During my time as a stay at home Mum, the theoretical idea of returning to work has been a constant conversation in my mind. If I were to go for it, what would I do about the kids? How would they cope? Who would take care of them? How much would it cost? The questions of course were never truly answered because it’s very difficult to conclude anything until you actually get a job. It’s a chicken and egg situation which didn’t really need an answer. Until now.
Having landed a part time job earlier this month it was time to put the wheels in motion of working out how exactly I could make this work for our family; do my homework, pray for a little bit of luck and take a leap of faith (a phrase that’s somewhat daunting when it comes to leaving your kids in the care of a stranger, granted).
Referencing a 1970’s movie about a dying mother finding homes for her ten children may seem a dramatic comparison, but it’s going to be a huge change for all of us, not being there for every waking moment together. I realise it’s unrealistic to expect a childcare provider to love my girls (!) but wouldn’t the dream be to place them in a safe, caring environment where they feel happy and fulfilled, as they have been at home? Most of the time anyway 😉
30 hours childcare
I have spoken before about how 30 hours childcare scheme was not enough to get me back to work and how I just couldn’t see the logic. But, this is the point I eat my words and realise a different set of circumstances changes everything and makes me eat humble pie.
The mouse is four and a half, and narrowly missed school last year unlike most of her pals. She is happy and settled doing 15 hours at a nursery which offers 30 hours (all or nothing, across five days and one or the other, no mixy matchy).
The prospect of being without her on my days off was initially riddled with guilt, but I’ll hold my hands up and say that the idea of a couple of days to get the house done, some exercise in and practice some self care in the form of me time will probably do me the world of good once I’m juggling work and home life. And there was no middle ground available remember…all or nothing. It also helped me to remember there is just one term left until she leaves nursery for good, and hits full days at school.
Application done, 30 hours begins at the start of the next term. Thank God I’m registered as self employed or I wouldn’t have been able to do my application prior to starting my new job, and as such would have missed out on the scheme.
Above all, she LOVES her nursery. She is happy and settled there, next door to her sister, and by increasing her to 30 hours they will be dropped off and collected together. In my heart of hearts I also feel like she’s ready for more, and that she’ll possibly gain more from more time in a structured environment than she would treading water at home with me every afternoon whilst we wait for her time to come starting big school. We can still bake at weekends…
Wrap around care
Breakfast and after school clubs
Here is the part where I would love to tell you I signed up the girls for an extra hour before and after school for at a cheap as chips rate, but alas the girls school does not have that facility.
A close by nursery offers a pick up and drop off walking bus but I didn’t feel that option was right for me personally, probably cemented by the fact the Mouse went to that nursery briefly and just never settled, so we pulled her out and never looked back.
I hope that one day the school may rethink it’s strategy with regards to before and after school care as it would be a huge advantage to working parents, but I get that it may not be their priority right now, or have the facilities to set it up. One day (pleeease).
The obvious alternative is to scope out a childminder to whom we can drop the kids to in the morning and collect from after work. Having used a childminder before when I returned after work with Tigs, I understand fully the pro’s and cons, and know the importance of the childminder being right for you.
In my experience, you have to trust your gut instinct, and in our case we (I) have had my eye on my dream childminder a while. As soon as I knew there was potential of a job I got in touch with her and told her I was interested, started a conversation and became familiar with her. As it goes, I’ve known her for a couple of years on the school run and have observed first hand her outstanding level of care provided to children in her care. I know parents who have used her for years who cannot speak highly enough of how much they thought of her. She looks after one of the mouses friends, and is a familiar face to the girls already, having seen her most days for years now.
As fate would have it, she was available on the required days, flexible with regards to term holiday cover, completely professional, qualified, local and above all, lovely.
I have to admit I was a bit taken aback at the cost of wrap around care. I had wrongly assumed once your kids were in school, your childcare costs would drop off a cliff but that myth was quickly dispelled.
Having had time to process the costs, do some market research and think it through, what I concluded is that whilst our chosen childcare provider may be slightly above the market average, I value her experience, profession and am willing to pay her rates for our children to be in her care.
I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who takes care of other peoples children for a living, and I fully appreciate that by committing to collecting our kids from school, that restricts her availability to care for more children all day. It makes business sense that the fees will therefore reflect this.
I always said if this particular childminder could be guaranteed, I would go back to work tomorrow, and that remains the case. I don’t want to shop around for a cheaper alternative, I’m not buying a kettle, this is my girls’ childhood. No hesitation, she is the one.
Whilst my role was advertised full time, I have secured a part time contract, three days per week.
Despite having been advised by a recruitment specialist to keep any part time working requests under your hat during the interview process, I whole heartedly disagreed with this approach.
I personally wanted to act with integrity and disclose fully my position to any potential employer, in a bid to prevent any wasting time and to earn their respect and trust which I believe is integral in any working relationship. In my case, it paid off and I’m so glad I placed all my cards on the table from the very first conversation. Flexible working is no longer a subject to shy away from, to mutter under your breath or to hide in the shadows; thankfully this landscape is changing and it’s about time.
In addition to this, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are now two working parents in this equation. Dad Muddling Through investigated his work arrangements and had provisional agreement of a set day working from home each week. We initially believed he could do the school run and save us a day a week childcare fees with a little bit of jiggling around and possibly having to get a second car.
As the dust settled on this idea we reconsidered, seeing as another car could cost more than the extra day childcare, and that he is actually supposed to be working between the hours of 9 to 5. So who is watching the kids / separating fights / making sure they haven’t painted the walls pink?
In the end, we agreed the safest and best place for them is with the childminder that day, with the back up that he may be able to collect them early on those days after they’ve been fed a proper dinner and had safe and supervised play, while he gets his calls done child-entering-in-the-background free.
Given that in the end I didn’t pursue a career in the education sector, I will be at work across the school holidays, give or take the annual leave entitlement which will be at the discretion and approval of my line manager.
The (amazing) childminder was happy to set-up a term time only contract and be available as a backup should we need her. This is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel as if I thought term time care was expensive, then holiday childcare for two kids is not for the faint hearted!
This is where we are going to have to call in every family favour, beg steal and borrow, do kid swap days and make it work. Plenty of people make it work and so will we. With 2/3 sets of grandparents retired and one working in a school, plus with grown up sisters around and that back up option of the odd day with the childminder, we should be able to navigate the choppy waters of the six week summer holidays.
It’s amazing how you can put something off for so long, believing it’s just going to be too hard. Yet, when push comes to shove all the cliche’s people said were true. ‘Get the job first, worry about childcare later’. ‘It will all fall into place’. ‘You’ll just work something out’.
One friend made a comment which really stuck with me and helped me get my head around this new situation. ‘Nothing is forever’ she said. Just because this is what we are setting up with regards to childcare now, it won’t always be this way. After school activities, new options opening up, change in family circumstances, and of course time.
After all, our seven year old will be starting secondary school in four years, just over of half her life again, which feels like it has passed in a blink of an eye. Now that is a thought which really made me see the bigger picture (and feel a bit like having a little blub).
We really do seem to have worked it out, relatively pain free and with the best possible outcome. Knowing that is making returning to work so much easier. In fact, I’m actually really excited about it; and better still, so are the kids.