BBC’s Panorama ran a programme about the cost of childcare in the UK for working parents. It’s a hot potato but nothing new for a parent like me who has always worked since having my first child over 12 years ago.
Inevitably it brought out those who think parents should stay at home, look after their children and take a trip back to the 1970s in their home life – where do these people come from?
I personally have no problem at all with mums or dads who want, and can afford, to stay at home and look after the children. All I can say is that for me, it just wasn’t an option. There are two reasons for this – one, I need to contribute and work at least part-time, the other is that if I was a stay-at-home mum I would go stir crazy.
When I had my last child almost five years ago I had a year off work – and by the end of that time I was ill with boredom and monotony. Some parents love the stay-at-home life, some don’t and I just don’t. Even my older children noticed how grumpy and down I had become – I need to do something which affirms me as an independent, professional person as well as a mum, step-mum and wife. I love all of my roles and I need all of my roles. If that makes me selfish so be it.
Having made such a decision, is it right for me to moan about childcare costs? Probably not, I guess.
I consider myself very lucky to have had a wonderful childminder for 12 years, who is a friend and a third parent to all of my children. It’s not cheap, especially in school holidays, coming in at round £60 a day.
I remember when I had two pre-school children at the minder’s – it made little financial sense to work at all. After fees plus travel, I was making about £10 a day. But my mental health was extremely good, I felt better in myself and I knew it was a medium term cost until the oldest started school.
However, I had a reasonably paid staff job with benefits at the time. I’m now self-employed and my income is not set in stone – but I’ve still made the decision three years ago to keep on my childminder for three days a week at least. I did not want to use redundancy as a reason not to work – I’ve not regretted this decision.
I recognise however that for people who work in lower paid professions eg. retail, a decision like this is much harder. I have a friend who is a single parent working for a national retail company – she earns about £850 a month. She has no choice but to pay for childcare as she’s the breadwinner in the family. But the childcare is a huge drain. She would actually be better off staying at home and living on benefits – I have to question whether that our society should ever allow that to be the situation.
My friend doesn’t want to stay at home. She has an eye to the future. In a few years’ time, her youngest child will be an adult and she’s anxious to have her foot in the workplace. She doesn’t want to be 50, with no experience and trying to find work then to make ends meet.
And where are children in this? My children are happy, that’s where they are. They have another adult they can talk to, confide in and trust. They have a range of friends of different ages and backgrounds. They are well socialised and have had no problem in fitting in at school because they’ve made friends from a very early age. They understand fully the concept of different homes, different adults, different rules.
I think back to my own childhood. My mum did not work, my dad wouldn’t allow it. Her day was structured around housework, food and children. She spent a good part of 20 years being bored. Rows at home were always around money. I didn’t go to toddler groups, play groups or anything like that. My parents had no car and little money so apart from an annual caravan holiday for a week, we went nowhere beyond our street and nearby countryside.
I knew much love and happiness as a child, don’t get me wrong. I always knew I was loved and cherished and for that I’m eternally grateful. But I also knew boredom, knew disappointment when I couldn’t do things through a complete lack of cash. These things do have an effect and help inform future choices. I knew from the age of 18 that I would work and offer my children more opportunity. I hate not contributing to the family pot.