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Back to the City – returning to work & childcare conundrums

Back to the City
God it feels shitty
To be sitting on this train
Waiting again;
For signal failure,
Or organ,
Whichever comes first.
As I sit on this train
I’m not sure what’s worse?
Organ of course
Because I have my boys
Sitting with another lady
Playing with their toys
The world’s a bit mad
And I’m part of that too
I tell myself over:
I do it for you.

Returning to work

I wrote this poem in the summer, when Arthur was still a tiny baby and the thought of returning to work made me shudder. Fast forward to the new year and my little baby Artie turns one next month and I will be going back to work and actually, I’m feeling ok about it. I’m almost – gasp! – feeling positive.

In part it’s because I’ve done this before. I know the first couple of days have quite the novelty factor (“Hot coffee!”, “Non-baby related adult conversation!”, “A single occupancy loo cubicle!”, “A LUNCH BREAK!!”, that sort of thing).

I know this quickly wears off and the first month is brutal as every part of you aches to be with your child, especially when they’re sick (and they will definitely get sick as soon as you go back to work and you’ll have to juggle managing that with your work return).

And then I know that each month slowly gets better as you all adjust and as with everything in life, there are good days and there are bad days. There can be moments when you feel like you’re conquering the world mumboss-style and moments where you feel like the most wretched human on the planet because you can’t be with your gunky snot-ridden child (often these occur concurrently).

I don’t have any strongly held views on the stay-at-home versus working-mum debate. I think it is for each family to decide what works best for them. I do believe however, that this is almost always informed by childcare considerations and the staggeringly overwhelmingly expensive and logistically challenging issues it throws up. So what I do have, when it comes to childcare, is a lot of questions.

Childcare conundrums

If anyone knows the answers to any of these, please do let me know!

  • Why is childcare so expensive? I’m not looking for over-arching principles here. I would like to know a literal breakdown of how the cost adds up in the average nursery’s business plan. I assume they all run on a similar model. I’m not witch-hunting nurseries here. I had a quick look into how you would go about setting one up and all the feedback I found online implied that it’s pretty hard to make decent money running one. So where does the money go and could there any areas where the Government could help reduce the cost across the board? Nursery fees are extortionate but nursery workers (who in my experience deserve a medal for the sheer grit they need to battle that number of urchins at any one time) seem to be paid very little proportionately. Is it the cost of insurance? Training? The premises complying with health & safety requirements? I would LOVE to know the answer to this one.
  • Why does free childcare in the UK start the September term after a child turns 3? My April born son will be almost 3.5 years when he becomes eligible. Which bright spark thought that this was a good idea? In many industries if you’re out of the job market for 3 years it is very difficult (basically impossible) to get back in. I’ve heard of highly qualified professional women having to take on unpaid voluntary work to get their foot back in the door after an extended period of maternity leave. Just what you need when your 3 year old has just started pre-school and you have to pay for wrap-around care.
  • Which leads me to: “wrap-around care”. Has anyone in the Government, preferably someone who is one of two working parents themselves, ever sat down and thought through the logistics of what time average people start work, how they might get to work and then thought, let’s make this system actually work to encourage more women back to work after maternity leave?
  • Is it true that other countries seem to manage it so much better? I often read articles about how much better the childcare system is in France and those shiny beacons for ruddy-cheeked happy childhoods, the Scandinavian countries. Fact or Fantasy?
  • I’m pretty sure this one is 100% accurate but will put it out there for some validation: is it true that working parents (particularly a parent which has spent a period of time with at least one child at home and has thus experienced high levels of juggling, prioritising and responding to emergency situations) are super efficient, multi-tasking superhumans? I’m pretty sure I can get more done now in half an hour than I could in 4 hours before I had two children!

I would love to know your thoughts and experiences of being a working mum and making childcare work for you and I would especially like to know if you can answer any of my questions above!

Oops, almost forgot – photo credit to my lovely husband. His office is a couple of (big) buildings down from mine. Ain’t that romantic!

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  1. First – loving your poem again! Second – I have been full time mum, full time working mum and part time working mum and I can honestly say the latter is the only one that works for me – mainly in terms of sanity. Everything I earn pays the childcare, left to right, but I am happy with that because I am a much better mum and person when I’m working so that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Thanks so much for linking up to #coolmumclub lovely x

    Talya –

    • thebrightnessofthesedays thebrightnessofthesedays

      Yes, I think that’s spot on! Thanks for hosting #coolmumclub

  2. Flic Flic

    Love the poem!! I will soon be back on the mat leave train and I am desperately looking forward to it! With one the only way i have made the act of full time working and managing baby is two fold: the most supporting and hands on husband EVER! and a FANTASTIC mother in law, who provides FREE CHILDCARE 3 days a week, and therefore makes it possible to work full time without paying those extortionate nursery fees. And yes, they are rather extortionate, even for below par nurseries i have found the fees absolutely ridiculous. Worst is when I find out i have been paying ridiculous amounts for my daughter to sleep for 4 hours at nursery!!! WTF???

    • thebrightnessofthesedays thebrightnessofthesedays

      I know, it’s so painful! You have been so BLESSED with your mother-in-law AND your lovely husband of course! Thanks for reading xx

  3. Mel Mel

    The scandavian childcare system is indeed fact. One of my best friends is Swedish. Her partner and her get 406 days paid maternity/paternity leave between them, where they get about 80% of their pay. They even get a bonus if they split it between each other 50/50. Also, when the child gets to one they can go into full time state fund nurserys (which are fantastic, not shoddy) for only about £100 a month. They open at 5am till late and also provide nighttime care (not saying I would do that but if you work nightshifts I assume this would be helpful for all types of work). His company also give him more than the state to stay at home so for her second baby they will both be home for months together.
    They do pay higher tax but that’s what I would spend my taxes on looking after our children and families so people feel secure, safe and happy.

    And that 15 hours free childcare only applying for the term after their birthday is just unfair.

    Good luck with starting back at work

    • thebrightnessofthesedays thebrightnessofthesedays

      I totally agree, it would be money well spent. Better for mums, dads & babies. Thank you xx

  4. Anna Anna

    Hey hon,
    Unlike me to respond to these things… but as it’s you 😉

    My knowledge is about 5 years out of date but yes childcare really is that expensive to run. Not the really posh private nurseries but the £175/250 yes…
    Staff, workforce development, premises (especially in london), catering, heat, light, insurance, management etc.
    Ratios require 1:3 under ones (used to be 1:2), 1:4 two year olds and 1:8 3/4 year olds. Quite often nurseries spread the cost of meeting these staff ratios across all ages – it’s cheaper to look after 3 & 4 year old than under 2s. That’s why a pre school is cheaper.
    Nursery days are long. Some nurseries operate 6-8 but most are 7-7…so one staff member can’t do a full day = even more staff doing split shifts – all with holiday insurance sickness etc.
    When it comes to filling places a nursery is rarely at full occupancy… we as working parents are of course not so convenient as to all want 7-7, 5 days a wk haha. So that means they have to work to 75/80% occupancy and are recovering costs at that amount… so they need a margin which we pay.
    Being inclusive and supporting children with additional needs shouldn’t cost the parent more but again does cost the nursery more. But nurseries should be inclusive. Again more spread costs.
    Sadly nursery staff are paid really poorly but it still costs lots to fully staff a nursery and meet legal reqs.
    Then of course most nurseries are private so they earn money for the owner – not the manager (unless they’re one and the same) but even voluntary / social enterprise nurseries still cost a lot.
    The previous government did run childcare affordability programmes as pilots- but not focused on the middle but the in work poor…
    They also introduced the 2 year old offer and looked to extend the 3 & 4 year old offer… which has been picked up by this government.

    As I remember it… the 3 & 4 year old offer didn’t begin about the working mum agenda. It was about the fact that on average a ‘poorer’ mums child would start school far behind a ‘richer’ mums equivalent and they wanted to reduce the margin through early education and play – so 15 hrs a wk was about that not about working convenience. It should also be free but most nurseries just deduct the amount they get from the goverent from a parents bill. It’s become much bigger since then of course… I also think it was that your child would start school a term after their 5th birthday so that’s why it was a term after 3rd birthday… 2 years free early education.

    Wrap around care was a great idea – the importance of which was supported by the extended schools agenda. Again labour gov initiarive – making all schools operate 8-6 and offer holiday provision. That was scrapped under this government!? No surprises there. Shame huh.

    Yeah loads of other countries do it better… where the government are committed to choice for families, and people are prepared to pay big taxes.

    Anyway I’m sure that was a yawn & about all I can remember. Over and out xxx

    • thebrightnessofthesedays thebrightnessofthesedays

      No it wasn’t, that was super informative, thank you so much! Xx

  5. Anna Anna

    Haha – I just thought… those childcare costs are about 5 yrs old too. We use a childminder – as you know x

  6. Hello, love the poem. I dabble in it myself occasionally! At the moment, I’m not working due to health reasons. But do need my 2 year old to go to nursery 2 full days a week for my sanity! My parents are old and not of great health so they contribute towards the costs to help us out. In lieu of giving their time. If I was working part time, they would do the same so we could claw some of the money back! I would make sure I’d work a Saturday too where the husband can take over so no nursery fees there. I tried working full time and while I enjoyed my independence, I did miss my son too. He also has extra medical needs so I found I had no time to attend to these and was not a wise decision to go full time! My son is also April born and agree the September term start is naff! Interesting blog, keep it up!

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