What drives me out the door in the mornings to spend ten hours of the day away from my children? Bear in mind my children are usually only awake thirteen hours in a twenty four-hour period, that leaves me with three hours. These three hours are usually when to be fair, they are not at their best. They, like Mammy are tired. They have had a long day away from home, a day playing in pre-school, forging friendships and navigating the playground. Some days are harder and thankfully these are becoming less. But on these days, when they are missing their Mammy and Daddy and have little cries in the corner of the pre-school room or playground, my heart aches that night when just before I lay them down to sleep, when they are at their most relaxed,tucked up tight in my arms, they recall their sad moments when Mammy wasn’t there for them. I know that their teacher bundles them into her arms and reminds them to join in on the fun and play with their new friends. That does not reassure me and give me comfort when I am out at work the following day, missing my children and wondering is there a point to this.
Can I admit something? Some of my days are interspersed with tears too. It is those days, the hard ones. The days when I am reminded that I am paying others to mind my children for me. Children I adore and want to be with most of the time and yet I don’t feel anyone places any value on me spending ten of their thirteen waking hours away from them.
I work full-time. I work to contribute towards the bills and mortgage. I want to be able to treat my children, to bring them on day trips, holidays and have a rare night out with the other half. I believe at this moment in time it is right to be working. My children are at an age where social interaction is important, they are learning new skills and forming relationships with others, as hard as that might be at times for me to accept , I believe it is good for them to do this and for them to also see their parents working ,at this moment in time.
What I am struggling with as of late, is the knowledge that childcare costs, even with the ECCE contribution is still more than our monthly mortgage. The ECCE scheme entitles us to three and a half hours a day, five days a week free. We pay full costs for the other five and a half hours a day our children attend pre-school. The ECCE scheme only applies during national school term times. That is thirty-eight weeks a year. There are fifty-two weeks in the year. There are fifty two weeks in a full-time, PAYE workers employment year. During these twelve weeks our childcare costs rise dramatically to over one and a half times our home mortgage. Unfortunately being new to the whole booking annual leave during these more expensive weeks is something we were not privy to book ahead of our colleagues and it left us with larger than usual dents in our take home pays.
We are your typical squeezed middle-income family household and no-one seems to be hearing us, no-one seems to be offering any form of tax break or incentives to stay out working, full time, away from our children.
Stay at home then, I hear some people say. What if I admit that staying at home full-time is hands down the hardest job in the world, it is the most rewarding in my eyes from a relationship perspective with your children. But it is without doubt the most challenging and at times the most lonely place you will ever be. I want to have an identity outside of the home and for now one aspect of that comes through work. I have been fortunate enough in my work to be able to avail of parental leave. Now this is unpaid leave taken at my own expense,which I save for, to allow me to spend blocks of time with my children over the Summer period, but even that has a time limit set to it. Parental leave in my case as a multiple parent allows for thirty-six weeks,unpaid leave, in total which must be taken before the twins turn eight. It is during any leave period I take that drives my feelings now even more so to the forefront of my mind.
What is the answer?
The balance is in my eyes quite attractive. Time out there in the workforce and time at home with your children, but I don’t think a job exists to fit with the restrictions of the ECCE scheme. What employer is going to allow you to drop your children to preschool for 9.30am (will they allow you bring them to the office prior to drop off ?) and allow you leave in time to collect them at 12.pm. Readers I have spoken to have stated this as one of the many reasons they have not been able to return to the workforce.
Deirdre explained “I live forty minutes away from the main areas of employment in my town, who is going to hire me when I wouldn’t be able to start my shift until 10.15am the earliest and have to pack up to leave at 11.15am to be back in time to collect my daughter from school. The cost of diesel ,five days a week alone nearly cancels out a potential pay-check“.
Another reader Sandra stated ” The only jobs I can potentially get are on minimum wage, with no benefits and means we would be worse off if I were to take up employment, I am stuck at home with no options”
Personally I am not asking for free childcare. I am asking for a break for all those working families like me, who get up and out the front door in the dark, who drag sleepy, rosy-cheeked children far too early in the mornings from their warm beds, and come home again,in the dark. I personally feel Ireland is far behind its EU counterparts in supporting working families.
Our childcare costs are the highest in the EU. Parental leave in other EU countries is fully paid and in places like Norway childcare is free and parental leave is fully paid for far longer periods. Working days are shorter meaning families get to spend more time together.
Being Irish to me means family more than anything else in the world. With our roots spread right across the globe surely now more than ever we need our government to stand up and support its own families be they in the home or out working, contributing to the tax system, before we decide enough is enough.
Image credit: PXHere