The childcare conundrum
So clearly I watched too many episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians before becoming a mum. Seeing these ridiculously rich reality TV stars pop out one baby after the other, and still be highly groomed and ‘out out’, created the impression that with the right help, you could have a baby, a career, and your former life.
Armed with an arsenal of nannies, the Kardashian sisters – like many of these celebrities that litter our social media feeds – seem to portray a parallel universe where having a baby isn’t a life changing experience.
But rest assured, this article isn’t about a reality TV family. It’s to illustrate a naive assumption I made before having a baby. I thought that, if you can afford childcare whether it’s in the form of nannies, a childminder, or nursery, you’re on easy street.
But in reality, navigating the perfectly imperfect world of childcare is very different, and handing over your baby to a relative stranger is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things a mother has to do.
The new world of childcare
Back in the day, childcare wasn’t really an issue. My mum, like most Asian women of that generation, didn’t go to work. Also, I grew up in a small town where many of my friends’ mums worked jobs with reduced hours to accommodate the school run. People lived near their parents and grandparents, so there was always help at hand.
Fast forward to 2019, and the world is a different place. I live in London, away from both mine and hubby’s family. The melting-pot metropolis of the big smoke attracts many like me – ambitious, outgoing and with a taste for bustling, city life.
And yes, I enjoyed all the capital had to offer. My business flourished. I grew my blog. I ate my way through the city and ticked off most of the sites, theatres and more.
It was all well and good when it was just me and hubby. But then we became three, and suddenly all those things we enjoyed like poor versions of the Kardashians, were impossible to do. Without childcare that is.
Work while the baby sleeps – LOL
So before Hannah was born, I thought I’d continue my freelance work while she slept (I know, lol) and use the help of a nanny part-time if necessary. And then I had my baby. And of course not only did I realise that she barely napped, she barely slept at night either.
This was a bit of shock, as I’d set up my consultancy on the basis that when I have children, I would be able to work flexibly around them rather that having to go back to work after a year.
So with crap naps and sleepless nights, I looked into getting a nanny. But this iffy new world was bewildering. It was all cash in hand, agreements by text and short interviews where I didn’t really know what to ask. Of course there are nanny agencies, which somewhat formalise the arrangement, but with thousands of pounds in fees, they’re the reserve of the super-rich. The rest of us look on local Facebook parent groups, use childcare websites and take recommendations.
But going down this route, without fixed contracts in place detailing specific roles and responsibilities, opened a huge can of worms.
No Mary Poppins
One nanny expected payment even when her services weren’t required, something that we hadn’t agreed initially. And without a notice period in place, I’ve had nannies take on other jobs without warning or calling in sick at the last minute.
The other thing I personally found tricky was having a nanny in my house while I was working. Initially I assumed that I could have the perfect balance of doing my work but having Hannah close by (yes, I have attachment issues). But in reality, when someone else is watching your kid when you’re at home, it’s hard to turn a blind eye and totally leave them to it.
So a nanny option has its downsides. Other childcare solutions I explored didn’t offer a better solution either.
Mind the childminder
Some friends suggested childminders, where you leave your baby at their house and they look after a few children at a time. It works great for some families, but as I go to several playgroups a week, I’ve seen my fair share of childminders in action. Quite often they’re saddled with lots of children running riot while the childminder is catching up with her fellow peers. This isn’t such an issue for older children, but it always a bit disconcerting when you see wee one’s by themselves with a full nappy that has gone unchecked for a little too long.
And this isn’t to bash childminders, as I’m sure many are fantastic. And I don’t blame them for using their work as an opportunity to hand out with their childminder mates. After all, we all indulge in water cooler chats, and gossip over extra-long tea breaks at the office. However, in a corporate environment, the worst case is you’re slow to respond to an email, or you miss a deadline. When the job is looking after a baby, the consequences of being distracted can be slightly worse.
Then I looked into nurseries. This is my preferred option for when Hannah’s a little older. They get to play with other children, the nurseries are ofsted-inspected and they have constant stimulation. The downside? Back-to-back illness and infections.
Also, in nursery, children are often grabbing each other’s milk and snacks. This of course is a perfectly normal part of development and learning to share. But as as Hannah has eczema and a milk allergy, having another toddler’s milk results in itchy hives. And while nurseries are trained to deal with this, it’s not something I’comfortable exposing her to while she’s still so little.
But of course, I know I can’t have my cake and eat it. Doing work requires childcare. As Hannah gets older, and she can communicate and hopefully her allergy and eczema has settled, I’ll feel more comfortable with putting Hannah in a nursery.
And there’s the rub. She can’t talk yet. If she hurts herself she can’t tell me. If a bigger kid hits her she can’t tell me. If her nursery key worker isn’t doing her job she can’t tell me. So unlike any other job in the world, where the line manager can provide feedback, a baby can’t verbally appraise their level of care.
For me, like many mothers, that’s what makes finding suitable childcare a real conundrum.
A perfect solution would be more co-working spaces with on-site childcare. But sadly, despite London being such a progressive, entrepreneurial city, there are only a handful of such workspaces dotted around the capital.
Some may say there’s not enough demand. However I would argue differently. Even in my little community of mum friends, quite a few have chosen to take career breaks, freelance or even set up an entirely different business to work around their babies.
However, this silent number goes undocumented. A new mum’s work requirements aren’t addressed in the meeting with the health visitor. And there’s no careers advisor for the mum who doesn’t know what to do after baby has arrived. The options are black and white. Go to work. Or don’t. Use the childcare options available. Or don’t. And for those that sit within the grey. Their options are limited.
Some decide to go back to work and to make do with the nannies and nurseries, knowing it’s only for a few short years. While other take a break, not knowing when – or if – they’ll be able to return to work. For the latter, the longer the break, the harder it becomes. In many cases, it’s impossible for them to enter the workforce again. And that perhaps, is the saddest thing of all. Not just for women and mums, but society as a whole.
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About the Author
I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.