Childcare for older children
Lots of parents assume that the preschool years are the worst, childcare-wise. Get through those early years, runs our thinking, get them into school for a large chunk of each weekday and the rest is plain sailing. Er, not quite. Sorry. You still need to cover that pesky gap between when they finish school and you finish work. And holidays. And inset days. And... well, you get the picture.
Even when your children are at secondary school, you'll find there are issues - plenty of them - about combining being a parent with being an employee.
"My kids are older - 11 and 7 - and I really think that they need you (or dad) more as they get older. When they're little, almost any loving carer will do. It's things like homework, and being around for news about friends. My oldest goes to secondary school in September and I think that's going to be even harder - I don't think it's very nice for him to come home to an empty house in the winter." wohmum
As your children get older, your life as a working parent changes - and it's important to remember that, and to be flexible about how you and your partner (if you have one) manage your working lives.
You might, for example, want to switch from part-time to full-time working, or at least to extend your working hours. Or, you might want to move to full-time working while your partner moves to part-time work.
Another possibility might be to up a gear to a more demanding working role, because you've got used to combining parenting with childrearing, and feel more confident about what you can do.
Conversely, some mums decide they want to work less as their children get older. This isn't a majority choice - for many parents, older children mean bigger drains on family finances and so this isn't an option. But it can work in some families.
Once all your children are at school, other working options can open up. For example, working at home might be easier than it used to be.
So the crucial thing is: don't regard your work pattern as set in stone. Be aware that there are other possibilities and that even if your working arrangement seems ideal now, a different pattern might suit you better in future, when your children are at a different age or stage.
"For me personally, the key to work fitting in with my life is a short commute and some flexibility in hours. It makes such a huge difference." suzikettles
When your children are little, childcare is relatively straightforward if you're working - they need a full-time carer, be it with a nanny, a childminder, a relative or at nursery.
Older kids still need to be collected from school, taken to after-school clubs, helped with their homework, fed their tea and looked after in the school holidays - and it can all be trickier to organise than you'd think.
Most parents use a hotch-potch of care arrangements to get through the school years. For example, you might think about
- Holiday childcare centres and clubs
- Breakfast and after-school clubs
- Childcare swaps with other working mothers in the school holidays
- Recruiting a network of university students and other helpers to provide back-up
- An au pair, so you have live-in help
But one big advantage is that as your children get older, childcare costs finally start to shrink.
"I found it much easier once mine were at school - only the after-school club to pay for during term time, rather than the full-time childminder. I worked part-time (three days) and shared all-day playdates with other part-time mums during the holidays." localmum
Combining paid work and motherhood for many years is a demanding way to live. Your children need and want you; your employer needs and wants you; sometimes, they need and want you at the same time. Added to this, you may have ageing parents with complex needs. It's wearing being so in demand.
Unsurprisingly, your own needs and wants can end up being overlooked in this soup of needs and requirements. But resist this self-abnegation, because if we never focus on our own needs, we stop being able to function for anyone else, be it children, employer or partner.
Making time now and then to have a cuppa and a phone call with a mate, or a vent chat on Mumsnet Talk, is essential for your sanity - everyone who depends on you will benefit. Yes. They will.