Like many families, Lucy Mangan’s childcare is a cobbled system. But it works!
A quarter of parents interviewed for a recent study into childcare said they rarely or never ask family for help. Not for the first time, I want to cry to the heavens in gratitude at the benevolent god who gifted me two parents who are still, at a combined age of 143, hale, hearty, near enough and – above all – retired enough to help me with my toddler.
If I hadn’t had them, I don’t think I would even have agreed to get pregnant in the first place. The emotional, financial and other stresses the necessary ‘formal’ childcare would have involved would have had such an impact that I don’t think either I or my marriage would have survived.
'The stress of childcare would have had such an impact that I don’t think either I or my marriage would have survived'
My husband and I are both self-employed, so we had no maternity/paternity leave beyond that which we were able to fund for ourselves (plus a few months of statutory maternity allowance, for which many thanks, fellow taxpayers). If we’d had to fund full childcare as soon as we had to go back to work, we would have been even more mentally, physically and fiscally broken than we already were.
The friends I have who don’t have even one set of grandparents living close by, or who for one reason or another can’t ask them to help out and supplement the paid childminder, nanny or nursery hours have my deepest sympathy. And I promise you all there’s not a day goes by that I don’t count my blessings or boggle with incredulity, awe and admiration at how they are managing to do it all themselves and not go irretrievably mad.
'There’s not a day goes by that I don’t count my blessings'
I have other friends who have plenty of relatives, but the wrong sort. The sort who pop round, uninvited and therefore only add to the chaos of the day, or who invite themselves to stay for days and weeks at a time because they live far away and “need a place to crash” while they sample the delights of London, and who expect to be served with hangover-absorbing fried breakfasts and coffees whenever they emerge bleary-eyed the next day.
My husband and I have cobbled a system together over the past two years, involving grandparents, nursery, a childminder (and the 15 year old next door as emergency babysitter when geriatric and juvenile poxes, school holidays and sudden deadlines have combined to frustrate this whole work/semblance of family life project we’ve got going). It strains in places but has not yet ever quite given way. I wish you all as much success.
Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.