Stuck in the Middle; A Story of Childcare

Childcare

You would think, by the title, that this might be a treatise on the big ball of emotion that is our middle child, aged 5. It’s not. It’s me venting about a particular situation in which our family and many others around the country have found themselves. We are the so-called squeezed middle – stuck in a house bought in the boom that we have grown out of, struggling to justify both working outside the home with the high cost of childcare, yet unable to qualify for a larger mortgage to move or extend without two incomes.

Childcare

Running to stand still.

First can I say: yes I am completely mindful that there are people in way worse scenarios than ours. Ireland’s levels of homeless families is entirely unacceptable; our healthcare system continues to barely creak by; carers are undervalued economically and emotionally and women still do not have full bodily autonomy. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in a big list of our society’s failings…

All that said, we are allowed our particular bugbears. Though yes, we chose to have three children and very happily achieved that goal, it is a massive financial burden on us. In fact we waited until we were close to having two in school to minimise childcare costs. Just as we try to creep forward every so slightly in terms of where we stand as a family, it feels like the rug is being tugged gently out from under us.

Lets cast our minds back. When our first child began creche in 2010, we paid full-time fees from the time he started until the September before he was due to start school. At that point we got a weekly subsidy of €62.50 on our fees from the state for 38 weeks (to mirror the school year). This is called the ECCE scheme and would cover 15 hours a week, 3 hours a day of his pre-school year. Children who weren’t already in the formal childcare system because of a stay at home parent, helpful grandparent or a paid childminder were entitled to attend preschool monday to friday for 3 hours a day for 38 weeks for free. Everyone was entitled to the same. It wasn’t much, but it was equal.

Incidentally, that first baby had been due in December, but born on January 8th and he started school at just under 4 and 8 months.

Falling through the childcare gap. Part 1.

Next up, my summer baby. Fast forward a few years. Our 2nd child was born on July 7th. In October 2015, when he was 3, the ECCE scheme was extended to up to 2 years of preschool care. This subsidy was immediately backdated to September 2015, for anyone who had turned 3 by the previous June 30th, a seemingly arbitrary date. Our son didn’t qualify to be backdated, being born a week later. We were annoyed, given he had the same primary school entry date as those children, that we were paying more for the same early years education. This, was not equal.

The scheme continued for the past couple of years, with 3 entry points into the ‘free’ first preschool year. Going forward the children with the biggest advantage were born in the summer. If you were 3 before August 31st, you could start ‘free’ preschool on September 1st and have 2 years of it before starting primary school. Born before Dec 31st, you could start on January 1st and take advantage of the next 5 months and the following year. If you were born before March 31st you could start on April 1st and have just 3 months ‘free’ that year, then the following year also.

Falling through the childcare gap. Part 2.

Now. Child 3. I was due on December 21st 2016. I was genuinely a bit stressed after Xmas, that if she didn’t arrive before the year was out, we would be paying full cost childcare from when she began until April 2020, rather than January 2020 and she would start school September 2021. Basically, we would qualify for the minimum allowable under the scheme.  Lo and behold, she hung on into the new year, and I decided I shouldn’t worry about what I couldn’t change.

In this weeks budget: Budget 2018, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone expanded the ECCE scheme to two free years for children aged at least 2 years and 8 months, starting only in September. The September/January/April entry points are gone. Ivy now qualifies for 2 full years, but only from Sept 2020, meaning we can only use 2 ECCE preschool years if we send her to school at 5 years 8 months, rather than 4 years 8 months.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is effectively saying a Dec 31st baby – fine to send to school at 4 & 8 months, but 2 days younger, you must wait another year if you want the full subsidy.

I get all the arguments for sending kids to school later, but by virtue of my cosy womb we are missing out here by a hair’s breadth. In order for us to wait that extra year, we would also have to pay for a full-time creche place for another extra year. I don’t see the DCYA falling over themselves to help us find about €9000 in order to do that.

Is that clear? No? Well, at least I feel a little better for writing it down. Tiny silver linings…

The Power Of The Treat

Treats should be doled out judiciously. They’re probably a little frequent in our house. Still, they hold a lot of power.

  • Toddler refusing to put on socks and shoes and you really need to get out the door? Promise a treat when you get where you’re going.
  • Schoolchild doesn’t want to go to their expensive swimming lesson? Treat after the class.
  • Everyone eats up a healthy dinner with minimal moaning, homework is done and place isn’t ultra-messy? Treats for all!

I won’t claim it’s the best parenting method in the world, but it gets us through. Recently I realised it’s one way traffic; I hand out all the treats. It’s time that changed.

January has been quite tough in our house. I finished up a contract before Christmas and started a new freelance job in the New Year. (Sidebar: Look! I even got interviewed for the Irish Examiner about my three day week)

working mum
Shame they spelled the blog name wrong. (Image courtesy of Office Mum)

My work hours have been rather erratic; in one role I can start as early as 7am, and finish as late as midnight. I’m delighted to not be tied to one place day in day out right now while I work out my path. In some ways I have all the control, in other ways I have none of it. I’m at the whim of employers to decide if they need me or not but I’m learning so much. Frankly, I’m way out of my comfort zone and it’s a certified good thing though you might not realise it if you saw the bags under my eyes. One highlight of January was sitting on the stairs late at night trying to explain the concept of freelance and shift work to a six year old who just could not understand why I couldn’t collect him from school every day despite having spent a lot of his little life at childcare.

The glory of a full time job is setting foot in that office each day knowing what you’re expected to do, knowing that you can do it, seeing familiar faces and catching up with your colleagues over coffee. At home everyone knows the drill too; where they’re supposed to be on any given day. We haven’t got that certainty right now so I’m making a February planner for the fridge so that the six year old can see what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Right now I’m definitely working office hours for a few weeks straight, but I’m trying to not send him to after school care five days a week. He’s got three days off for mid-term in the middle of it. He’s been invited for playdates and we’re trying to work it out so he can get to those. Luckily the three year old, though usually not very flexible at all (in fact he has an iron will) is happy to head off to his playschool and hang with his buddies whenever we send him.

Amongst all the juggling I realise how always “on” I am when I am at work: Always eager to make a good impression in various offices; always ready to learn and prove myself; work out where the coffee is and make sure I’m not stealing someones milk; getting to know some people well enough to discuss our Netflix habits and just generally trying to be comfortable in whichever hat I’m wearing that day. Metaphorical and physical hat, in case you’re wondering, I mean there’s implied dress codes to be followed too.

So dammit I need treats too, grown up ones. To this end, I dropped the little fella to creche this morning and I got a blow-dry for no reason. (I know loads of people get this done all the time but that time is long past for me what with the childcare costs)  I’m going to work soon, to sit in a room on my own for ten hours. My hair is smooth and swishy and actually lovely and no one will see it but me. But for forty minutes this morning someone looked after me and it transformed me from manic packed-lunch maker to a calm, in control and ready for the day person.

blow-dry
Proof

Next month, nails.

I’ve already used this gif on the blog, but to be honest, it bears repeating a lot.

image