Once upon a time there was a girl called Claire.
Claire had not yet had children. Claire harboured dreams of being a rich and successful Solicitor. Claire and her future husband figured that Claire would be the main breadwinner. They figured they’d have children but never thought much more about it than that. Everyone knows childcare is super expensive, but sure you just get on with it, right?
I can remember after I had my eldest son in 2011, we decided to put him into daycare as it wouldn’t be fair to ask the grandparents to look after him. We had heard this wonderful information that if you earn under £40k you got 70% of your childcare covered by the mysterious entity that is Tax Credits. Of course, you can’t actually find out what you get until you embark on a course of action and submit your application.
Imagine our horror when we got our letter informing us we were getting the grand total of basically nada.
Cue some very frantic conversations with grandparents- ‘eh, remember that kind offer to help look after our cherubic offspring? That still open? For tomorrow…?’
The Claire who had sort of planned on children was now a full on Mother. I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work, and I hated the thought of being away from him for five days- his grandparents would see him more than me, his mother. So I returned part time, 3 days a week.
I was working as a Solicitor at this stage but it was not quite the fabulously remunerated career of my dreams. I qualified into the recession and my employer took full advantage.
Baby no2 arrived in September 2013. Again, we thought ‘we can’t land TWO children on grandparents!’ and so we thought we’d try to put them in to the daycare attached to the eldest’s playgroup a couple of days a week.
‘Eh, grandparents? Any plans tomorrow?’
At this stage I changed jobs, returning to work in pharmacy- the same money as I was getting as a Solicitor! But less pressure (plus I knew my future lay in a different career, Midwifery).
We have since had baby no3 (and our last). Now I work alternative Sundays. Weekdays are just not feasible as, aside from Childcare, school runs are my nemesis.
We live in a rural area. My two eldest are now in P3 and Nursery School, in two separate rural schools with different finishing times. There is not a school bus that serves where we live either.
Before baby no3 arrived, work was great at allowing me to start later to allow me to get eldest to school and mid
dle child to granny. I saved my breaks to collect eldest and get him deposited with granny & granda (who also look after other grandchildren) & back into work. I scoffed a sandwich as I drove. It was exhausting, particularly when pregnant. However, to now get two school drop offs, a baby dropped off with the grandparents, into work and then two separate school collections? I’d be out more than in!
Yes, I could work weekends but, for me (and I accept this is entirely my own choice) it is important to have some time as a family. The children are only young for a short time, I don’t want all our time together to be in the car and the crazy evening session of homework- dinner- argue over iPads- bed.
Me basically not working is really tough financially. We have gone from getting married and supporting two of us on two full time incomes to now having five of us to support on one income.
It is also tough on me personally- I have worked since I was 16, I enjoy working, so it is strange to be at home. I miss using my brain, having adult conversation and a pee alone. We keep saying I need to work more but then it just boils down to those school runs! Is it fair to ask our parents who are in their 60s & 70s to help?
I am not the only mum in this situation. I know a lot of women who are either in my boat of taking a temporary step back from work, or those who return to work for pretty much no pay once they pay the childcare, just so they don’t slide back down the employment ladder.
I honestly don’t know what the solution is. Yes, it is my choice to have children and no, I do not expect ‘free money’ for being at home with them. There are schemes such as childcare vouchers and tax credits, but the lack of information available to help us make a fully informed decision is really frustrating.
I do think we have work to do to address the value that society attaches- or really, doesn’t attach- to mothers. At the end of the day, we have the wombs, Birth canals, vaginas and breasts- if the human race is to not die off, women are going to continue to be the ones having the babies.
The relationship and attachment between mothers and babies is crucial to the baby’s development. It affects how a baby’s brain is wired. We have seen studies on the effects of neglect on the brain and behaviour. True, it’s not as bad here as America, for example, where mums are back to work at 6 weeks, and no statutory maternity pay! Of course, I am not saying all mums should be staying at home- but it’s not a great situation where we are choosing between staying home, struggling to make ends meet and, at best stalling but possibly setting back, our careers or returning to work for basically no money once we pay childcare but then still being away from our children at an important stage in their lives.
Really, I think traditional notions need challenged- such as a more flexible approach to working hours and conditions. Perhaps taking children to work (where appropriate) and not tying work to standard office hours. Mairi Black, the wonderful Scottish politician (could we trade a few of ours for her?!) recently gave a speech where she outlined the structural problems in our society which explains it well- our economy, our employment, everything was established during a time when men were the only ones working, etc. Now we try to slot women in to these structures and it just doesn’t work.
This post was written by Claire Hackett who blogs as Mummy McMumface over on www.facebook.com/mummymcmumface