By Michelle Hiskey
Amid the Presidential debate chatter of workplace inequality and “binders full of women” catchphrase is the real bind that working parents find themselves in every day: how to succeed at work and childcare.
Adela Yelton is in the middle of that daily juggle herself as an entrepreneur serving working families. Her business is a novel answer to that need for working families. Bean Work Play Café near the Agnes Scott area of Decatur offers a portal into how these moms and dads are making ends meet, and seeking more flexibility, in the Great Recession.
Sixty families are members at Bean, where a parent can plug in down the hall from the childcare area. No rush to leave the office to beat traffic and late pick-up fees. Since Bean opened in March 2011, and began offering a flexible preschool a few months ago, about 200 “co-working” families have dropped in.
Christy Dillon of Atlanta takes her son Aaron, 18 months, to play at Bean while she pursues her profession of website support and electronic pattern design for long-arm quilting. She’s an example of the “1099 economy,” the increasing numbers of freelancers, independent contractors and self-employed.
Usually you see them working at home or at a coffee shop; at Bean, she gets a professional workplace (no coffee grinding during phone calls, just K-cups) and Aaron “gets quality social time with other children close to his age, with the assurance that if anything happens I am right there to help him.”
That’s the sweet spot working parents aim for: the freedom to pursue a livelihood with the peace of mind that their little kid has adequate care. For the legions of us Atlanta transplants without family nearby, a reliable and nurturing childcare arrangement is critical to peace of mind and quality of life.
Working parents can feel as if they’re the wishbones getting yanked.
Eric Key, a creative director who lives in West End and father to Henry, age 2, put it this way: “The work world is all about competition, so the person that can meet the deadline faster or better will get the reward,” he said. Raising children is the opposite of that. It is also more important. The two goals are counterintuitive and hard to negotiate.”
When Henry naps, his dad uses what he calls “stolen moments” to complete emails, billing, and social networking related to his work at Green Machine Inc. They hit Bean when dad needs to complete substantial work tasks.
The strategy works until it doesn’t. That sudden earache or fever will scramble a work calendar. “Client visits and conference calls can be a tap dance,” Key said. “Scheduling is always an issue.”
New solutions to vexing social problems are the burden of these parents and those who follow. Bean is one answer; so are workplace expectations.
“I’m already seeing a work world way more understanding than the one my parents confronted,” said Key.
“One of my business partners is in his 20’s, single, without kids and he still works around my chaos. I’m not sure I was that understanding back then.”
Yelton, who turned 43 last week, knows her market because she is part of it. As an experienced accountant, she worked in human resources for ING, the Dutch financial services company, and traveled throughout Europe and Latin America while starting her family. With the help of a nanny, she continued working after her oldest was born a decade ago.
When he was four, she was pregnant again, but not (mentally) expecting twins. Juggling the intense corporate life with mothering three boys was not what she wanted out of life. She left ING to take care of them, and figure out how she could say yes to consulting and project work that followed her home.
“I wished there was a place where I could go for a few hours to work, and they could be in a high-quality caring environment where they could be engaged,” Yelton said. “I looked around and did some research, and there were only a few places like that and those were on the West Coast.”
As she assembled an advisory board, got financing and put everything she had into Bean, she was also influenced by families she had observed abroad in her corporate career. ING’s Dutch employees “had generous leave benefits for both parents,” she said. “In Amsterdam, most everyone leaves at 4 pm. They all value being at home for dinner with the family; it’s not just the woman going home and making dinner.
“In Latin America, families understand child care as respecting and valuing the child, and that means that children stay home, and families are willing to go without some things just to be home with their children. It’s very value-based.”
Still, she faced a steep learning curve as she moved from corporate mom to professional childcare provider. Human resources taught her how to value people, but not develop the uber-soft people skills that are needed in the world of Bean. She began to experience a new type of pressure that comes from assuming responsibility for providing for a family’s most precious asset.
“That area was completely new for me,” she said. “I knew what my expectations were as a user and potential client, but I had to learn a lot about what is required for quality care. I have so much more appreciation for quality care. Knowing how to be nurturing and engaged with the child is a special skill set, and today I have so much more respect for finding and keeping good teachers.”
The transformation of her career has benefited her community outside of Bean. The flexibility of being an entrepreneur allowed her to help establish The Museum School, a charter school in her Avondale Estates neighborhood.
That spirit of intentionality influences Bean’s co-working space. No parents surf the Internet. They are on the clock to finish their proposal, make a sales call or meet a deadline. Few offices have Bean’s “culture of focus.”
Yelton has that too, because she’s gone from supporting the C-suites to being her own boss. She is tapping into markets created by the great shift in technology since she first gave birth, when laptop computers and cell phones were not as portable as today, and wifi was not yet a common noun. “Without that virtualness, a business like Bean would be tough,” she said of her reinvented life.
Memo to our next American president: Life is changing for working families. At Bean, 40 percent of the parents on site are dads. Statistics show that more women are assuming the role of breadwinner. As the nontraditional becomes the new normal, expect to see more ideas sprout like Bean. Families need creative solutions like this.
“The 9 to 5 work lifestyle is changing and I think parents in this new generation are feeling empowered to create their own life the way they want it,” Yelton said. “Childcare infrastructure in the United States does not really facilitate families engaging with one another, to fully appreciate their children while they are young. This generation is trying to create it for themselves and not wait around for something to change.”
Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and writing coach based in Decatur. She can be reached at [email protected]