Back when I was on maternity leave and we were looking at our options when I returned to work, there didn’t really seem to be much choice at all. I could go back to work – or I could stay at home. Staying at home would massively reduce our income but going back to work would have the added issue of childcare and trying to juggle that childcare around Dave’s shifts so that we weren’t paying for childcare when we didn’t really need it.
Anyone that has tried to organise childcare around shiftwork will tell you that flexible childcare options are few and far between. Usually nurseries and even childminders need set days, a set pattern so they can have other children the rest of the time which isn’t great when you work different shifts every week.
In the end I managed to go back to work three days a week. Two days when we have family childcare and a third day a week where I work my husband’s day off, a day that changes each week depending on his shifts.
I won’t lie – juggling the children and our jobs is never easy. Trying to orchestrate time off together is a nightmare and keeping all the plates spinning is a constant task. But I have kept an income, we don’t have any formal childcare costs and the children get time with not just me but their Dad and their grandparents too.
I keep getting asked, though, whether I wouldn’t love to be at home. Whether I wouldn’t just like to give up the day job and stay at home, as, after all, children are only young once. Stay at home, spend that time with them and work later.
And would I? Well, yes. I would love to stay at home. I would love to take LP to school every day and have more time to have fun with the children, bake and go to soft play. But then I’d lose an income, and my place in a company that I have worked hard to maintain. I also feel so fortunate to be able to work around the children and my husband’s shifts. Many people in our situation are forced to stay at home as they just can’t find a work and childcare balance that works for their family.
Also, many people have to stay at home because they can’t afford to work. The childcare costs would be too much and there doesn’t seem much point to going to work just to spend your pay packet on nursery fees each month. Along with the travel costs of getting to work many people end up out of pocket each month – and don’t get to see their children either and so they are pushed into staying at home, not really having a choice at all.
People see parents that can stay at home after having a baby as being so lucky but in most cases it’s through necessity, not choice at all. On the other hand many working sets of parents are at work to pay the bills, not being able to make a sole income stretch quite far enough to cover all their outgoings.
And then there are people that have the choice to stay at home or go to work. People that could manage on one income but choose not to – wanting to carry on their career, have adult conversation or just have extra money for treats and holidays. People that can manage on one income and so choose to do just that, taking the kids to school each day, collecting them in the afternoon and doing their homework with them whilst getting dinner ready.
Whatever your situation I am sure you’ll agree that it’s such a privilege to have the freedom to choose. I feel fortunate that I have managed to continue to work around childcare and shift work, fortunate that I can still bring in an income and still have a good balance of time with the kids and my share of school runs. But I also have the freedom of being able to choose. I could stay at home if I wanted to and having that option puts me in such a fortunate position – one I won’t take for granted.
So don’t think people are lucky for being able to stay at home and don’t think bad of parents who work. It’s a privilege having the freedom to choose but many parents just don’t have that choice and just do whatever they have to do to get through.