After over 17 years, 3 children, and many thousands of pounds spent, I am now childcare free. When I say free, I mean free of a regular contract, thus marking a shift in my working pattern from office based to full-time home based. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, I want to focus on all the fabulous child-care providers that have enabled me to go to work.
I remember a time when child-minders used to get a bad press. I also remember when day nurseries would get a bad press. Or paid childcare in general. I have used them all, childminders, au-pairs, holiday clubs, after-school clubs and full-time day nurseries. I am what you could call a childcare connoisseur.
It was actually very emotional for me collecting my youngest on his last day with our childminder, Louise. We worked out he had been going to Louise for 5 years. That’s 5 years that I have turned up on her doorstep at 8am in the morning, nearly 5 days a week, and at 5.30ish in the evenings. I felt like we were part of her family, and her part of ours. Evening pick-ups would always involve going in for a few minutes, to a family home where there was always a friendly smile, a bit of chat and banter about everyone’s day. A successful childminder, I feel, is one that not only looks after the children well (which is a given), but also one that can master the art of having a great relationship and rapport with the parents. As parents that is what we are buying, peace of mind – and if you always feel welcome on someone’s doorstep then you have that.
In the years that I have been a working parent, I have used several excellent childminders. When it works you stick with that person for as long as you can. Only twice have I started with a childminder and then ended the arrangement very quickly. My rule of thumb is simple, if you have that peace of mind, in how they deal with you (you are the paying customer after all) then that is what is important. The childminder is there to give you less things to worry about, not more. Of course your child needs to be happy too – my rationale was always that my child would soon tell me if they were not happy with anything.
The other thing that is really helpful these days is flexibility. Childminding contracts are all about set times and days, making it tricky if you work flexible or irregular hours and want a flexible childcare solution. Having a childminder that allowed me to have some regular days set in the contract, and then the flexibility to just turn up in the morning on the other days if I needed her to do the school run, made a lot of difference. Mobile phones have made things so much easier with childcare too – a quick text when your meeting has overrun and you need them to do a school pick-up.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am for a childminder that was always accommodating, no matter how complicated my schedule or how many times it changed, and certainly never made me feel bad or stressed about being late. Anything can happen on a journey home from work, and the last thing you need to be worried about is a telling off from your childcare provider.
Ask my older children about their childcare experiences though, and they will have a few stories to tell.
My two girls have 3 years between them, so for a couple of summers we had au-pairs come and stay. All the au-pairs were lovely, but I soon realised having a young person in the house actually gave me more stress rather than less. The idea that an au-pair can do light housework is a myth. Young people that have not lived on their own have no idea about housework. Cooking a simple dinner for the children seemed something of a challenge also. I explained to our French au-pair, step by step, how to make beans on toast. She then proceeded to put the beans in a frying pan so all the sauce evaporated off as she cooked them. They were then served on a plate, with burnt toast on top. I came in the room at that point and just one look on my daughters’ horrified face said it all. A Swedish au-pair we had thought it was OK to go into town of an evening on her own and wander round the pubs and nightclubs. I couldn’t sleep at night until she was home and she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t keen for her to go out alone.
My middle daughter loved her day nursery that she went to as a pre-schooler. The development that my children got from being with other children, having organised activities and trips was fantastic.
My oldest daughter had a couple of spells where I struggled to find the right childcare setting, and at one time she was being collected from school and taken to an after-school club. She was the youngest child there and didn’t really fit in. It took me a while to find a better alternative, which we did eventually, but she still teases me about the emotional scars she has from going there. We found a childminder eventually and things settled down again.
So – it’s not often said, but I want to say it – to all the hard-working childminders, nursery workers, au-pairs, and others that enable people like me to go to work – thank-you. Thank-you for making a difference to me and my family, allowing me to build a career, and for all the love, care and kindness you show not just to my children but to me, giving me that all important peace of mind