A working dilemma

Yesterday’s report by Save the Children and Daycare Trust revealed that many mothers are delaying their return or stopping work altogether when their children are small because of the prohibitive cost of childcare.

I realise I am very lucky because I am self-employed, and so can be flexible about which days, and indeed how much time, my child spends in childcare. And going back to work, at least for a short while after my first child was born, was probably the single most effective measure in helping me feel happier. Well, maybe that and the Sertraline in joint first place.

It didn’t change any of the guilt and sadness I felt about ‘losing’ a part of myself, or my feelings of inadequacy as a mother. But it definitely helped to temper them, and gave me a bit of self-esteem back.

This time it’s a bit different, as I’ll need to cover childcare for two, notwithstanding the free 15 hours you currently get when they turn three. There’s more pressure to earn, and with the unreliable earnings of the self-employed, the thought is making me quite anxious.

There are many women who stay in work, barely breaking even or even taking a hit on the family finances thanks to the costs of childcare. Knowing that none of the work you’re doing actually shows up as a plus on your bank statement at the end of the month can be particularly galling and not great for self-esteem.

A study last month found that working reduced depression in mothers – something that has long been acknowledged by psychologists. Work makes us feel important, useful and, hopefully, contributes to personal fulfillment.I’ve heard many people say that being a parent is the most important job you’ll ever do. But it’s not comparable – and anyway, who would think of saying that to a man?

If we are committed to reducing cases of postnatal depression, and the accompanying strain on the health service, we would do well to subsidise early years childcare to a greater extent. This would give women a genuine choice about returning to work, and the boost if so often gives to their sense of self-worth.