Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The curse of childcare

Back in my pre-children days when I had a career, I used to think that work was a hassle. Now I realise I was spoilt, at least then I didn't have to pay for the privilege of just being there, never mind choosing just what sort of childcare was likely to (a) do my children the least amount of long term psychological damage (b) cost marginally less than I earn and (c) keep them alive and amused for the inside of a working day. 

It's not as if there's no choice open to us working (or attempting to work) mums. In fact there are a plethora of options from cajoling the grandparents to taking out a second mortgage to pay for a nanny, through childminders, pre-schools, nurseries and au pairs. 

Over the five and a bit years since I had son number one I have used most of these methods with varying success. 

The aged grandp's have the benefit of being free, which is always welcome, but the disadvantage of having lives of their own, which is most unwelcome. Gone are the days when grandmas' most pressing task of the day was to choose whether to bake a Victoria or chocolate sponge. Thanks to emancipation they are no longer sitting peacefully knitting in a rocking chair just waiting for the moment when you decide you've had enough of playing peek-a-boo with the sprog and want to get back to the office for a real conversation and pay cheque. 

No they are working, going on holidays, socialising - in short doing all the things you'd like to do while they look after your children - and booking a day of childcare can be as complex and fraught as arranging a presidential visit. 

My own sets of grandparents are actually very good, but even they are starting to baulk at the prospect of caring for four children, and speaking as one who does it every day, I can't say I blame them. 

So that brings us to nannies. I had a nanny. I loved her, she was like a mother to my children, only way, way better. She played with them, cooked with and for them, took them out, gave them baths, bought them presents - in short she did all the things I worked so hard to avoid doing. We all cried when she left to have her own baby, the selfish so and so. 

Now we have four children the danger money they demand means a professional nanny is no longer financially viable. 

Then on to nurseries. When Jacob was tiny and I was a nervous and conscientious first time mummy, I looked at LOTS of nurseries, from the chi chi creches that demanded the equivalent of the national debt in return for a few hours of a 19-year-old Latvian squidging Playdough with your beloved to industrial premises that housed as many children as was humanly possible while their poor mothers toiled away. As the serried ranks of grubby toddlers laid out to sleep on yoga mats on the floor in the latter reminded me of  a scene from a Ceausceau-era Romanian orphanage, I opted, terrified, for the former. 

Jacob and I loved the posh nursery. He because his best girlfriend went their too, me because I could almost call myself a yummy mummy by association; I have never seen so many gleaming 4x4s driven by equally gleaming women as a pick up or drop off time. Sadly we fast realised that we couldn't keep up with the Joneses or the fees and as soon as he hit three we moved him to a free state nursery. 

After the peace and calm of his private nursery, where class sizes were kept small by limiting the number of people who could afford to send their children there to the bare minimum, his state nursery was like visiting hour at the asylum. Everywhere your eye landed their were crazed maniacs chasing around, but we soon came to understand this is just what a room full of 56 children under 5 looks like. 

As your child can only begin its career as a benefits scrounger with a free state nursery place at three, you can opt for a private pre-school to take him off your hands at two. But this only useful if you have a very understanding boss who will let you work until 1pm and no later every day. Fine for ladies who lunch (early), but not ideal if you actually need to earn enough to cover the fees. 

The final options of childminder and au pairs remain a closed book so far. But give it time, with four small children to get off my hands over the next few years I am hoping to have tried out the full house of childcare options before I'm finished. It's either that or leave them to the tender mercies of the least qualified person of all - their mother. 


  1. We had an au pair for a while and although I was initially reluctant (someone else in the house I would have to cook for and speak to) she turned out to be a Godsend. We cried when she left too. Au pairs much cheaper than nannies too, so a possibility for you?? Although maybe with 4 children you might need 2 au pairs!!

  2. Or maybe even 4 on some days! We are thinking about it, but have the same reservations as you, I don't want to end up looking after five children....

  3. I am really enjoying reading your blog. Although I do not have 4 children, I have 2, I can really empathise with you. Please keep the blog going, I eagerly await the next installment! Thanks.

  4. Nothing is perfect, is it? I think childminders can be good, but you have to find the right one. We had one for a while, but she was really narky and critical of us. And when she was off sick or on holiday, so were you, which is not an issue with nurseries.

  5. As a mother of 2 boys, I'm loving your blog. Although I joke about not having a third child on the basis that it might be another boy, the reality is I LOVE boys. They are great. I'd be terrified to have a girl. She might want to sit down. And talk to me. Or something like that.

    Childcare. It's a nightmare, and I don't envy you your dilemmas. Hope you find a good solution that doesn't cost the earth.

    BTW, I came across a brilliantly named blog called mothersofbrothers - I have no idea if the blog is any good but I just loved the name.

  6. B in B - thanks for your comments, I am glad you are enjoying it. And I know just what you mean about boys. I hope you read the older post ( about them and just how much I love them too!

  7. I'm told (by two friends with lots of experience) that with au pairs you reckon on 2 good 1 bad. So your chances are 33% each time.

    We need to go back to the Victorian era, when you could expect a full childcare staff: chief nanny, junior nanny, nursery maid, cook etc. Trouble is, they brought in the second half of the 20th century and the minimum wage, and now there's no chance...