Saturday, 11 August 2007

A childcare journey

I gained immense satisfaction from my job, so when pregnant with my first child it seemed natural to return part-time. However, when the time came, I was not prepared for the overwhelming strength of feelings concerning my son’s welfare. The careful plans of maintaining my career and status, of challenging my trained mind, seemed no longer valid unless I could find childcare I trusted completely.

When pregnant I read all the advice books and followed their word. I visited plenty of nurseries and ran through checklists of what to look for. I was impressed by purpose built premises and personalised coat hooks. Some places got extra marks for taking real nappies, serving organic food and running baby yoga and baby signing. I wanted somewhere that would open early so I could beat the rush hour, giving me more time with my child. I wanted reliable care that wasn’t going to get ill or go on holiday.

18 months down the line and my priorities are very different. It is now simple - I want someone that loves my son.

I don’t care if his surroundings are slightly chaotic, if coats are on the banister rather than on named pegs and if I have to use disposable nappies. I don’t mind if he has to tag along with someone doing an errand rather than being in a structured play session. It really doesn’t matter that he might get a sandwich for lunch rather than gourmet baby cooking. What is important is the relationship with the person looking after him.

Loving relationships come in many forms – grandparents, friends, neighbours, childminders, nannies and good nurseries with consistent care. Originally I crossed out any carer with reduced hours from my list, later I realised that it is often the best carers who don’t bend under the pressure of the long-hours culture. My search ended with a wonderful childminder, but she didn’t work the hours necessary for my job.

The shift in values meant I had to turn my life upside down. Initially I’d looked for childcare to fit my job, now it became more important to fit my job to the childcare. So I jumped off the career ladder, retrained and changed direction.

Looking back, I had little choice in order to stay sane. I no longer compare my situation with others, trying to work out who made the best choices, making judgements. Every mother does the very best she can for her child, and for each mother this is different.

My child is now looked after by people that love him and that he loves back. I have been on a journey that involved a painful upheaval of my career and personal values. I now have peace of mind.

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