Tracy Fletcher is author of the My Working Mummy blog, her diary of a working mum aged 44 (and counting). A relative newcomer to the blogging scene, Tracy’s blog was inspired by leaving behind a senior corporate career to be, first and foremost, a mum. In this guest post, she shares her search for a better work life balance, as well as recording this special time with her family, and is keen to reach out to others facing similar experiences and challenges. In this post she writes about the dilema of placing your child in nursery if you are a stay at home parent.
Is it right to put your child in nursery while you’re a s.a.h parent?
This is exactly the moral dilemma I’ve been wrestling with for the past month. It’s now just over three months since I left my high velocity full-time role as a senior communications manager, to prioritise being a mum.
I’d returned to work full-time when my son George was just three-and-a-half months old. Eighteen months later, and despite a valiant attempt at a mixture of office-based time and flexible home working, it just wasn’t panning out.
Most importantly of all, from my perspective, it was breaking my heart every day, having to prioritise business calls and deadlines over quality mum-and-lad bonding with my son. In the medium term, I hope to achieve a better work-life balance as a freelance writer and communications specialist.
John, who writes Dadbloguk, is well-known for becoming a stay at home dad because he and his wife didn’t want their children in nursery full-time. Many people fail to appreciate that dads, as well as mums, wrestle with the same issues.
Three months of laughs, loving and ‘lay-down cuddles’
I’ve unashamedly wallowed in delicious lost time with my son since I left full-time work. As other parents facing similar juggles and sacrifices will recognise all too well, the simplest and most precious moments had no place in our crazy-busy schedule of keeping head above water.
Yet it’s those simple moments from the last three months which will warm my heart forever. One example is the lay-down cuddles George and I share every night. In the bad old days, bedtimes became a perfunctory and rushed affair. With both Daddy and I exhausted by our working days, our goal was just to have George tucked up, on time, and enjoy an hour’s peace before it all kicked off again the next day.
We would get cross and impatient if he, as he does more often than not, faffed about going to bed. Now, I’m more than happy to spend time, after his story, just laying with him, in the dark, in his little bark of a bed, helping him drift off into the land of nod, as I describe in a recent My Working Mummy blog post.
Of course, we’ve done lots of other, more exciting, stuff too. There have been days at the beach; glorious larks in sun-drenched back gardens with best friends, and visits to zoos, aquariums, stately homes and sundry soft play centres.
However, amidst all this fun and togetherness, it’s time for a small dose of reality. I’m starting to feel a little at sea, amidst the realisation that it really is virtually impossible to get anything at all done with a toddler in tow. I need to devote some focused time to my freelancing, regain a sense of me as well as me-as-Mum and, let’s face it, clean the bathroom once in every blue moon! Added to this, George is bright, boisterous and inquisitive and needs the company of his peers as well as us. So, for both our sakes, I know it’s time to love and let him go…just a little bit.
A moral dilemma of epic proportions
That might sound very decisive, but here’s a flavour of the battle between thought and feeling I’ve gone through to get to this point…
Head: I need some focused me-time to secure freelance work.
Heart: I could get up before dawn and stay up late, and do this while George is in bed.
Head: But the rest of the world is also asleep then, so that’s not really practical.
Head: George loved nursery, he needs the continued stimulation and I don’t want him to struggle to adjust when he attends pre-school at three. Heart: We’ve had lots of fun doing all sorts of stimulating things ourselves…and no-one can look after him as we do.
Head: We could do with a little behavioural help (being at nursery might teach George it’s not his role to tell peers and adults to get in the naughty corner when we don’t do what he tells us!).
Heart: We’re getting there, with increasing glimpses of terrible twos in the rear view mirror. Not only that but we love his feisty character. Some of what he comes out with is a bloody funny part of our everyday family life and we don’t want that institutionalising out of him.
Letting go for all the right reasons
Despite all this soul searching, George and I found ourselves facing the prospect of a nursery taster session, after some determined research into local childcare options. Almost predictably, his first afternoon visit didn’t go according to plan. He got up unusually early and refused to take a nap – until 10 minutes before we were due to leave the house. Hence, the picture below shows the face from the nursery door that I had in my mind’s eye as I sat in Costa with my swimming pool-sized latte, feeling a mixture of guilt and a giddy sense of freedom.
Also predictably, after five minutes of clinginess, he was fine – wading happily through the plethora of toys and oblivious when I snook out to leave him to it for three hours.
When I picked him up again, he was wide-eyed, psyched and full of fun – clearly nursery is a very palpable hit. I have to admit that I, too, felt uplifted by having just a little time to remind myself who I am, as well as being ‘George’s Mum’.
Childcare when you’re not working – an expensive luxury
So it looks like we’ll go for it, but our day a week of mutual respite will come at a price. The going rate for a day at our chosen nursery is £33. So that’ll be around £130 a month. I’m feeling physically stung by my first proper taste of the lack of early years provision and financial support for working (or in my case would-be working) parents. Because my other half is employed, as an engineer, and earns a mid-range salary, we don’t qualify for one of the younger free places that are – very slowly – coming available. Because he works for a less-than-family-friendly company, they won’t support the Childcare Voucher scheme either.
We were hopeful about the Government’s new Tax-Free Childcare initiative which will replace Childcare Vouchers, but given that’s now been postponed until 2016, due to legal wrangling with existing childcare providers, and won’t cater for families like us with one parent not currently working, it won’t help us in the short term. Therefore, as with so many things, we’re marooned when it comes to childcare help, as a mid-income working family. If we want it, we’re going to have to pay a pretty price for it, at least for the next eight months, when George will turn three and qualify for 15 free hours per week.
Are you a stay-at-home parent, and have you had a similar dilemma over childcare? What did you decide to do, what has the outcome been and what words of wisdom do you have for any other parents going through the same?