This story is part of a series, published in The Reader and on omahajobs.com, that spotlights the experiences of low-income, working families in Omaha. Last month’s piece featured a day care provider; this month’s article is about a mother whose children were in day care.
When Catherine Brauer woke her daughters up just before midnight to drive them home from day care, where they’d been sleeping, the whole family was exhausted. As Brauer got her girls ready for bed in the wee hours of the morning, she noticed scratches, bite marks and bruises on their bodies from bullies. They were also hungry because day care food often tasted old, said Brauer, who sometimes worked close to 85 hours a week as a medical receptionist and waitress.
After putting her kids, who were 5, 6 and 7 at the time, to bed, Brauer cried herself to sleep — then awoke at the crack of dawn to do it over again.
“Those were scary times, because my children were little and vulnerable, and I [didn’t have resources] to put them in high-end child care,” Brauer said. “My kids suffered, which was hurtful [to see] as a mom.”
Brauer had no choice. Her kids’ math and reading levels were dropping, they needed tutoring, and the only way to afford that was long hours at two jobs. So Brauer sacrificed, hoping it’d eventually lead to good grades, college scholarships and opportunities she never had.
“Mommy, we miss you,” her kids told her, “but we know you’re working for us.”
Brauer, who identifies as Latina and Hispanic, said moms from underserved communities throughout Omaha are similarly trapped. To support them, she runs a business called Serenityyroom Events, where she organizes pop-up events for low-income women starting businesses to set up booths and sell their products. Many of these women, she said, juggle entrepreneurship with full-time work so their kids can have a brighter future.
“Jobs don’t care about you or your children, but you need to provide for them, so you’re stuck,” said Brauer, who sets up event booths for kids to sell their drawings as mini entrepreneurs, so moms don’t have to find child care when they attend her events. “All you can do is work harder, which means missing more time with your children.”
Brauer said food stamps, food pantries and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides nutritional assistance to families with small children, can be saving graces for struggling moms. She also recommends applying for state child care subsidies, which help foot the child care bill — and allow parents to choose any child care, if it’s approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Knowing that you selected your children’s child care is the most peaceful thing a mom can feel in her heart,” Brauer said.
But child care centers aren’t always as safe as they seem. Brauer was getting state subsidies when her bruised and bitten kids said staff wouldn’t stop bullies. She thinks all moms have had bad child care experiences, from lice outbreaks to babies’ diapers not being changed.
“Child cares say, ‘If you don’t like it here, take your child elsewhere,’ but we can’t take days off to find [a new] program,” she said. ‘We don’t have the luxury to give [our children] the best of the best.”
It doesn’t matter how much low-income moms love and advocate for their children, she said. Their kids’ physical, emotional and educational needs often go unmet.
“We’re short on people who care for us,” Brauer said. “Because we belong to a minority group, we always fall through the cracks.”
To learn about the resources mentioned in this article, visit benefits.gov/benefit/361 (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), foodbankheartland.org/get-food/ (food pantries), dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/WIC.aspx (Women, Infants and Children, or WIC) and dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Child-Care-Subsidy-Information-for-Parents.aspx (child care subsidies).
Catherine Brauer would like to thank Joe Thallas, manager of the Livestock Exchange Building, which she rents for customers to share their businesses with the community.
Editor’s note: The Reader’s sister publication, El Perico, is partnering with Catherine Brauer on promoting Latina makers.
From Nov. 2020 – Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska’s LGBTQ+ community. Although she’s now pursuing a PhD in Communication, Information and Media at Rutgers University, Leah remains a diehard Reader fan and wholeheartedly supports all things Reader. You can connect with her via Twitter (@cates_leah).