Childcare: kids ok, parents stuffed

Last week, The Australian reported on a study that found kids who go into childcare at the age of two or three are no worse off emotionally than those kept at home.

It said, among other things: “Charles Sturt University’s Linda Harrison told The Australian the analysis was based on a longitudinal study of 5000 Australian children recruited as infants in 2004. Her analysis showed that attending childcare in infancy was not related to differences in children’s outcomes.”

Bully for the kids. Because you can’t say the same for the parents. They’re far worse off emotionally. I reckon someone should do a study on that.

The Sprogs went to childcare and they’re fine. I don’t need a study to tell me it didn’t do them any harm. They had friends to play with all day, they did craft activities, they had a nice hot lunch and dessert. Hunky dory.

When you’re a two-working-parent household, childcare is an inevitable consequence. Grandparents rarely live in the same suburb or town. They’re often far older and less mobile than their predecessors, due to the rise of the older mummy. Nannies are expensive. So are childcare centres, but they’re slightly less brutal on the bank balance.

For me, the three years my kids spent in childcare were devastating. They would sob and scream and cling to my leg and have to be prised off by a childcare worker every morning. I would exit the childcare centre consumed with guilt and remorse. My children promptly forgot their distress the moment I left the room.

(I know this because I would ring to check. And the childcare workers would assure me the kids were having a lovely time.)

I, on the other hand, was completely crushed.

Then came the frantic scramble to pick them up before the centre closed. Luckily my long-daycare catered for journalists, so it was open until 7pm at night. Not ideal with a two-year-old, but at least they fed them dinner. I always tried to pick the kids up before 6.30pm. I was usually the first person to leave my office. Everyone else was still there, busy working, when I slunk out the door. And I was the boss. Eeek.

But long daycare was a breeze compared to after-school care. After-school care ends at 6pm. For every minute you run late, they charge you $5. For me, getting to after-school care by 6pm meant leaving the office at 5pm. That wasn’t the done thing in my line of work. But I had no choice. So I’d slink out the door and pray no-one noticed. Sometimes I’d leave my handbag behind and just take my wallet and keys, to put people off the scent.

One day I was running hideously late. I got caught in a traffic jam. I panicked, swerved out of my lane and clipped the car in front. I didn’t have time for a car accident. I was hyperventilating with stress. By the time I exchanged phone numbers with the other driver and skidded to a stop outside the after-school-care centre I was sobbing with panic and distress.

(I was also cringeing with embarassment when I later discovered the person I’d run into was the dad of one of Sprog 1’s kindy classmates, but that’s a whole other story that can be read by clicking here.)

Even when I wasn’t having car accidents, getting to after-school care was a nightmare. I’d take leftovers to work for Sprog 1’s dinner, heat them in the office microwave, zip them in a cooler bag and hand them to her in the backseat after pick-up, so she could eat at a half-decent hour. Then we’d whizz off on a 45-minute round trip to collect Sprog 2.

When we finally staggered in the front door, it was way too late for a bath. The kids would be hustled into their pyjamas, harassed to do their homework, half-heartedly supervised as they practised their reading.

I was shocked to discover Sprog 1 couldn’t read when she started year one. Somehow I thought it would miraculously happen despite me never having time to focus on it.

I stopped working last year and the difference it’s made to our family life is incredible. I’m more relaxed, which means the kids are more relaxed. They can do after-school activities, I help them with their homework before we’re all knackered and I don’t serve their dinner in plastic containers in the car.

I’m faintly terrified by the idea of entering childcare hell again if I get another job.

But what choice does a working mother have?


15 thoughts on “Childcare: kids ok, parents stuffed

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  1. I have 3 kids now aged 8, 6 and 3.5 – when it was just 2 kids they both did daycare 2 days a week. I HAD the worlds most flexible job, I did one day in the office (7-2) and 2 days from home, in the beginning I did one of those days over the weekend as my boys (eldest 2) were not overly fond of daycare and carried on like your kids 😦 it was a juggle though to work from home though.

    We have just had a year OS and I have found a new job. With three kids I have gone the simplest route possible. Youngest is in the kindy accross the rd from school and after school pick up is done by a nanny (she works in another local school and is after extra cash) she does 3 afternoons of 3-5.30pm she does homework and baths and I come home to no pick ups and all kids at home. I do drop off and luckily can be at work at 9.

    I try to make things so that life is not too stressfull for the family. I take my hat off to you – they sound like very stressful times, there is no way I could have handled that at all without having a heart attack. But hey as mothers we do what we can at the time…

  2. Insanity. Don’t know how on earth you survived it. Australia needs to catch up big time. A family should at the very least be able to sit down to dinner together.

  3. Thank you for making me feel better about my choices. At the time I did feel it was a cop out for me to stay at home with the kids. I hadn’t tried to do it all, I just went it will be too hard without any other family support and stayed home. Working a little part-time business from home that paid a few bills on the side. Reading this I know I couldn’t have survived it.

    I think this is the big question now, we can debate the mummy wars and argue about embracing the label feminist, but at the end of the day we have come up with a more workable model of employment and home life.

    If I was forced to go back and change what I did I would go for both parents working four days a week. Children home with parents on those two days and in childcare three.

    Financially that’s still tougher, career wise you are probably screwing up your chances of promotion but at the end of the day it’s a little easier for everyone.

    I think the only way forward is for an inclusive model that allows everyone, men, women, with children and without a more flexible working life. Just because you don’t have kids doesn’t mean you don’t want time to care for elderly parents or train/compete in triathalons or whatever!

    I even read Ita Buttrose the other day saying she had more time with her kids when they were growing up compared to today’s working mums, because it wasn’t the 24/7 contactable all the time culture that exists now.

    1. The four-day week scenario is a good one. But I’m fond of the 9.30am to 2.30pm idea too. Or workplaces that allow you to start late or finish early. That way one partner could drop the kids off and start work late. The other could start work early and finish in time for pick-up.

  4. Women (whether working or not) have to stop beating themselves up over the latest ‘stats’ or what so called ‘experts’ have to say.

    Once we can accept that we did (and are doing) the very best we could with the hands (situations) we are dealt at the time, life becomes clearer.

    We have to stop looking at all the ‘things’ that we have (possibly) done wrong and start telling ourselves “I’m doing the best I can and, will continue to do so, for what’s best for my family” Even if it IS a different way to others.

    After all, we are all different and each of us would handle the exact same situation differently…but it doesn’t mean that one way is more right than another way.

  5. This post made me feel a little better about my choice to stay home for a few years too. My career is suffering (all those years of uni…) but I personally couldn’t cope with the chaos, and my kids would be getting a lot more ‘shouty agro Mummy’ than ‘quality time Mummy’. Some people are good at juggling, mind you. Each to their own. I’ll be going back to work eventually and then my own juggling act will recommence in whatever form, depending how old the kids are. When will the government realise they should be paying us all to blog?? 😉 Thanks for being so honest in your post Alana.

  6. My 3 work days are planned to perfection! Tonight I had to leave at 5pm on the dot (to beat the Harbour Bridge traffic), collect girls from After School Care, sushi for dinner in the car and then straight to clarinet lessons. I’d love to spread my working hours out over more days so that the girls wouldn’t have to go to after school care, but it always comes back to the same problem – how do I cover their 12 weeks of school holidays with my mere 4??? All those extra days at tennis/art/soccer/dancing camp – too hard (and expensive).

  7. Thank you for reinforcing my decision not to go back to the stockbroking industry. The only women I know who have been able to juggle a successful “career” and kids have either relied on grandparents as unpaid baby sitters or have remarkably accomodating husbands. In some rare cases the women had reached a point in their careers where nannies were a viable option. I just count my blessings that we are in a financial position where I can comfortably be a SAHM.

  8. Hi Alana

    A realistic option for many families is an au pair.

    An au pair is like a live in Nanny, but she / he is a young person on cultural exchange from another country.

    An au pair only costs $150 a week + all meals and a room in the family home. They work 35 hours!

    Having an au pair means that mum / dad can either go back to work earlier / for more hours or even full time.

    You don’t have to rush to drop off the children, or pick them up, and you can get home with the house all clean and tidy, dinner cooked, and your child has been played with, or having done painting, reading, sport or whatever…

    It is a shame that more families don’t know about the cost effectiveness of having an au pair.

    We have had many au pairs and we loved it so much we started our own au pair business –

    Whether your readers use our website or not – if having an au pair interests them, they should seriously look into it…

    Good luck!

    BTW – If people are interested in having an au pair and want to know more, our contact details are on our website, or contact us at

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