The Childcare Dilemma

This morning I spent a little over an hour with Baby Good at the childcare centre she is about to start at – the same one Miss Three has been going to for a day a week since mid-February and which she went to two days a week from a year old until just before Baby Good arrived, while I worked.  It’s a great centre, the staff are lovely and so caring and they seem to really know the kids well.  Miss Three generally loves going and gets a lot out of it, actually it’s been really good for both of us.  She gets some variety, lots of different experiences that she wouldn’t get at home and mixes with a wider circle of other children and I get a break from her constant chatter, questions and curious (though draining) nature.

But I feel apprehensive about sending Baby Good there.  Not because I’m worried about the care she will receive, but because she still so little, she doesn’t need the extra stimulation that makes it such a wonderful experience for Miss Three and most importantly she won’t be with me.  She has always been with me or Mr Good.  I’ve only left her with others a handful of times and always with family.  The thought of leaving her tears at me and I really wish there was an alternative for another year or so.  I remember feeling the same way with Miss Three when she started at almost exactly the same age.  She coped remarkably well and it was, in the end, probably a positive thing for her.  I’m sure it will be the same this time around, but I still can’t shake that feeling.

It has also come about a little sooner than I expected, I’m not actually going back to a permanent (part time) position until July, but in order to secure the place at the centre I had to start her just after her first birthday on the 9th May.  From then they will both be going two days a week and I will hopefully pick up some more relief teaching to cover the cost.  I think this has thrown me a bit, I thought I’d have her at home for another two months so I was unprepared for the separation (I think it’s me who’s going to suffer separation anxiety more then her).

My reasons for returning to work are primarily financial, but it’s also more complex than that.  I need to work, it makes me a better and happier person and therefore mother, I discovered that after being at home for six months with Miss Three. With both girls I’ve given had a full year at home with them and have then negotiated part time work.  This time it’s three days instead of two (the girls will spend one day a week with Mr Good’s Mum which I am incredibly grateful for) and it will be to a teaching job rather than an administrative role.  These have all been difficult decisions to make, the extra day and the more demanding role will mean less time with my family as well as less time to do the other things that are important to me.  But teaching is what I do, it adds more meaning to my life in a way admin just did not.  I enjoy it and want to get back into the classroom.  What impact this has on the other parts of my life remain to be seen.  The decisions I have made are at least partially selfish ones and this sits uncomfortably at times with me.

These are contentious issues, to work or not to work, child care or not.  They are also questions, in most situations, women face largely on their own.  I was the one who researched the child care centres (though Mr Good did do his part and looked at one near his work, in the end it just wasn’t feasibly for him to take the girls into the city on his own during peak hour), took the girls for some orientation, and do all the pick ups and drop offs.  This last one we used to share when we both worked in the city, I would drop Miss Three off then park the car at the train station for Mr Good to collect and then pick up Miss Three in the afternoon.  This time I’m working in the suburbs and will need the car, so it’s left to me to do both drop offs and pick ups.  It was also me who had to negotiate (and it was tricky!) a return to part time work.  And in all likelihood I will have to negotiate this each year until I’m ready to return full time and I’m not sure when that will be.  We have looked into the idea of Mr Good going part time or even having a year off with the girls, but it doesn’t seem feasible.  The lack of flexibility in both of our work environments (even though everyone thinks teaching works beautifully around having a family, that has not been my experience) has made it virtually impossible to come to some sort of more creative arrangement.

Once again my feminist hat has been well and truly pulled on and stirred me up.  Why is it that we can have a female prime minister, a female Governor General and several high profile female ministers, but we still face these same issues as everyday women wanting choice in how we balance a career and family.  When will work places catch up to the idea that families and family life has changed, that parents are looking for a better way of managing the juggle of work and kids?  Argh I’ve ranted on long enough, I wish there was a more agreeable solution, but the reality of it is that I will have to live with a compromise and hope that it works out for the best for everyone.  In many ways I’m lucky to be able to work part time, many parents are forced to leave their children everyday.  And for women who actually want to work full time, there is a whole raft of people sitting in judgement of their decision, but no one blinks an eye when fathers spend countless hours working outside the home.

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12 Responses to The Childcare Dilemma

  1. rcra says:

    Yup. And yup. And guilt. And double standards. Somehow mainstream Australia doesn’t see how supporting mothers = supporting families and it’s the same as making fathers’ worlds more flexible. There’s lots of talk but few industries walk the walk. Sweden is the place to be for this. Families/women are still a long way off *not* being stuffed around by workplaces. :\

    • Barbara Good says:

      Certainly not much walking the walk, even in predominantly female industries. And you’re right on the money in the not seeing how supporting mothers and making workplaces more flexible is beneficial to all. Even the productivity commission agrees with that.

  2. lizsdream says:

    This guilt-trip you’re having about working and placing your kids in childcare is very much culture based. Here in Denmark, most toddlers are in childcare full-time. As an Aussie, I sometimes feel guilty about our kids being away from home for so many hours. Danes don’t understand my guilt as they view my full-time study as being important, not just for me but as a contribution to society. Occasionally, I try to pick them up early from kinder/daycare. However, this tends to be stressful as I tend to rush around to get everything done before picking them up, only to discover at they are having a ball with their playmates! I think it could be a great opportunity for Mr. Good to spend more time with the girls and it seems like it is not only the mums but dads who should work for a change ‘Down Under’. Good stuff!

    • Barbara Good says:

      That is really interesting Liz, what age are kids in care from? I still think of Baby Good as well a baby, not a toddler. I think its so great that your study is so highly valued! I tried once to pick Miss Three up early and had the same problem, raced around all day and then she didn’t want to leave anyway.

      I think sometime with all this technology we use to do our work and the internet etc, working from home some of the week should be a breeze to organise. But apparently it’s not that simple.

      • lizsdream says:

        Most bubs usually start daycare around 9-12 months. Amanda was 10 months when she started and Patrick was 7 months, which on reflection was pretty early. It is not only attitudes that are different here, childcare is both available and affordable. Let me know when you’ve mastered the work from home/ look after your kids mix. I usually find it impossible to do both at once.

  3. Liz says:

    I know I’m going to sound a bit thick but I kind of don’t quite get what you are really ranting about. I understand the guilt thing, I understand the feeling that you aren’t quite ready to give up those couple of days with Baby Good quite yet. But I guess I don’t quite understand what sort of change you are wanting to see. The way I see it is that there is always going to be some sort of trade-off. You could work full-time, but then you’d miss the kids, You could work part-time, and have the dilemmas you discuss above, or you could stay at home, but then miss the satisfaction you get from work. I think that men have pretty much the same choices, its just that in most cases they exercise them differently. For me the right decision is always going to be the one I’m personally most comfortable with and that will make me happiest (my happiness is also contingent on the happiness of my children and to a lesser degree some sort of financial security), both now and in the future. I

    • Barbara Good says:

      Not thick, but perhaps seeing things slightly differently to me. What I want to see change is for work places to become more flexible and creative in how they operate and what they expect of their employees. We wouldn’t have to worry about child care for Baby Good for another year if there was more flexibility in work places, for men and women so that the care could be divided between us. I’m not sure men do have the same choices actually. There are many work places who wouldn’t be accommodating of a man wanting to reduce his hours to part time or to try some working from home hours or days. Also the fact that men on the whole are paid more than women (even for the exact same job when individual contracts are in place, but that’s a whole other rant) mean that they often don’t get the option of taking on some of the child care because it isn’t financially viable. I think if you are in a position where either parent can make these ‘choices’ then you are lucky and probably in the minority.

      I also think that there is a lack of understanding about the value of making returning to work flexible and do-able for women, that in the long run this is both socially and economically beneficial for everyone. Instead workplaces often look at the short term and what is best for them, or give the least possible incentive to get a woman back to work but not necessarily on her terms – ie not giving her the number of days or hours she feels able or ready to take on. Granted this is just my experience, but having read a fair bit about this sort of thing lately and considering the overall position many professional women find themselves in (that is lower in the hierarchy, deskilled from long periods either out of the work force or part-time and therefore overlooked for many opportunities, and with far less superannuation at the end of their working careers) I would say there is a long way to go before we strike an appropriate balance between work and home for many women and certainly before women are on an equal footing as men. And the situation for minimum wage earning women is even worse.

      The very fact that in my profession only women have access to paid leave after having a baby (that is separate from the new government paid parental leave that is open to fathers) just illustrates how women are in some ways forced to take on the stay at home caring role regardless of whether their male partners would be better suited to it (or for that matter their same sex partner who would equally not have access). I am much more career minded than my husband, but it was me who has taken three years away from that career. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children and I have valued the time I get to spend with them, but equally I would love to go back to work properly knowing that they were being taken care of by Mr Good for a little while at least. That is not an option. I also hate the fact that I feel guilty about going to work because I am their mother, but the same burden doesn’t seem to fall on Mr Good.

      Okay, so I think this rant is longer than my initial one, which was obviously not very eloquently written. I was a bit rambly and all over the place.

      • Liz says:

        Now that is a proper rant! Really enjoyed the passion. Hope you didn’t think I was having a go at you with my earlier comment. I do agree that there are inequities but I also think there is something not quite right with how this debate is often framed and I’m having trouble with articulating it. My issue with this whole debate is around the how it invariably focusses on professional women and how disadvantaged they are by ‘having’ to look after the kids. Now I don’t mean you in this neccessarily, but what seems to be missing in this debate is the actual value of childcare (whoever carries it out). Childcare workers are atrociously paid, periods men and women have looking after young children are hugely devalued – this period is generally viewed as time away from “career” rather than time spent making a contribution to the future of society, ie our children. I absolutely agree with you that there definitely should be more opportunities for both men and women to work part-time, have flexible hours etc, and there should be far more support for single mothers – both those that chose to reenter the workforce and those that don’t. Where I guess I differ is the importance I attach to the careers of professional men and women who chose to take time off to spend with their children (not so much in the first few months because I really don’t think 3 – 6 months off work is going to do irreparable damage to someones career). I guess I just don’t attach an importance to ‘having it all’, I do think that sometimes a choice – is exactly that, a choice. Having said that I do think the lack of people who have chosen family over career, in positions of power – particularly those with power over policy in these areas does have the tendency to distort the issue. If social policy is made mainly by career focussed individuals then that policy is probably(and perhaps I am being unfair here) going to emphasise the path they chose rather than other options and I do find that concerning.

        On a personal level I do feel lucky that I got to make an active choice to stay at home. I have a far greater earning potential than my partner and it would make much more sense for me to work but only from a financial perspective. Prior to the birth of Mr 2 we did it the other way round – he was a stay at home dad and I worked, part-time at first and then full-time for a period. Yes I do feel lucky that we have both had the opportunity to experience looking after the kids, and yes we do suffer a fair bit of financial pain for that decision but hopefully its only temporary. Also I do kind of see financial pain as a relative thing – not being able to buy new clothes for a couple of years is just not the same as not being able to afford food or housing and if it was the later we were giving up then I would probably see things very differently.

        As for the super differential – I do think that is a huge issue and for me I would like to see a system whereby the government made super contributions for all carers whether they be caring for kids, the aged etc etc for the entire period they are carers.

  4. Liz says:

    Sorry if i’m being unneccessarily argumentative (I suspect I am), I haven’t seen my brothers for awhile and usually I get my arguing fix with them…. I have the tendency to play devils advocate a bit too often.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Please Liz, don’t apologise, there;s nothing I like better than a good argument, any of my family will attest to that – and I too have a tendency to stir the pot for arguments sake alone!

      I’ve been thinking about your last comments out on my run this afternoon, I agree with so much of what you have said. Firstly my original rant was a bit all over the place, making it unclear what I was getting at – I don’t think I even knew what I was meaning in some of it. Also it most certainly is the rant of a white, middle-class woman with really not much of consequence to complain about in comparison to many others. I am as guilty as the next person of not being about to see past the end of my nose (as Mary Poppins would say) sometimes. Then there is the pay rates of those we entrust to the most vulnerable in society – child care workers and kinda teachers, age care workers, disability support workers etc – which highlights just how under-valued these people and those they care for really are. And the same could be said about a plethora of other jobs. As for single mothers (and I assume fathers in some cases), I can’t begin to imagine how they cope. So many times over the last three years I have pondered that question, when the hours of crying or the endless whining as beaten me down to the point of breaking I think how would I do it on my own. My hat is off to single mothers, whether working or at home.

      On a personal level for me, I do have a stupidly determined mindset of being able to have it all. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I want the career (though some would say a public school teacher isn’t exactly a high-flying career), I want the family time, the house etc. I was led to believe growing up it was possible and I’m yet to accept that perhaps it’s not, or at least not at the moment or without significant compromise. The other reason and the more pressing one, for me to return to some sort of paid work is purely financial – a mortgage that is just slightly beyond our means on one income, so I guess it is about the roof over our head. It’s not about buying new clothes (and if you saw my wardrobe you’d know that wasn’t a high priority for me), but there are other ‘luxuries’ we’d like to be able to afford – some travel, a new-to-us car, a Pilates class etc. I love that your partner was able to take some time as a stay at home dad (perhaps one day we will find a way to do this at least for a short time), I bet he and your kids got a great deal from that time, as I’m sure they are getting with you being at home with them now.

      Okay, I suspect it is high time I moved on and stopped ear-bashing my readers with this one. Something far more mindless and trivial next time I promise. But thanks for the ‘discussion’, it’s been fun – nice to stretch the grey matter a bit more than usual.

      • Liz says:

        Seemingly not content to not have the last word (a very sad endictment indeed) I would like to say that I think that a public school teacher is one of the most valuable careers there is. There are a great many people in this world (myself included) that have careers (highflying or otherwise) in jobs or work for companies that are intrinsically pretty pointless or worse, you aint one of them.

  5. Wendy says:

    Great post. An area every family struggles with.

    Until it is an accepted norm that fathers need flexible hours then there will never be equality. Even the most egalitarian relationships come a cropper post kids.

    Enjoy going back to work. I loved it when my kids were young. It didn’t start to get really hard until the older one reached school. That’s when I took another round of ‘maternity’ leave.

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