How does Louisville stack up for working mothers? [Family and parenting]

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In a recent article, Forbes magazine ranked Louisville the 38th best (or 13th worst, depending on how you look at it) city for working moms, out of the 50 largest US cities. The rankings were based on a wide array of factors including earnings, unemployment levels, crime levels, schools, health care and cost of living. Again, Forbes devised the list from the country's 50 largest cities; hence why number 38 doesn't exactly having my own working mom behind jumping for joy.

This particular article from Forbes caught my attention because I am returning back to work full-time. On Monday, I will resume my career shaping and molding the minds of young children as a teacher. Meanwhile Jack will be making art projects and biting other toddlers at a wonderful daycare miles away from me.

After 17 months of staying home, I thought I was ready to return to my career. Staying home with Jack was enjoyable, but I am the first to admit that there have been days where I greatly missed my old life. I love my son, but playing patty-cake and changing diapers all day does not entirely fulfill me. Besides, we all know a two-income family in this economy is far preferable.

Yet something strange has happened in the past week...I have begun to panic. I look at Jack and my stomach twists into knots at the thought of not being with him. I am afraid that by returning to work, I will simply miss out. I ran into a friend the other day at the farmer's market and expressed my feelings of going back to work. Perhaps I had made a mistake. A sensible scientist, and a working mom herself, she chuckled and told me, “Oh honey, that's not you talking...that's your frontal lobe.” And she's probably right. As women we are driven by complex biological instincts to nurture offspring. Therein lies the rub of the working mother. We want to work and we need to work; but evolutionarily speaking, our bodies are hard-wired to be with our children.

Perhaps my inner conflict will be tempered with time. But I am still left with the nagging question of what makes Louisville the 13th worst city for working mothers. Before this question can be answered, we might want to consider the city that takes the top spots on the list. Lake-filled Minneapolis, Minnesota earns that honor, with its reputation as a city that prides itself on women with high earnings, solid health care, good educational systems and low crime rates.

In comparison, according to a December 2006 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, Kentucky is the 5th-worst-ranked state based on “health, economic well-being, education and political participation.” The most discouraging gap between Kentucky and the rest of the country was the strikingly low number of women who attend and complete a four-year college. These sobering statistics offer a glimpse into why Louisville does not measure up for working moms.

I am certain that the key to unlocking positive change for all women in Louisville lies in better access to education and increased job earnings. Improved education will give women a leg up on a job market that is more competitive than ever. Better wages means increased access to health care, housing, daycare and many of the other advantages that working mothers so badly need.  

Regardless, on Monday morning, I will wake up to my alarm clock and scrape a yawning Jack out of his crib. After I kiss my child goodbye and drive myself to work, I join the ranks of so many women across the city...our hearts in one place, our bodies in another.  Yet, the question remains: how can Louisville begin to improve the quality of life for its working mothers?     

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