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.