image from http://www.boloji.com/women/0103.htm, please do read the excellent article there
I’ve met so many lovely, intelligent women this week. We’ve been talking about working and childcare. (This is probably because the common theme to the various groups I’ve been meeting is children rather than because it’s a particular preoccupation…)
It’s been a real eye opener.
In my working life, I am surounded by highly educated, ambitious people.
Most of them live in London. Many don’t have kids.
They pretty much reflected my real life when I was newly married and lived 20 minutes from the office and everyone I knew was terribly high powered and some were (self?) important and the office would not be able to do without them.
The other people I met then were living in a tower block with 5 children with at least one called Kayden or Precious. But I never really knew them, I just got chatting to them at the Health Visitors’ clinics as we waited to have our babies weighed.
That’s no longer real life. I mean that in the sense of, if I woke up one morning and the office wasn’t there any more, I wouldn’t be walking past the site of it each day.
Real life for me is in my hometown.
And that means that real life people are the ones I now meet.
The musings below are widescale generalisations. There’s no stats included because I’ve been chatting with new friends, not interviewing research interviewees. Becuase of the way things have worked out socially, I’ve not really met single parents so that side of things doesn’t feature. And I guess it is right to focus on those in most need.
But I wonder if it’s given me access to a group of women who don’t often get heard about and so their norms get overlooked?
The women I meet here that don’t work seem to have three or more children.
And there’s a lot with three children. I’m beginning to wonder if the logistics of three are actually slightly simpler than two, because the stats show that once you pass three, one parent is then pretty much forced to take on the role of the stay at home car driving, child-oriented parent while the other brings in the money…
So most women here work.
But I’m not meeting high powered business women – presumably I need to do that by talking to them either at their workplace or on the train to London when I commute rather than behind a pushchair in the town centre?
No, most of us here seem to work part time for someone else.
Some are, say, working a few hours in the evening when their partners can do the childcare. Or working the lunch shifts in town to fit in with the school run. Or volunteering. Or supply teaching. Another has a husband in the sort of job where she’s expected to take on the pastoral side.
I’ve met so many teachers too, often married to other teachers, fed up with the 9-3 jokes and wondering how to fit their own kids in.
So many have stepped down, either in terms of their actual jobs or their ambitions. Local jobs count.
Most think I’m insane to have a roundtrip commute of over 100 miles.
Most of the women I meet work part-time. We know there are disadvantages to this in terms of lifelong earnings, pension, and career prospects.
So why not do more hours?
The response is who’d look after the kids?
The primary concern is not the long term but the day to day logisitics.
But surely the answer here is childcare?
Well, when we talk childcare, the response is that, even with the staff pretty much on minimum wage, the cost is too high. We’re talking nurseries really. Talk about nannies and you’ll hear what a guffaw sounds like.
I tested the idea that seems popular in feminist circles that actually even if the cost is the same as or slightly more than what one working parent can bring in, the parents should take the hit now, so to speak, for the sake of the future earnings potential and pension provisions.
This was greeted universally with horror.
The issue might make sense to economists, who apparently were touting the same approach to saving for pensions on the radio this morning, but the main question from the real people I know is what on earth do the people who suggest this think we live on that we can “take a hit” in the short term?
I’ve heard stories of taking in lodgers, the ruination that going a few pence overdrawn the day before being paid and losing your whole next day’s pay to the bankcharge. I’ve even heard about not being able to afford to pay into the state pension, let alone a private one. And yes, that’s even with tax credits in play. But what can you do if the available jobs don’t meet the cost of living – a living wage if you like?
There is also an issue of childcare availability.
It’s not really a question of provision for 3 and 4 year olds, although the thing that upsets parents is not getting the place they want for their child when parental choice is the most touted concept in education.
I know some mums taking their children to two different schools each day because they’ve not got places for both at the same one. Not only is that disruptive for a family, but it has an impact on whether parents can work. Logisitics matter. Not to mention the carbon footprint issues of this sort of thing!
Actually, work-wise, the availability of wrap-around care is the most difficult – a limited number of nurseries are available for children 6 months plus and fewer still offer the full wrap-around hours, and even fewer of them are conveniently located for commuters.
I’ve only had one actively recommended to me by the parents who send their kids there – and that’s the most expensive, naturally.
And the school-level wrap-around care provision appears not to be at every school but for some it is at a centrally-designated school a good drive away!
But finding a childminder to wrap around other nurseries or schools is also a nightmare – finding someone you are happy to leave your kids with, who has space for children of the right age, and who takes and collects from the right schools is not simple, even with the information available from Kent children and families information service…
Because leaving your child with someone is not just a matter of that person having a paper qualification.
You have to be happy that your child is looked after as you would wish, and often even the best is a compromise at heart because it’s just not you doing it. Is it any wonder so many of the parents I’m meeting seem to seek to avoid doing this?
And while mostly we all seem to be begging time from the grandparents, we shouldn’t be counting on it as who knows when it might suddenly not be available?
And there’s the big unspoken secret too – parents actually want to spend time with their children, see them grow up, see the firsts, help them learn and develop. However much childcare is available, ultimately many parents are going to want to raise their own children directly if they can.
So what are people doing about all this?
The majority of people I’ve met are married or in marriage-like long term relationships. That affects the approach that’s taken.
Basically, those that can, seem to think as a couple – whose job or career takes precedence, how to handle the logistics, even to the extent of working out how to live with each other’s pension provisions.
For the majority of people I’ve talked to about this, they recognise that this isn’t ideal for them as individuals but they see it as part of the reality of being a family and having children.
While with one eye on the divorce stats this may not seem wise for individuals. Just as pre-nups are not popular or common in the UK, I think there is still an innate social (small “c”) conservatism and a dash of romance in the country overall. We don’t want to think about marriages failing. And we don’t want to plan on the basis that ours would be one of them.
So families balance the childcare between them, prioritising local over high paid, working out sometimes complicated logistics, choosing between them who gets the career rather than both trying to in order that they get to see their children rather than have someone else raise them.
But that raises a small question for me. If families are doing all this, then how will the need for better childcare provision that would allow them to do otherwise be identified? And which companies are going to do that research with parents in order to see if there’s a viable business?
Unwrapping this one is going to be a bit more complicated than even I’d thought…