My amazing ex-boss agreed for me to work mostly from home, with a monthly visit into the London office, providing I signed an agreement that stated my children would not be present while I worked. I was really glad for the opportunity, but super stressed out over what we’d do for childcare.
I was also wracked with guilt for returning to work quicker with Freddy than I had done with the girls. They were both weeks away from their first birthday, and I was much happier handing them over to nursery than I was with my little man, who was still very much attached to his mummy.
We had no choice though, we wouldn’t have coped financially had I taken any more time off
We needed childcare for Clara who was two and a half, as well as Freddy. Polly was at school back then, and our neighbour was collecting her on my work days to save us having to put her into after school club again, which had caused us problems prior to me being on maternity leave. Our preferred option, the nursery that the girls had gone to, wasn’t possible because they were full to capacity.
One of the ladies who worked there put me in touch with someone she used to work with, who’d since become a qualified nanny. Her second child was the same age as Freddy, her daughter was at school all day, and she was looking for a part time job that she could fit around her family. I met with her and her son, and she seemed nice. She had good references, came highly recommended, and as she would only be working six hours a day we wouldn’t be paying out my entire salary in childcare fees. On the surface it appeared to be the perfect solution all round.
The reality was a different story entirely
Initially I was thinking the nanny could look after the children at my house – I could work upstairs, while they were downstairs – but she didn’t like this idea. I reluctantly agreed for her to look after them off-site instead, but quickly regretted my decision. Freddy would come home restless and grumpy, even though the nanny said he’d had a great day. Clara seemed okay, but as the weeks passed, and she became more articulate, little snippets would come out, indicating that something was wrong.
Apparently the nanny got angry a lot, and didn’t comfort Freddy when he was crying. “Mummy, she shouted at me today, and said go and play or watch TV!” It sounded deeply disturbing coming from the mouth of a not quite three year old. I will never know what happened of course, but my gut instincts told me then and are telling me now as I write this, that it was far from ideal.
In the same week that Clara told me this, I received an unexpected call from the nursery. They had a place in the baby room for Freddy, and one in the pre-school room for Clara if we were interested. We jumped at it, and promptly let the nanny go, thinking all our troubles were over.
Unfortunately they weren’t
Freddy absolutely hated nursery from day one. He’d cry when we were getting him ready and when he was dropped off, and he’d still be crying when we picked him up. They weren’t tears for show though, they didn’t stop after mummy or daddy left. Oh no, these tears lasted all day. He wouldn’t eat either, and the situation was distressing beyond belief. This went on for almost six months.
The manager of the baby room was nearly in tears herself one afternoon. She said the kids usually settle in after a few weeks, sometimes months, but Freddy was showing no sign of doing so. To make matters worse, Clara started complaining about going in – my previously happy go lucky three year old wasn’t very happy anymore. This wasn’t entirely down to nursery, but it certainly wasn’t helped by it.
Mama’s heavy heart
I wrote a poem last year called Mama’s Heavy Heart, which perfectly conveys how I was feeling about it all. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve just cried reading it.
We were at crisis point as a family, but as luck would have it a small glimmer of redundancy presented itself to me. As you can imagine, I welcomed it with open arms. The money had become irrelevant, I knew that we’d find a way of coping financially. We just couldn’t put the children through it any more.
I’ve often thought back to those days, and realised that had we chosen a better nanny in the first place, it could have saved us all a lot of heartache. If I had my time over, I would have used a site such as Childcare.co.uk to find the perfect carer(s).
I asked childcare expert Jo Witshire for some advice, to help other parents who might be in the same situation I was in
Is there an optimum time to return to work after having a baby?
The right time is when it feels right for YOU. That will vary and depend on various factors which are likely to be financial, emotional and practical.
The most important thing is to make a decision based on your own circumstances and do not feel you have to conform to what you think you should do.
Some mums find they may want to return to work sooner rather than later to keep their careers on track. Some may need to return to work for financial security whilst others may feel they need longer at home with their baby. We all worry about if what we are doing is the right thing for our child, but by discussing your feelings and options with your partner you can find an answer that suits your family.
Top three pieces of advice for parents to minimise stress on the child/ren when returning to work
1. Talk to your childcare provider about settling in sessions
Many nurseries and childminders will provide ‘settling in’ sessions before your child is in their care. Giving your child the option of visiting the childminder’s house or nursery gives your child the chance to become familiar with their new location and the opportunity for the child to start to get to know their childcare provider and perhaps other children. This means when your child starts their new childcare setting they will have a familiar face and environment on hand, helping to make the transition easier.
2. Communicate with your child
One of the best ways to relieve stress on children and prepare them for your return to work is to for talk to your child about what he or she may be feeling. When discussing the subject be sure to tell them of all the exciting times they will have whilst you are at work as well as what may be a little anxiety-provoking.
3. Manage your own expectations
Are you expectations realistic? Remember it is perfectly acceptable and normal for your child to miss you a little bit in the early days. And likewise, for you to be upset too while you move onto this new stage.
But remember too that it is an exciting time for your child, to have new experiences. Mums and dads too, may start to enjoy a bit of me time.
Be realistic about the time it takes to settle into this new arrangement – and be kind to yourself too!
Top three pieces of advice for parents when searching for childcare
1. Check and double-check
Do your homework. Check the setting’s Ofsted report, take up references (at least two), do a news search of the setting on the internet to see if they’ve been in the local press for any reason (good or bad!). Drop by unannounced, and see what things look like when they’re not expecting you – are the staff interacting with the children, down on their level? Or is the television acting as a childminder? Are the children clean and occupied and the staff unflustered and happy to greet you? Ask to use the loo, so that you get to walk into areas that may be less ‘prepped’ for visitors. You may feel like a spy – but if they have nothing to hide, you won’t catch them out!
2. Ask questions from your potential care giver, and also any friends, family or wider acquaintances who have already used them.
Word of mouth works – as long as you are sensible enough to overlook individual grudges or personal disputes. When you visit the caregiver, don’t be embarrassed to really drill them – you are considering handing them responsibility for your precious child, and any caregiver worth their salt won’t mind answering anything you can throw at them. Ask about staff ratios, qualifications, daily routines, policies on discipline, practicalities such as provision of food and nappies, outings and trips, whether they have a key worker scheme, what happens when a childminder is poorly. If they can’t or won’t answer, think again.
3. Trust your gut!
A recent study by Childcare.co.uk found the over a third of parents go with their gut when looking for a childcare provider and have reported to know when they found the ‘one’. Make sure you visits lots of care givers and go with the person you feel is going to be right for your family and who you feel confident communicating with. However shiny and impressive the premises are, it counts for nothing if this relationship isn’t right.
“Childcare.co.uk is the UK’s largest childcare website. Over 1,000,000 people have used the website to find childcare or childcare work since launching in 2009. You won’t find a larger choice of babysitters, nannies, registered childminders or private tutors anywhere else!”
**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**