Diocesan News

Single Working Mom of 3 Credits God-Sent Friends, Family, Colleagues

WINDSOR TERRACE — Ileana Tavarez has two jobs; the one titled “administrative assistant” pays her an income. 

The other, being a “Mommy,” pays nothing financially. But it is her priority to provide loving care for her “three-under-3” children. 

Tavarez is the primary caregiver and breadwinner to her son Michael, who will soon turn 3 years old, daughter Hannah, who just turned 2, and 8-month-old Sarah. 

When asked how she does it, she exclaimed, “I don’t know!” 

But, taking a more serious tone, her response sounded much like Psalm 121 — “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

“What I always say is that God is the one helping me through everything,” Tavarez said in a recent interview with Jessica Easthope of Currents News. “He’s the one that’s keeping me together.” 

The challenges have been enormous. Tavarez and her husband separated about six months ago. Subsequently, she focused on structure and self-discipline to manage her home and career. 

“It’s like a routine I built,” she explained. “I’ve been able to manage time when they’re not around to get everything ready.” 

She feeds and bathes the children, and her preparations keep the family on schedule. 

“Hannah and Michael wanted Mommy, and I wasn’t able to because I had Sarah,” she said. “But they’ve gotten into a little routine with me as well. They’ll say, ‘Mommy’s getting everything ready,’ so they kind of stay calm.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation in 2021 had about 11 million single-parent families with children under 18. Single mothers headed nearly 80% of these households. 

The U.S. Department of Labor reported in 2020 that about two-thirds of single mothers work outside the home. This stat is slightly more than the share of married mothers working outside the home. 

But Tavarez knows she is not superhuman. 

The help from the Lord comes in the form of other people. Included are her parents. Friends at Transfiguration Parish in Williamsburg also help her manage the children during Mass. 

She said her coworkers in the Office of the Vicar General for the Diocese of Brooklyn understand her challenges. They unhesitatingly fill in at the office if, for example, one of the children becomes sick at daycare. Sometimes she can work from home. 

“I’m very happy with them,” Tavarez said. “They expect you to get your kid and to take care of your kid first. Everything else comes second.” 

Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, the Vicar General, said Tavarez has been key to helping him learn his job, which he began in March. 

“I’m new, the bishop is new, everybody’s new,” he said. “We’re all just kind of learning the ropes. But Ileana is the one in the office who has the most experience.” 

Msgr. Grimaldi said he is still pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Bergen Beach/Mill Basin. 

Since he can’t always be at the vicar general’s office, he relies on Tavarez to update him on important issues. 

“She has been very dutiful and timely in fulfilling her responsibilities,” Msgr. Grimaldi said. “Even at times when one of the children is not feeling well, and it’s necessary for her to work from home, she certainly does so in a very responsible way.” 

Tavarez also has high praise for her childrens’ father. She said he works, too, but helps at every opportunity, especially getting the kids to and from daycare. “He has been an awesome dad for them,” she said. “We co-parent well.” 

Working single mothers, like Tavarez, have another God-sent ally: Pope Francis. 

Earlier this month, the pope urged societies to accommodate pregnant women as employees. Doing so, he said, would help thwart an alarming trend of declining birth rates in Western nations. He added that countries depend on families for prosperity and a future, which, he added, is patriotic. 

In 2021, Pope Francis urged more support for working mothers like Tavarez, saying that women are a powerful force in the post-pandemic era helping in the “reconstruction of the economy and of the society to come.” 

Msgr. Grimaldi said he agrees “100%” with Pope Francis. 

“In the workforce, being pregnant or having a child does not mean you cannot continue to be a productive employee,” he said. 

The Vicar General also recalled how women could be unfairly overlooked for a job even if pregnancy appeared to be possible for them. 

“Years ago, when a young woman would be interviewed for a job, sometimes the employer would say, ‘Well, this is a young woman who just got married. She’s probably going to be getting pregnant soon. I don’t know if this is going to be such a good idea.’ 

“Which was absolutely wrong and unfair to women. They have a positive contribution to continue to make. Anything we could do to help is certainly in line with our Catholic principles and teachings.” 

Tavarez said the pope’s support brings her joy. 

“There’s a lot of women struggling,” she said. “I’m sure there were a lot of women who were let go from their ( jobs) recently with the whole COVID situation. It’s hard to get back into the work routine itself, but Pope Francis is encouraging people to do that. It makes me feel happy to know he’s supporting us.”