Debra Sokolow-Nikolic of Westlake was tired of dropping her two children off at day care so she could drive 40 miles to her job. She wanted to find a better way to integrate her two careers: motherhood and commercial art.
"I wanted to do something the children could be involved in," says Nikolic, 40. "I wanted them to play a part in my career."
So in August, Sokolow-Nikolic and her husband Draza Nikolic, 41, opened the Art Center for Children in Westlake. The center is a light-filled room stocked with all the tools and tables a graphic artist could want--but scaled to kids' size.
Sokolow-Nikolic runs the center while her husband works as a training systems developer for Academic Financial Securities Assn. in Torrance and teaches at Moorpark College.
Many parents like the Nikolics are finding creative ways to juggle their lives so they have more time with their children. And while much of the responsibility for children still falls on the mothers, fathers are changing their hours and responsibilities to support their wives, the couples say.
Researchers at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization in New York dedicated to effecting changes for women, have found an increased demand for flexibility in the workplace. Not only are more women seeking part-time work, they are sharing jobs and looking for less demanding businesses.
Julie Harris, senior research associate at Catalyst, says a recent study showed many working mothers are not comfortable routinely leaving their children in someone else's care.
They want to arrange work so they spend most of the week with their children. Harris says that often demands tough choices, lost income and less job security--at least at first.
But the motivation to make a change is often high. Sokolow-Nikolic says her children--Tyler, 3, and Anton, 7--didn't have a clue what she did after she dropped them off at day care. Now, they can attend her classes, help her stock supplies or take the center's newsletter to the printer.
"I wanted my children to see that a woman could be as accomplished as a man," she said. "I want them to grow up to respect women."
Sokolow-Nikolic and Nikolic worked together on the business plan for the center, selected the site and wrote the class descriptions together. He also backs her up at home, cooking dinner at night. The couple hired a baby-sitter for two hours in the afternoon, she said, so the boys could go outside and play.
On some days, Sokolow-Nikolic says, she actually sees less of her children than she did before. "But after I've been in business for about a year, I think I'll have more time with them."
She also says she's not making any money with her business. But that's what she and Nikolic planned on, and they expect the finances to improve.
"It's hard, but I wouldn't want to be doing anything else," she says. "Right now I'm able to juggle it--to do the wife, the mother and the career. I just wish there were more hours in the day."
Myung Kim, 36, of Oak Park says she had become a "phone mother" to her daughters, ages 11, 7 and 3, before she sold her pizza restaurant and opened a less demanding yogurt shop closer to her home.
When she ran the restaurant, last-minute parties and big orders interfered with family life, she says.
"The children would call me at the pizza place and tell me about their day. It just wasn't enough."
Kim says she constantly felt guilty, even though she has help from her husband, Kwang, and her mother, Yoo Yoo, 69, who lives with them.
Kwang Kim, who works at Rocketdyne, helps the girls with homework, and Yoo makes dinner, cleans and does the laundry.
Running the Yogurt Tree is simpler than managing the pizza store, and the shop is less than a mile from home, Kim says, so the girls can bicycle or skate over to see her after school. And on weekends she can relax with them.
Kim says she expects to break even from the yogurt operation, earning only a small salary. "But this business is more flexible," she says--and she can be with her children every afternoon.
Vanessa Stothers, 31, of Oak Park learned early to juggle family and career. She was pregnant in pharmacy school at USC and carried her infant daughter Jennifer, now 8, to her graduation.
Now Stothers shares a job as a pharmacist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills. She rotates day and evening shifts and works 2 1/2 weekends out of every six, but gets every Tuesday off. Her job-sharing partner works two days a week, including every Tuesday.
Having that regular weekday off is important to Stothers as she struggles to mix her career with being mother to Jennifer and Clayton, 3.
"It balances the guilt versus the career drive," she says.
Stothers schedules lessons, doctor's appointments, laundry and repair people for Tuesdays, and makes a special effort to make the time fun.
The rest of the week, Jennifer attends the after-school program at her elementary school, and Clayton goes to day care near the medical center in Woodland Hills.