Elizabeth Sanchez: “Caregivers Are The Unsung Heroes Of Our Communities”

Elizabeth Sanchez: "Caregivers Are The Unsung Heroes Of Our Communities"

Elizabeth Sanchez is the host of the award-winning national PBS series A Place of Our Own. She is also the author of Watercooler: Behind the Scenes and Off the Record, the Untold Stories from Broadcasters, a collection of short stories from those working in the media.

The multi Emmy Award-winning journalist and 17 year veteran reporter is also busy mom to two daughters, Julia, 5, and Jenna, 3. From preschool pick up, kindergarten drop off, making homemade pumpkin pies and sitting down for family dinners, life is hectic for this hands-on mom. Elizabeth sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop for a candid look into her busy and fulfilling life as mom to two young girls, the struggles and joys of childcare, and how she balances her career with her valued family life.

CBS: You are host of A Place of Our Own, a national award-winning PBS series. It sounds like a great program!

ES: “It is! it’s a fantastic program. It’s a national daily talk show that is dedicated to the needs of caregivers. Whether it be parents, grandparents, childcare providers – anyone that takes care of children. We provide practical advice and tips based on common issues such as discipline, education, nutrition, relationships and so much more. It’s produced by KCET which is a flagship PBS station on the West Coast. It airs nationally on PBS and also produced by Sesame Street Workshop and 44 Blue Productions.”

Click below to read more about Elizabeth’s thoughts on childcare, her family life and some of her most heartbreaking stories as a veteran reporter….

CBS: Does the show touch on the benefits of having an open relationships between parents/families and caregivers?

ES: “Our whole show revolves around the importance of communicating with your caregiver. We celebrate caregivers on our show. Once a week we have a nominated caregiver. We say that caregivers are the unsung heroes of our communities because so many people don’t give them the recognition that they deserve. We go throughout the country. Recently we went to Sacramento and we flew all our nominated caregivers from California into the state’s capitol. We invited the state legislators and we presented them with an award. It was so nice that the state legislators came out and recognized them as well. And we went to Alaska and we did the same thing up there this year. We also went to Texas, Ohio and Louisiana. We pick 5 states every year to honor the caregivers on our show. We also had a national event this year where we flew everyone to Washington DC and we presented them with an award. Some of their senators and congressmen showed up which was so fantastic.

But back to communication, I think it’s very important [between the parents/guardians and the caregivers]. You want to be on the same page, especially when you’re trying to do something like potty training. You definitely want to be consistent because kids need that consistency. They need that routine. It’s so important to have that communication so your child knows what to expect. Children, as you know, are very smart and they can figure out how to play one person over the other.” She laughs and continues, “And if one person doesn’t follow the rules and lets things pass, it can be tricky. For instance with my kids, they probably get away with more with their grandparents than they do with myself or my husband.”

CBS: Do you feel caregivers are undervalued?

ES: “Oh yes! As we say on our show, anyone who takes care of children, you are your child’s first teacher. That, of course, includes the caregivers. I think a lot of people in the workplace in general maybe don’t recognize that. I have to admit, before I had children, I didn’t think much about it. But now that I have kids, I realize how valuable they are to families and children.

And I think the caregivers become part of your family. One of the reasons I moved back to Southern California was to be closer to my family. You know, you really need that support system. So many times my mother has helped take care of the children. I used to be a national reporter for CBS News and was traveling 200 days out of the year. Once I had my baby, I went back to work and was sent to cover the 2004 Presidential election. I was covering candidate John Kerry and was told I would have to be gone for 10 days. That just broke my heart. Before, when I didn’t have kids, it wasn’t even a question. But now I couldn’t do it – I gave my notice and they were very gracious about letting me out of my contract and let me go to local news. So I came to San Diego and when I started looking for childcare for my children, I remember one woman telling me that I was supposed to be on a wait list while I was pregnant! I didn’t realize this! So my mom helped out and came down from Los Angeles for 3 days a week. And she would do this on a weekly basis until my daughter was 18 months. You know I had that mommy guilt, I didn’t want to put her in a daycare situation from 9 to 5. And then I found a Montessori school that took her from 9 to 3. This way my husband, who is a freelance photographer, was able to pick her up. We didn’t want her in there for a full day – and as a news reporter I worked a 10 hour day – so we were lucky my husband’s schedule was so flexible. And then when Jenna came along, I hired a nanny 3 days a week. It worked out well.”

CBS: Is the nanny still working for you?

ES: “A Place of Our Own is my dream job because the show is much like acting because you tape a season. So from January through April, I work 2 days a week going to LA and then I’m off for the rest of the year except when I travel for the show to honor caregivers. So back to the nanny, I basically don’t need her anymore, especially after April I didn’t need her at all. And so as it turned out, a friend of mine needed her. It’s just such a fantastic situation because if I ever do need someone to care for my kids, I can just call her up and organize that. In fact today, I did that for this interview and for another meeting I have today. Jenna just loves Lorena and Keira, the little girl she takes care of now. It’s a play date and they just have the best time together. I told her last night and she was looking forward to it and was so excited to go over there this morning. It’s such a blessing.

And there are times that I still need care here and there. Like during the time of Michael Jackson’s death, I got a call from CBS news. That was 9 days of straight coverage and luckily my mother in law was in town. We just extended her stay or I would’ve had to turn CBS down. Maybe I could have done 2 days, but I wouldn’t have been able to do 9 days straight had my mother in law not been here. So I juggle and it’s kind of hit or miss! If I can’t do it I can’t do it. But I’m aware that if I say no too many times, they’re not going to call me.”

CBS: I think so many of us working moms go through the same struggles. We cross our fingers that good childcare will come through and that our kids will be happy there in order for us to get to work.

ES: “Yes, and it’s back to the saying “It takes a village” which is what A Place of Our Own is all about. And that’s been my experience! We all depend on each other to help out. My neighbor – who is a full-time stay-at-home-mother – for instance, just to get to her doctors appointment was a problem for her. She needed me to pick up her son from soccer so I did that for her. It was great! And then one time I had to go to the airport and she picked up my daughter from kindergarten. I think it takes that cooperation from friends and family to make it all work. It is difficult. And while some people look down on full time working moms, I don’t think that’s right. I think we’re all just trying to do the best job we can. And now that I don’t have an infant anymore, I tell my friends bring them over and get some rest! I had one friend who took me up on that for 2 hours and she ended up crying because she hadn’t been away from the baby yet.” She jokes and adds, “It was her first child and I told her with your second you’ll feel different!”

CBS: It sounds like you’ve got a great situation with A Place of Our Own.

ES: It’s so great – and the great thing about A Place of Our Own is that I feel like I’m learning to be a better parent. When my daughter was two, strangers always came up to me and said “your two year old is so talkative”. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve applied everything I’ve learned on the show to building her verbal and literacy skills.

CBS: What is your best advice for parents regarding communicating with caregivers?

ES: “I would say if a stressful situation is going on at home, to make sure you express that to your caregiver because if the child is acting out that day, it’s good for the caregiver to know why. Just like we say on the show so often, kids pick up on their parent’s stress. I think it’s important to understand why a child is acting the way they are especially if they are acting out in a different way than they normally do.”

CBS: What is a typical day like in your household?

ES: “It is a very busy life! I’m also promoting my book Watercooler: Behind the Scenes and Off the Record, the Untold Stories from Broadcasters. So, a typical day is doing morning interviews. If I’m doing something for the East Coast, it’s around 5 a.m. Then I try to answer emails. Then around 7 a.m. my kids start waking up. Then it’s getting ready for school and eating breakfast. Then I take one daughter to school at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then I take Julia every day to kindergarten at 9:30 every morning. There is very little time between 9:30 and noon. I have 2 ½ hours for myself. And I’d like to think I actually workout, but that hasn’t been happening much these days!” She laughs and adds, “I’ve tried to workout after some of these radio interviews, and I don’t know what it is but my daughters seem to wake up earlier when I try to do something for myself.” She laughs and adds, “I used to workout regularly and now I’ve adapted the phrase ‘I’m fit enough’ – it’s not going to get any better,” she laughs.

“I try to walk because Julia’s school isn’t too far away. So yesterday I picked up Jenna and then I got her something to eat quick, then I got her in the jogging stroller, and then we raced down to Julia’s school, walked her home, gave her lunch and then I had some books to mail out for publicity so I addressed all those and walked with those to the post office so I could get some exercise. Then we came back and played soccer in the backyard and then came in and they wanted to make a pumpkin pie so we had to walk to the store again and get the ingredients,” she continues to laugh and adds, “It’s a lot but it’s good to get some exercise! And the girls were so tired which is great because Jenna is now potty trained – which is great – but now she wakes up at 4 in the morning and you have to go and take her to the potty.

And then my husband, he helps out a lot too. Yesterday he made dinner because I wanted to spend more time with the girls which was great. I think that’s good too, when you coordinate dinners with your partner. This gives you the opportunity to beat that mommy guilt and spend some good quality time with your kids, because otherwise at 4 o’clock I start thinking about dinner and wondering what I’m going to make.”

CBS: Tell us about your book, Watercooler: Behind the Scenes and Off the Record, the Untold Stories from Broadcasters.

ES: “It’s kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul meets broadcast news. It’s a collection of short stories from international reporters and local reporters. They’re stories of inspiration, heartbreak and tragedies. It’s not a tell-all. My book is like a slice of life I would say, because it’s things that not only a journalist can relate to, it’s things that the general public can relate to. I write one story about not getting a job that I thought I really deserved and it turned out to be a defining moment in my life that ended up changing my career track. It ended up being a good thing. Of course, at the time I thought it was a huge disappointment.

I also have a story from Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She talks about her success and I think that people of all fields can relate to her story. I always say that on the news you get 1 ½ minutes of a professional angle on a story, but you never get the personal side. And that is what I’m trying to do is give the personal side.

One of the stories I worked on out of South Carolina hits harder now that I’m mom. A woman killed her 2 children and at first she had said they were kidnapped. It was so heartbreaking. About 2 weeks after covering that story, she confessed she drove them into the water. I reported on the news that she confessed but when I got home, I broke down and cried. I really think that if I had kids at the time, I don’t think I would’ve been as composed to report the news.

And that’s the thing that I want to express to people – I actually believed this woman and I really wanted to help find the kidnapper. There’s a sense of betrayal when you find out the truth. As the days went on, we started to hear some rumors about the mother, but we didn’t want to believe them. So I have to admit that being a mom has made me more emotional about certain kinds of stories.”

CBS: Is there another story from your book you’d like to share?

ES: “There’s a great story about Tracy Neil. She was the main anchor in Washington, DC and she went to cover a documentary in Africa on orphans with AIDS. This story just broke her heart and she ended up wanting to adopt one of these children with AIDS. She was told that she couldn’t adopt her and it was heartbreaking. So she actually kept in touch with the child and she writes about the relationship that formed with this child. She ended up leaving her anchor job and starting a non-profit for these children. She’s just an amazing woman.”

CBS: Tell us about some of your family traditions.

ES: “The traditions that come to mind center around food!” When asked if she’s a good cook, Elizabeth says, “I try to be. I love cooking. But I admit that since I’ve had children I don’t do as much creative cooking as I used to. Now it’s more like meatloaf, casserole – it’s a little different now,” she laughs. “But I keep up with the tradition of tamales at Christmas. And my girls just love Mexican food! Soccer is a Colombian tradition and Julia is involved in that and Jenna probably will be too. It’s so funny because I always ask my dad ‘what are your traditions in Colombia?’ and he says ‘we celebrate Christmas just like you guys,’ she jokes and adds, “And I do try to speak Spanish with the girls. I have to admit though, my husband is from North Carolina and he always wants to know what’s going on so we don’t really speak Spanish around him. I’m the worst at speaking Spanish in my family because I’m the youngest and my family would often speak English growing up. My sisters are so much better at it than me.”

CBS: Have you and your husband created your own family traditions?

ES: “We try to have dinner together every night. I’ve read all the studies,” she jokes. “We do a pretty good job. My husband is a freelance photographer and he does the CBS NFL and the CBS March Madness games every year so this time of year can be difficult because he leaves on Friday to cover football and returns on Monday.” She laughs and adds, “Sometimes on the weekends I feel like a single mom. But when he’s here, we definitely sit down for family dinners.”

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Photo credit: Elizabeth Sanchez for exclusive use on CBS

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