, and new investments in parks, preschool and low-income housing will help Seattle keep families in the city at a time when other urban areas are losing them, he says.
Yet the city has its work cut out, especially on schools, housing and transit, he says. Only 25 percent of city residents live within walking distance to a bus that comes every 10 to 15 minutes, and light rail is years away from solving commuter problems in some of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
Bradley Calvert, an architect who lives downtown and runs the website Family Friendly Cities, says the city’s growth is coming at a cost to families.
Most of the development around town is designed for single people in their 20s who can afford to live alone, he says.
“Unless we want our cities to be more like dormitories where residents stop in for a few years on their way to adulthood, we need to make room for families,’’ Calvert says. “This will not only build generations that are invested and committed to our communities while promoting diversity, but they are the households that spend and consume the most in the local economy. . . . We are seeing many children born, especially downtown, but we need to do more to keep them, especially when so many desire to do so.”
TALK TO YOUNG PARENTS in Seattle and you’ll be hard pressed to find any who entertain illusions about “having it all,” a long-discredited notion that a life of work and parenting can be an all-you-can-eat buffet of awesome.
The family life of our grandparents — a stay-at-home mom, working dad — is so far gone for middle-class families here that it feels like a fable. Instead, we have the ever-shifting logistics of family life, complicated by traffic, expensive housing and child care, a ferocious 24-hour work culture and lack of connection.
And that’s before the know-it-alls weigh in to tell you that everything you’re doing for your child — from food to sleep — is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Young parents have seen enough to know that their choices come with a price. Career paths shift and shrivel. Dreams morph. Savings evaporate.
Last August, the Department of Agriculture released its annual report showing that it will cost a middle-income family $245,340 to raise a child from birth through age 18.
But as any working parent of a newborn will tell you, infant care in Seattle — if you can find it — can run as much as $21,600 a year, nearly twice the annual tuition and fees at the University of Washington.
No wonder, then, that so many parents drop out of the workforce, cut back hours or decide to have only one child.
“I knew it was going to be really hard, and I knew it was going to be expensive,’’ says Leslie Dozono, 36, who planned to return to work as policy director for a statewide not-for-profit when her daughter turned 5 months old.
During her pregnancy, Dozono and her husband saved for the eight weeks she would take off without pay, and for the 20 percent salary cut she would take by returning to work with reduced hours when her maternity leave ended.
Dozono put her name on five day-care wait lists, but three months into her leave, she still had no firm spot.
“I ran the numbers again and found that with me scaling back my salary by working part-time, financially we wouldn’t be much better off with me working, and I would be missing so much in the very important first year of my child’s life,’’ she says. Her daughter, Lena, was still breast-feeding and didn’t take a bottle, adding to Dozono’s day-care anxieties.
She was leery about part-time work after talking to other women who scaled back after their child was born. Still, when an opportunity to work as a part-time consultant came up, she grabbed it.
“It involved me working while she was sleeping in the day or at night or on weekends when my husband was home,’’ says Dozono, who has since picked up several more consulting contracts and has put her daughter in child care three days a week.
Dozono says she’d like Lena to have a sibling, but worries about the cost and stress of having two toddlers.
“When I was younger, I wanted to have three (children),’’ she says. “Growing up, a lot of people had three or five children. I don’t know anyone with five children. And I know very few people who have three or have thought about three. A lot of it is financial, and some of it is energy.”
And a lot of it is logistics.
SYDNEY HOMEIER GRABS the diaper bag, an aluminum coffee mug and the thick plastic handle of the portable child-safety seat into which her infant daughter is strapped. She heads out the back door to her silver SUV, her 6-year-old stepson in tow for the crap shoot that has become the morning commute.
Homeier usually checks several traffic-monitoring apps on her phone to map out the 8.6-mile trip to the boy’s public school on Queen Anne. But after last night’s fiasco — a minor car/bus entanglement that tied up traffic for two hours — planning the trip back to school this morning feels like an act of pathological optimism.
“Here, it’s completely unpredictable,’’ she says, as she backs her car out of the driveway. “It makes no sense and is caused by stupidity. It’s constant comedy.”
Four minutes later, she’s in a crush of vehicles creeping along Interstate 5 north. She slides a Caspar Babypants CD into the car stereo, while her dimpled stepson, who splits his time between his mom’s home in Belltown and his dad’s on Beacon Hill, chimes in helpfully: “It’s like a huge parking lot on Friday.”
The round trip to the school takes an hour. In about eight hours — just in time for the next rush hour — Sydney and baby Helen and her husband will head back to Queen Anne to attend the boy’s hip-hop performance.
Homeier and her husband are among 19 percent of families in Seattle with children under 18. The couple love the city and their house, and want to raise their family there. But the hassle factor has them thinking that a move might take off some of the pressure, especially with public transit not a viable option for them.
Her husband, a commercial diver, twice changed jobs to shorten his commute and reduce the amount of out-of-town travel. His newest job involved a pay cut and a move to the swing shift. Homeier, a neonatal intensive care nurse, cut back to two 12-hour days on weekends to save money on child care.
Forget “having it all.” Homeier will settle for having some of it, because, right now, the highlight of her day will come when she and her husband lie in bed, cooing over pictures of their adorable, curly-haired baby girl.
AUGUST OWEN IS perched on his dad’s shoulders when he spots a squirrel foraging at the base of a cedar tree in Lincoln Park. He points excitedly as his dad, in one smooth swoop, moves the 2½-year-old off his shoulders and onto the gravel path.
August lowers his head and charges off toward the squirrel in his red rubber boots, elbows out like a chicken.
The squirrel doesn’t hold his attention for long, though. Within minutes, August is back on his dad’s shoulders, slumped and spent from a 90-minute romp in the park.
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“I hot,’’ he says, squirming to remove his maroon fleece jacket.
Another stop to remove the coat, and then it’s home for lunch and an N-A-P.
The timing looks to be about right for his dad, Will Owen, 33, a calm, patient man who put his budding career as a case manager at a not-for-profit on hold when August was born.
“I was thinking I would be able to write a novel while I was home,’’ says Owen, whose college major was creative writing. “That was the dumbest idea I’ve had in 10 years.”
He and his wife, a biologist with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, considered day care. But as Owen puts it, “I’m not having a child just to throw them into day care at 5 months old. It made sense to provide her with time and space to cultivate her career while I stay home to cultivate his emotional development.”
The decision came with a cost: to his potential career, and, sometimes to his sanity and self-esteem on sleep-deprived days when he smelled like sour breast milk.
“I expected I would bond and fall in love with him immediately, but in the beginning, it’s the mom and baby show,’’ he says. “They’re nursing and need that skin-to-skin contact. It was about six to eight months before I started creating more of a bond with him. After he and I started getting a routine and he started asking for me, it made it so much easier and made the challenge of being a stay-at-home dad so much more doable.”
Still, he says, “There have been times when I’m like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ There’s a lot of tedium and discomfort in trying to fill your days.”
In a city of transplants, finding connection is its own challenge. To help, Owen formed Stay At Home Dads (SAHD), a group that currently numbers 135. The active ones meet regularly, hanging at parks, the zoo, the Pacific Science Center, or cafes with play areas. Occasionally, the group will get together at night without the kids.
To get more adult conversation and interact with a greater variety of people, Owen takes August to day care once a week and volunteers at Neighborhood House, a not-for-profit program for immigrants and refugees.
“I’m trying new things, experimenting and exploring and furthering my own emotional journey,’’ he says. “One of the important things for me is being in touch with my own growth as a human being.”
To that end, he’s planning to return to work in the near future.
“Dads don’t have the identity of being a dad and a person in the workforce,’’ he says. “I’m only starting to make the transition right now. I wonder, am I still relevant? I was getting things started when I stopped working. I’m not in the middle of my career. I’m at the beginning.”
AT LEAST ONE company is capitalizing on the hard choices surrounding parenting in Seattle today: a local fertility clinic.
It recently held an informational “egg-freezing” event for about 50 women in the back room of an Italian restaurant frequented by employees from Amazon, a company notorious for its hard-driving work culture.
A pamphlet distributed at the event prominently featured a woman in her 30s, who was quoted, “I hope to have a family when I’m traveling less for work.”
The message is clear: work now, have kids later. Meanwhile, our growing, busy, fast-paced city seems more focused on developing space for offices than for families. Progress has created challenges for parents and those thinking about being parents. Traffic. Housing. The high cost of child care. It makes you wonder. When will be a good time to start a family in Seattle?