Families and childcare


Young child with carerGenerally, parent plus work equals childcare. Some parents divvy it up between themselves, but for many parents, even those working at home, it's an inescapable equation.

So we've gleaned Mumsnetters' advice on nurseries, childminders, nannies, and how to choose between them, plus childcare for older children and childcare by a family member.

There are lots of questions to be answered once work looms on to your mental horizon. When are you going back? On what terms? Are you going back at all? Should you change your hours?

"Many women (even most according to some surveys) would like to do a bit of both (work and spending time with children) while the children are small without it being financially pointless or crippling their later career prospects." LadyG

A lot of us embark on motherhood with a vague plan along the lines of: stop work for three or six or nine or 12 months, then find nursery/childminder/nanny/granny to look after our baby while we will return to our old job full of renewed vigour and vim.

But as the end of maternity leave approaches, the reality of handing over your baby into someone else's care can be anxiety-inducing. Not to mention expensive. 

And however much you want or need to work, it's hard to escape those qualms that what you're doing is not best for your baby, and worries about separation anxiety.

"I am off to cry some more tears into the bucket of guilt that is labelled Motherhood." Ghosty

Returning to work after having a baby is not just a matter of sorting out good childcare: your 'new' life of work-plus-baby is likely to require a level of planning unknown to you in your child-free state (or in your muddling-along-at-home-with-a-baby state).

You'll have to think about back-up childcare if your baby is sick and cannot go to nursery (or if his/her childminder or nanny falls ill) and how to cope if you run late at work or transport lets you down.

"Work out plan B (and C and D) if your carefully balanced child-care arrangements fail for any reason. A mate you can swap favours with? A creche near your office? Being able to work from home? Baby might not be happy all day with someone strange but it's reassuring to know that if you wanted to you could leave them somewhere safe for two hours while you did that one thing you really really had to do that day, which time obviously clashes with your partner's similar emergency." frisdayschild

You also have to figure out how to get you and your baby out of the house of a morning in a reasonably hygienic and presentable condition.

But, rest assured, you will manage. Look around your commuter train or bus and reflect that each of your fellow passengers has been conveyed from the precarious condition of infancy to fully-fledged, newspaper-reading adulthood by parents who worked or didn't work or worked some of the time and used all manner of childcare.

It's sod's law that just as you've girded your back-to-work loins, some study will hit the headlines comparing the childcare you've chosen unfavourably with another. So bear in mind:

  • Studies are just that, studies. Some are very small and actually show very insignificant differences in outcome, or arguably fail to have adequate control groups.
  • The results are often hugely exaggerated to make a news story. A news story which, funnily enough, often contains a dig at working mothers. There's not much mileage in a headline which says "Study shows marginal and temporary variation in outcomes between children in different forms of childcare."

Basic principles emerge from Mumsnetters' experiences of choosing childcare:

  • The quality of the care you choose is more important than the form it takes - a good childminder, a good nursery, a good nanny, a competent grandparent will all do a fine job.
  • You must do what suits your family. There is no one solution which is best for every family.
  • Childcare belongs to both parents and you must divide it in a way which best suits you all.
  • Some people, male or female want to work, and some need to.
  • There probably was no golden age when all children were cared for exclusively by their mothers who were able to stimulate them non-stop while baking scones. 

Last updated: 01-Feb-2012 at 10:35 AM