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?
ARE YOU JUGGLING AFTER-SCHOOL CARE WITH A JOB? HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE INSANITY?