Childcare, guilt and the working parent

By Legal Eagle

After we moved to our new house, I bit the bullet and put our daughter in creche. I reasoned that she’s almost 2 years old, so she should be able to cope with it.

The first time was awful. I stayed with her for three quarters of an hour before I left. She was very nervous and clingy, and when she realised that I was going to leave her with these people, she started to cry, and gave me a look which indicated I had committed absolute betrayal, calling out “Mummy, Mummy, Mu-u-u-u-mmy!” and stretching her arms out. She wasn’t the only one crying. I am afraid I sobbed the whole way into work. The second time was much better, but then she got sick, and had a week off. We’ve had her in childcare for a little over a month now, and of that time, she’s only been there half of the time because she keeps getting sick (colds, bronchitis, ear infections). I’m lucky that my Mum lives close by and has been able to come over at the last minute. I hope that the bubba will get more resistant to disease as time goes on; if she’s still getting sick like this in a few months time, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I wouldn’t mind putting her in for a morning twice a week, but from 8am to 6pm seems like an awfully long time. The carers there are lovely, and being a social little thing, she seem to enjoy interacting with other babies and doing little activities. But she’s always so glad to see me when I pick her up, and when we get home, she has to cuddle me for at least 15 minutes straight. We have a love-fest and tell each other how much we love each other. In fact, she says “I lubboo Mummy”. It’s adorable.

When politicians talk about the problems of childcare, they generally mention availability as the key concern. Yes, that is a problem, and the waiting lists at some childcare centres are insane. I was just lucky this one recently opened up and had some vacancies. However, in such debates, it’s just assumed that mothers are champing at the bit to get their kids into childcare and get their noses back to the grindstone. I would suggest that the reality is a little more complex, at least from my point of view. I’ve noticed that the debate falls into two camps – the staunchly pro-childcare and the staunchly stay-at-home advocates. I don’t fall into either. I’m a little more ambivalent. I think if someone occupies one or the other, that’s okay, but most mothers (and fathers) are probably more like me, they just don’t want to admit it.

I like my job, and even if I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t want to stop working altogether. It’s good to have my own time, where I can do adult things, and have adult conversations. It’s also good to keep one’s brain going. But the whole time I’m at work, I miss my baby. On the way home, I’m impatient to see her. I treasure our days at home together (well, mostly…she wouldn’t have her afternoon nap and let me do marking yesterday, and she wouldn’t take her antibiotics either for some reason…grr).

Financially speaking, I have to keep working, because I have a mortgage and it has to be paid. I’m saving for all I’m worth just in case interest rates go up a substantial amount, or something else happens. That’s the problem of being an ex-banking lawyer; I can imagine the worst case scenarios all too well.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to make myself feel less guilty. I don’t want to make my parents have to look after my daughter all the time (they’ve already done enough with my sister and I – they should enjoy their freedom/retirement). For the moment, I’ll just keep going, and keep juggling all those balls in the air (mother, wife, academic, student, blogger…you name it).

P.S. Only 14 more papers to go out of 100. This post is my reward to myself for having marked 6 papers this morning. At this rate, perhaps I’ll finish today? In fact, perhaps I should stay up tonight just to get them out of the way? Hmm, tempting…


  1. Posted November 23, 2007 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Well, as someone else once wrote words to the effect of;

    All the career women get drunk on a friday night and cry in a heap on the kitchen floor about how they don’t have a family and babies, and all the wives with kids get drunk on a friday night and cry in a heap on the kitchen floor about how they don’t have a independent life of their own and a career….

    Far better to be somewhere in between I’d say!

  2. Posted November 23, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s often like that for first year reception kids for some reason. But not kindy.

    I guess there is a gap period between the two anxieties of abandonment and stranger danger.

  3. Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    My main memory of our three in early childcare was how they caught EVERY childhood ailment in the first six months. And how they’d eat their lunch, TLOML would get the recipe, cook it at home, and then they wouldn’t eat it!

  4. Posted November 27, 2007 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s a hearbreaking concept.

    The hidden factor in this debate/issue is the mortgage. Until we stopped looking for a house I couldn’t go to a 4 day week. I wonder just how much we pay for our inbuilt need to buy houses.

    I would prefer we covered most of her days, but on the other hand I think there are some life and people skills to be gained for them at a decent child care. I think we lean towards actually wanting her to go, at some point, even if we had ample cover from family.

  5. Posted November 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Aww, LE, that’s got to hurt. I’m sorry. Hope it gets easier for both you and the little one (who is sounding more and more charming by the day!).

    And as for the marking – I was always a glutton for punishment and would try to get them all done in one go. The first would have incisive comments, the last inevitably just a tick or cross!

  6. Posted November 29, 2007 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    It is difficult, LE. When our girls were the same age, we were both working, so tried both long child care and nannies. You just have to do the best you can.

    Kids are pretty robust. The key thing is love and security. There is also a plus. For a number of reasons, I don’t think that kids today have quite the same ordinary daily opportunity to meet, mix and match with others. Child care is actually a substitute for this.

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