Childcare Conundrum

Thomas has been going to nursery for exactly a year. It’s a lovely nursery, just around the corner from my work place and only ten minutes walk from home. He loves it there, running to the door excitedly and banging to be let in when we arrive. He has formed real bonds with several people who work there and is really happy and well cared for. I know just how lucky we are to have access to such good child care, and to be able to afford it.

Thomas currently attends two and a half days a week. I currently work two and a half days a week. Sounds ideal. Except… My two and a half days are formed of two days one week and three days the next. Thomas is booked in to nursery for two and a half days every week, because that is the only way you can work it with a nursery, understandably

This means two things. Firstly, there is half a day per fortnight where Thomas has a nursery place but I am not at work. And I must admit that 95% of the time he goes to nursery on these afternoons. I wonder if I should feel guilty about this. But I don’t think that I do. We have to pay whether he goes or not, and it gives me a much needed opportunity to catch up on housework and administrative tasks, plus make doctors’ appointments or get my hair cut without a toddler in tow. I know that most parents survive without having any child free time at all, which is why I feel I should be guilty, but honestly I don’t have the energy to worry about it.

The second thing is that it leaves a half day every other week where I am at work, but Thomas has no nursery place. This is a bigger problem.

Up until now, Thomas has been at home with Ian, who simultaneously looks after him and “works from home”. Which is no mean feat (and the reason I put “working from home” in quotation marks!) To be honest this is the thing that I do feel guilty about. I find it hard enough some days just to look after Thomas, never mind trying to do my paid job on top. There have been times when Ian has had specific deadlines where it has been incredibly stressful for all involved. For the last few months, things have been fairly stable, however, because Thomas got in to a routine of having his (only) nap in the middle of the morning, which gave Ian a good window to get things done.

But that is no more. Thomas will now only consider napping right around the time I rush home from work to pick him up and drop him off at nursery. Which means he doesn’t nap at all. This is bad for Ian’s morning productivity, and it’s especially bad for Thomas’s mood, and then for his night’s sleep. (That old over tiredness thing).

So now I’m in a conundrum about what to do.

The obvious answer is to put him in to nursery for the full day. The problem with that is that it means we are paying for a full day every fortnight that we don’t really need. And I’m sure that I wouldn’t put him in for the whole of that day, as then I would start to feel like a disinterested parent and I’d just plain miss him too much! And in addition, Wednesday is a pinch point at our nursery and I’m not sure they actually have the space.

Another option would be for Ian to cut down his working hours. Before Thomas was even born, our intention was for Ian to submit a flexible working request and drop to a four day week (which in principle was approved). But back then, I was going to be working three full days per week, and so it made sense. We thought it would give Ian a good opportunity to spend time with our child, and balanced out the responsibilites for both childcare and earning between us. But now, he would only have Thomas to look after one day per fortnight (assuming we stop the half day session at nursery) and the other Wednesday we would all be at home. Nice as that sounds! it would be a ridiculously expensive way of obtaining childcare given the pay cut he would take.

And me working the full three days, with Ian dropping a day, isn’t currently an option. But even if it was, I’m not sure I want to. I find myself dreading the weeks where I work three days versus those where I work two. I like my work, and wouldn’t want to give it up for a whole host of reasons, but if I were to pick between two days every week and three days every week, I’d easily pick two. I’m lucky though, to earn quite a bit more than a day’s nursery fees when I’m at work, so once again me dropping the day to avoid using childcare is an expensive way of working things. And fundamentally I’m happy with my two and a half day average work week, and the job share that enables it.

The only other option is to look for different childcare. Perhaps a childminder who can be more flexible about days, or a different nursery. (Family is not currently an option.) But to be honest, this appeals even less than any of the other options given how settled and happy Thomas is at his current nursery.

I have no idea what the point of this post is, other than me getting everything straight in my head. In reality we’ll probably continue to muddle along as we are doing now, procrastinating about making the decision because it’s easy to forget about it in the 13 days between the days where we have no childcare.

Childcare, it turns out, can be an absolute minefield even when good and affordable care is available and especially if your working pattern is not regular or identical week to week.

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