Advice

Three things I’ve learned about childcare

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We’ve only known B for six months and yet already we find ourselves having to talk about giving him away! Not on a permanent basis of course, only in that temporary daily sense that thousands of parents do. I’m talking about childcare.

Until we became parents it was an issue i was aware of; frequently in the news and the topic of conversation most friends with children would skirt around. What were they trying to hide i used to wonder.

Well now i know. It’s a minefield of guilt and financial pain.

People do have very strong opinions on this so i am simply going to tell you my feelings and what i’ve learned. It’s entirely up to other people what they do with their own offspring.

Lesson one – it’s really expensive

The real cost of child care, which every family in this country faces, has risen by 77% in real terms since 2003, and child care inflation is going up by 6% every year… At present, we have the tightest ratios in Europe for children under three.

That’s Liz Truss MP, deploring the wallet crushing burden on parents, in the House of Commons, 2013

So there are obviously various options and the costs will vary depending on the age of your children. But if you are, like us, looking for full or part time care during the working day, for a baby or toddler under three years the costs will fall entirely on you.

We aren’t wealthy but we did consider a nanny. I know. It sounds so bourgeois. But we know of people who have employed a nanny (not living with them) and for all the benefits it brings the cost seems worth it. Local enquiries yielded some potential but at at least £500 per week net we decided this was madness.

If you do have the funds i am told the upside is that you basically hand over your pride and joy and forget about them all day because they are busy having lovely meals cooked for them (you don’t pay for that anymore), days out, meeting other babies, having all their clothes washed and ironed. Yes, it sounds heavenly. I’d like a nanny to look after me.

OK, next best option is a childminder. So they are running a business from home, which means you don’t employ them like a nanny. No tax or NI to worry about. Costs can range from £50 a day where we live. Probably cheaper if you don’t live in London.

If you can’t do that you’re looking at nurseries. That’s day nurseries, not to be confused with pre-school nursery that only runs during term time and is usually for two and up. They seem to cost about the same as a childminder. Some more, some less.

Then of course if you have willing and able family on the doorstep who want to do childcare for free… Well, we can dream but i doubt many people have that luxury.

Lesson two – it makes you feel like bad parents.

So, you’re probably not meant to admit this but giving your baby to someone else to look after makes you feel rubbish inside. I was determined not to but it was like we were on Jeremy Kyle being shouted at by the voice in my head:

“So you brought this baby into the world and six months later you’re looking at giving him to someone else so you can both go to work to earn money to spend on holidays and getting drunk and fake tans and massive earrings? You’re a bloody disgrace!”

Ok. So neither of us wear massive earrings but it made me think. Oh dear, do we both really need to work? I asked S if she definitely wanted to work. She said the idea that her life was now only going to be about nappies and mush and baby music group made her want to cry. She needs to work and have a career. Unfortunately the thought of leaving B makes her want to cry too.

Anyway I took a day off work and we went to see some nurseries. They were…fine. The ones we saw were clean and bright, the staff seemed lovely, the children were playing, they had a room for sleeping, their own bottles and cups and blankets. They were rated ‘good’ by Ofsted.

And yet, as we walked around asking the right questions and getting satisfactory answers i kept thinking, “we can’t leave him here”. Why? Maybe because he is not ready so i can’t imagine him being one and toddling about with the other children.

But i think it was the institutional nature of it all. I was thinking, he’s got years of school ahead. He needs a bit more time just being little and being in a home with one consistent carer and one or two other children his own age. I think it was the rows of beds for nap time that pushed me over the edge. It looked too much like an orphange!

So we scratched off nurseries over a coffee and soul searching in the park as the sun tried to peep through the clouds.

Lesson three – there’s no right answer.

Whatever you choose is the right solution for you. It may not be perfect. It may not be what you imagined. But don’t feel bad and don’t let anyone else make you feel bad.

If you can share the childcare and both work part time and have enough money that sounds ideal.

So what are we going to do? Well, we still have a few months to decide. So there’s a cliffhanger to end on.

But i am going to have a chat with work and see what my options are. I might join the ranks of the SAHDs for a short while.

Meanwhile B gurgled and smiled at us from the buggy so we trundled home for a cup of tea because for now everything was alright.

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