To share or not to share childcare

I had forgotten about the emotions surrounding the return to school. On the one hand, you are keen to return to normality and get past the organisational nightmare of covering six weeks with virtually no childcare except relatives and friends, unless you are loaded or live in a major city with subsidised all-day holiday schemes which are not an hour’s drive away [don’t get me started…are most subsidised holiday childcare schemes only meant for people who don’t actually work?]. On the other hand, the end of the summer seems such a mournful occasion. And what with the rain…The very earth seemed to be lamenting the return to the usual grind. It is good and important for the children to have some time off and be children. And to get some sleep. Sometimes in term-time they seem so tired, almost as tired as their parents. What is it with modern life that we are supposedly more wealthy than we have ever been and yet we are also absolutely knackered most of the time? Mind you, reading the papers these days you kind of feel the need to bunker down and work all the hours you can for fear the electricity bill will be the size of a small country’s GDP by Christmas.

We returned to school in the rain with Rebel daughter anticipating everyone hating her. She makes such a forlorn figure tramping into school on her own. I just want to sweep her away and rescue her from all these laughing boys who seem to make her life a misery, but then people keep telling me that she has to learn to stand up for herself and deal with such things, life is tough, etc, etc. Children arrive so sparkly and full of fun – it seems too soon for that to be stamped all over just eight years later. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Last year Years Three and Four were mixed together as it is a small school. This year they are separated out and most of the boys she has problems with are in the year above. Plus she’s joined the Choir and seems to love it. Things might get better.

Bonkers daughter doesn’t want to go to school because she is tired and “it’s hard work, mummy”. She is getting quite a bit of homework, which she is pleased about. For now. It means she is more grown up. She now wants her ears pierced. She also wants to live on a desert island like Nim in Nim’s Island, albeit one that has an Abba soundtrack, and has been walking around with a skipping rope tied round her waist and trying to absail down her bunk bed. Toddler daughter is developing a terrible bag fetish. She currently has around 20 bags of all shapes and sizes hidden around the house full of pen tops, scraps of torn paper and important stuff that people keep missing, eg phones.

Although I am happy about Choir, it poses several logistical problems. It starts at 8.20am. This means I have to get everyone up even earlier [not great on the first week back] and then drop Rebel daughter, take the others over to nursery, camp out in the nursery car park for 15 minutes [we brought teddy bears and sandwiches and had a teddy bears’ picnic for breakfast], drop toddler girl then head back to school to drop bonkers daughter then head off to work. Choir is on two mornings a week. I’m already building up a steam of resentment towards the teacher who didn’t think it might be better to hold it after school. Who wants to sing 15 minutes after they have got out of bed [apart from bonkers daughter if it’s Mamma Mia]?

Work was hectic this week as everyone got back to the routine and people I had not heard from all summer suddenly appeared to be at the office. I got some last-minute extra freelance work to do and had to arrange childcare at the last minute. My mum was moving house so this was not as easy as it might sound [does it sound easy???]. I am now hot desking at work and this was not a problem over summer as there was always someone away. I fear I may be working from the bus station next week.

This weekend has been busy visiting my mum’s new house, trying to find where my partner’s new job might be [if he gets it], bidding for a new car on e-Bay [not sure about this, but partner says it is okay and my brother bought a car on e-Bay, albeit a clapped out 20-year-old one for about £100 so no great risk], working, overseeing various homeworks all done at the last minute, etc etc. Reality has just dawned on me and I am realising that soon all three girls will be at school and it will take the entire weekend to do the homework.

I read an interesting interview with the head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission this week. It talked about the importance of sharing childcare. This makes it all sound so equal when, even in the most ‘egalitarian’ of relationships you usually find that the man is working mainly full time and the woman is doing most of the childcare, whether or not she is working [full time or part time] and how many men do you know who sort out the whole tangled web of parental networking/childcare cover or make Easter bonnets? Perhaps it is best to have one designated person who does this organisational stuff so things don’t get too confused and maybe we all just assume that women are better at it [must be the secretarial instinct…]. I am wondering if “sharing” just means that men do a bit of childcare as opposed to none at all and then tell everyone that they have an equal relationship. Is it possible for this all to be equal? More equal, yes. Totally equal? I don’t know.

The thing is, even if you have shared maternity/paternity leave, it will have to be the mums in the first instance who take the maternity leave because they need the time to get over the birth. I had infections after two births and the first one was an emergency caesarian – it’s not just a simple cold that you can get over in a week. Plus there’s breastfeeding. This instantly creates a strong bond and all through however long you breastfeed for you are the main person getting up in the night, nursing your child when it is ill, etc. It’s a huge bond and hard to get away from, no matter if you express milk [I tried and failed. Got through a whole episode of Eastenders with about half a centimetre to show for my efforts]. So maybe breastfeeding is a bad thing in terms of creating attachment to the mother over the father, but then it’s the healthiest thing for your child. My first daughter could sense every time I moved away from her – I could feel how her whole body relaxed, how her heart stopped panicking, as soon as she was near me – and the milk. She cried solidly for the first three months if I left her. She had terrible colic. I had to carry her around with me everywhere I went. She still hates me to go out without her. How can you impose some sort of cut and dried equality model onto a relationship based on need, a need which in turn creates a form of mutual dependency? I find it very hard to get past all the emotions involved.





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