August 5, 2007

Working mothers caught in their own childcare Catch-22

Posted in Debt · 41 comments ·
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Sarah feels awful dropping off her daughter every morning. The child’s only eight months old, but what can Sarah do? She’s in a trap. She works, but most of her cash goes on childcare.

She spends €925 a month on the Ladybug creche. That’s €11,100 a year. It’s more expensive because little Savannah is under 18 months. Next year, it will come down to €850 a month, but with four-year-old Troy’s after-school care at €500 a month, it’s practically not worth her time working.

She’s caught in the two-income trap. Sarah’s dilemma is a reality for thousands of young working mothers. According to a new report by Fas and the ESRI, women will overtake men working in business, finance and the law in five years. (www.esri.ie).

If you’d like to see the human face of this report, go to the gates of a creche in any suburb from the first week of September. There, you will see some of the thousands of young working Irish mothers, caught in the limbo-land between trying to forge a good career and trying to be a good mother.

If the ESRI and Fa¤ s are right about the advancement of women into the professions, we are either going to have fewer children or we’ll need an influx of poor, women immigrants to look after our kids.

The average Irish middle-class mother – from an apparently strong double-income household – is trapped, and inadequate childcare is the main source of incarceration.

This dilemma has been evident in the US for a number of years but is only now becoming a normality here. It is documented in a US book called The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi.

According to the authors, double-income middle-class families in the US are flirting with bankruptcy at an alarming rate. They are getting into debt and financial difficulty considerably easier and earlier than single-income families did in the 1970s.

Warren contends that the double-income family, with mothers going out to work, is the reason that costs have gone up to such an extent. Warren contends that, financially at least, they would be better off if the mother stayed at home.

However, as a working mother herself, she is the first to point out the equality dilemma, which is that society has educated thousands of women who want more out of life than to slip back quietly into the kitchen as soon as the children arrive.

This is the dilemma facing hundreds of thousands of middle-class Irishwomen, as they grapple with the delusions of the equality dream. They were told they could have it all: great careers, great marriages, great sex, great children and that they would look beautiful at 35, cellulite-free, angst-free, sugar-free.

They could feel fit and still be able to flirt with other men. They could be sexy yet secure, achieving yet loving, independent yet communal. They would effortlessly juggle the spin cycle with the business cycle.

But it didn’t work out like that. Today, 44 per cent of Irish women between 25 and 34 have university degrees. We have the highest proportion of highly educated young women in Europe and, as the average mother is having her first child at 30 years of age, we have the highest proportion of young mothers facing the same dilemma: should I stay at work and juggle children and a career or should I turn my back on everything that I believe in and throw in the towel?

In our rush to move from a traditional to a modern society, where women can achieve their full potential, we forgot to ask the basic question: if all the mothers are now going to work, who’s going to replace mum? Who is going to stay at home, run the house, look after the children and make the whole place tick? This is hard work and someone needs to do it.

In the Ireland of the past, when professional urban women started going out to work, poorer younger women, typically with lower education and career expectations, came up to Dublin to look after the children. This is not happening any more.

So where are Ireland’s new professional and ambitious mothers to get childcare? In other countries that encourage women to go out and work, the state builds, organises and runs a country-wide, childcare system.

In Ireland, this is not happening and without a decent subsidised system, it costs more to send an infant of struggling parents in the new suburbs to full-time child care than it costs to send a wealthy teenager to one of our top ten elite schools.

In the US, they solve this childcare dilemma by importing millions of poor women from Latin America who look after the children of working women. For this system to work, there has to be a significant and permanent income gap between the minder and the mother.

This means that the childminder needs to live in a completely different society within the society. In the minder’s parallel society, costs have to be lower, conditions worse and the minder’s aspirations for herself and her own children have to be permanently diminished.

The US solution is one approach we can take. In its essence, this approach resigns itself to the fact that for one set of women liberated, another set of women have to be kept down. This might be unpalatable for many Irish people.

The other alternative is the European approach of a massively expanded public creche programme, exactly like the national school building project. We’ve done it before, we can do it again, but it involves planning and higher taxes.

If we try to muddle along – as we are doing now – the cost will be borne by young working families who are caught in the two-income trap.

We will be left with the bizarre situation where thousands of working mothers are liberated by the possibilities of their careers but incarcerated by the realities of their young family. This hardly makes sense.


  1. Glen Quinn

    There is no such thing as an equal society. If people have to pay for the child care through higer taxes then what about the single people. You will have people who do not want to have a family but are all of a sudden subsiding other peoples children through higher tax.

    I always have a good laugh when people talk about an equal society, this is fiction and cannot happen. When you bring out laws to make a supposedly class of people equal then you end up making another class of people unequal.

    In the UK alot of women make a descion to either have a career or to have a family. Alot of women that I talked to are so feed up with the system that most of them choose to have a family and to stay at home and to bring up their children and these women have masters in science and business. I was at first shoced to see this happening and I did not expect it.

  2. Restless

    Hi All

    A million years of evolution and the need to procreate cannot be ‘phased out’ by an equality law; nor should the social needs of a species be squeezed into an economic model to keep the feminists or ISME happy. This, in my opinion, is the crux of the issue; people want to have thier cake and eat it. We are hard wired to deal with specific stresses mostly physical and psycholigical stresses associated with more frugal living. Our make up, be it male or female is suited to particular stresses; our ‘software’ is no longer capable of dealing with modern expectations of achievement (Just look at the exponential increase in antidepressants in modern society and mostly women; men tend to self medicate with alcohol!). In short the rythym of life is seriously flawed; most of modern work involves no physical activity; our bodies (and indirectly our minds) require physical activity to maintain equilibrium. We can ignore these deafening klaxons indicating the warning signs like depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc and like our need to be fulfiled I think Laslow’s pyramid calls it ‘self-actuation’; these unrealistic goals are incongruous with a society based solely on the capitalistic needs of coporations or penny pinching Irish entreprises. This is the great deception; our needs are not being fulfilled; we think we are getting what we need ie american freezers, coke, 4×4′s but we are simply the cogs keeping the economy rolling; services like childcare should be provided at the expense of employers not PAYE workers; is it not enough that we give most of waking lives and our health (both mental and physical), compromise our time with our children and buy all the products marketed to us like good little slaves. Should we have to finance the care of our children to make massive profits for these corporations/businesses, as it is the state educates us, our parents pay for college and the net beneficiaries are businesses. Surely they can ‘fumble in the greasy till’ to find a few quid towards the care of the next generation that will contribute to their trillions

  3. john

    I agree with the last two postings, people can’t have it both ways. You have to prioritise there are only so many hours in the day, having a full time demanding job means that you cannot give children the the time they need, children are also very demanding of time, therefore something has to give, either you cannot commit to the child or you cannot commit to your job. Babies require almost full time care from an adult, therefore if you are going to have a creche do this you have to factor in that this the cost of one full time worker, therefore it is going to be expensive. As david has pointed the americans get around this by having cheap foreign labour, the europeans get around this by having high taxation and spreading the cost across the whole workforce. Both systems fail in the long run america’s because it now has a huge illegal immigration problem, and europe’s especially scandinavia because of its high unemployment and also because of its loss of competiveness to the new emerging economies. Ireland more than any european country cannot afford such a policy simply because we do not have the world class companies that other countries have, we are still dependant on inward foreign investment which is built on irelands low tax policy. Many women achieve a compromise where they stay home with the child until school going age and then return to work when the child starts school. If career is so vitally important that a few years of a childs life is not worth stopping work for then the question has to be asked should why have the child.

  4. Jason

    Just a side note:

    I’ve got friends in San Francisco who have been using imported nannies for years. In the last couple of years the nannies started coming from latin america. Before then they were all Eastern European, Polish etc.

    I asked why the change and he said it was because everyone in Europe is now going to Ireland as it pays better than the US!!!

    Madness.

  5. John

    Are these the same high powered , high achieving , highly qualified, career women who are working to earn money so that they can wait outside Brown Thomas for hours in the hope of buying a ‘limited edition’
    plastic bag?

  6. Bob

    Hi David,

    Yet again you are spot on.

    However, for the second approach, we are not even able to provide proper primary schools for our children, so how do you think the current Government and administration will be able to pull off a state of the art European style creche system?

    To Tom’s comment I would suggest they are probably rich exec’s wives rather than working mums. It is now only the wealthy and the poor mums who work in the home.

  7. Ciaran Mc

    The point that stands out is that the creche costs more than the private school. The private school of course is being provided at a fraction of cost – because the state effectively subsidises it. The same is true in third level education. One study after another shows that the vast bulk of students in say UCD or Trinity are from middle or upper middle class backgrounds. Yet their learning is heavily funded from general taxation from a broader base. But I digress: the kernel of David’s argument is that we ought to decide whether the American route or the European one is best for us. Ought to decide – but won’t. We will do exactly what he recommends not to do – muddle through without taking any great decision. It has been the defining characteristic of the last decade that we have not taken fundamental decisions about the structure of our society. Instead we muddle on. A few more quid here, a slight increase there – but no rethink of where the whole think is going. There’s a name for this kind of incoeherent, ad hoc, spinelessness: Bertie-ism

  8. PJ

    can we please stop this west british “mum” nonsense.

  9. David, it is great to find you writing again! You are one of the few analysts that is worth the time to read today. I am amazed at how many issues in Ireland are similar to the issues here in the State of Wisconsin, USA. I teach university courses; I plan to refer my students to your insights. You stimulate thinking, and that is my job too. I am busy catching up with your recent essys; I thank you for them.

  10. Julian

    Hi,

    There’s no easy solution to this one. Go too far to the left and taxes shoot upwards. Go too far to the right and creche costs will soar. The Government can only influence any given set of problems through it’s application/abolition or adjustment of taxation. I’ve long believed the Irish Gov take way too much off of us anyway but, to refer to an earlier point about people who go to 3rd level, what about re-introducing some relatively low fees for college and diverting that money straight to childcare? College students might not agree but at least it would open up the debate a little bit more….??

    What should be remembered also is it would be unfair to ask those who don’t have kids to pay for those who do. However, I do believe that with some careful, clever accounting (for a change) the Government could make at least a small dent in creche charges on a cost-neutral basis. That way you keep the looney leftie-socialists off your back without pulverizing smaller businesses (and their employees!) with even more crazy taxes. I don’t agree that the private business sector should be targeted completely. Why you might ask? The Irish economy is currently losing 500 jobs per week. That’s the why.

    Electronic voting machines. €52m mis-spent. How many nannies would that hire for a year? Short answer for the interim, some intelligent thinking on tax-breaks and incentives therein.

    Julian.

  11. Joe H.

    Its costs me and the missus just 480 a month for a creche place here in Madrid but thats only the half of it. City Hall then give us back half of this money, direct to our bank account at the end of every month.

    It seems that they want to encourage young families to live in the city centre where there already are schools, hospitals, transport etc. Previously, the price of land acquisition to put new infrastructure the suburbs was killing them.

  12. Padraig Healy

    There’s an easy solution to this! Tell your sisters and your female friends to become primary school teachers rather than morketing executives! Four months holidays and you can bring your kids to work. No one is impressed by a job in morketing except other morketing types.

  13. Damien Keogh

    A regular theme with your articles David (which I enjoy reading immensely) is the “Berlin or Boston” question. Should we go private or should we tax and go public? The answer in Bertieland as usual is to muddle along somewhere in the grey middle, trying to keep all of the people happy all of the time and failing miserably. Still, he manages to hold on to power somehow so perhaps he is keeping most of the people happy most of the time.

    I am not necessarily coming down in favour of the private system but lets face it, you simply can’t trust the Irish state to provide value-for-money services. If we try to provide a universal state-run service we will end up paying through the nose for it – another big gang of public servants to get benchmarking and unnecessarily generous pensions. The service probably wouldn’t be any good either, not due to any lack of care or effort on the part of the practitioners but due to poor management and political ineptitude. We have no existing examples of a state-of-the-art public service in Ireland so why do we naively think we could create one in this instance?

    In any case we have a new government with 5 years to run and we won’t see any great changes. We will muddle along somehow in Bertieland. We will muddle successfully not because of good government or good policy decisions but because people (parents) are versatile and creative and they will find a way to get by, often despite the system rather than because of it.

    Damien.

  14. Cliona, Sweden

    I usually look forward to reading your articles David as I believe that you think outside the box. This time however I believe you are firmly within that box. You are referring to the the the fact that there will be more highly educated and professional women than men in the very near future and in the same breath you ask the question who will look after “their” children! My source of annoyance is not that you are highlighting a very real issue, the lack of planning for our future in Ireland is frustrating to say the least, but what I find annoying is that you seem to firmly place the childcare problem as primarily a “womens issue”! Don’t children have two parents? This is something that both parents have to sort out. Continuing to define this as primarily a “womans issue” seems to completely disregard the role of the father as if he should not have any worries or concerns about the welfare of his children.

    I live in Sweden and here the father is regarded as an equally important guardian of his child as the mother. Parental leave is equally divided and the state invests in the future of the country by ensuring adequate, well run and cost effective childcare. Contrary to one of the comments above the Swedish economy is performing well and unemployment is low. It is also not suffering the same type of social problems that are becoming more prevelant in Ireland and maybe that has something to do with the good planning that has gone into ensuring the provision of good quality and affordable childcare.

    Those who do not have children, including myself, should also think a little outside the box as the children are the future workers of the country. They will pay for your pension and will be paying taxes when you have stopped. Placing the issue of childcare on both parents moves the issue into the centre rather than absolving one parent and laying guilt on the other. This is not a working mothers issue but a working parents issue. It also means that maybe the problem will be taken more seriously rather then just being seen as a “womens proble” – you know those greedy women who want it all…. a family and a life beyond that!

  15. Steve

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Fathers are not equally important to their children.

    But I do think that any enduring solution that works in most situations surely must consider that men and woman are different.

    These differences manifest in many ways including the way parents interact with their children and the way children need different things from mothers and fathers.

    This runs counter to politically correct and feminist ideals but I would imagine this reality needs to be addressed intelligently for successful social policy.

    Ref: “Taking Sex Differences Seriously”
    http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/sexdifferences/

  16. ronnie

    Quote:
    Those who do not have children, including myself, should also think a little outside the box as the children are the future workers of the country. They will pay for your pension and will be paying taxes when you have stopped.

    No single people pay for their state pensions through the taxes they pay through their lifetime, your argument is spurious.
    As for mothers/fathers being equally good at rearing children i disagree. I know vast majority of my male friedns were delighted to have their mammy rare them in their early years. I havent read any studies but instinctively I know in general women looking after children in their early years at least is better for the child.

  17. SpinstaSista

    Someone pointed out that very rich or very poor mothers can choose to work in the home, other mothers have to work to support a family. I chose not to have children for this reason. Men have called me a gold digger because I made it clear that if I had children, they would have to be looked after full time at home by either parent for the first few years of their lives.

    My philosphy is that time spent with family is more important to children than things given to them by family, but very few people in Ireland today share this philosophy.

    It will be interesting to see the long term effects on children of both parents commuting and working long hours. Is it my imagination, or are children more stressed nowadays than they used to be? At weekends shopping centres such as Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown are full of stressed little red-faced crying children being dragged around by exhausted parents trying to make the most of “quality time”. It’s a heartbreaking sight. These families often end up in a fast food outlet, comfort feeding their children and fuelling the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

  18. Steve

    Here’s how Sarah Hrdy (a feminist and evolutionary anthropologist) sees the early bond:

    quote:
    “What makes a mother maternal is that she is (invariably) at the scene, hormonally primed, sensitive to infant signals, and related to the baby. These factors lower her threshold for giving of herself to satisfy the infant’s needs. Once her milk comes in, the mothers’ urge to nurture grows stronger still”

    Of course, in addition to this scientific description most of us know that our mammys loved us as well ;-)

    Research from Canada suggests that children who spend long hours in day care have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than do other children.

    Other findings reported in the paper below are that early and extensive nonmaternal care is linked with a worrying increase in the odds of producing “needy, bragging, disobedient and aggressive children”

    According to referenced research, the odds of troubled behaviour seem to increase with the amount of non-maternal care hours.

    paper: http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/admin/books/chapterfiles/May05ffrhoads.pdf

  19. beautfan

    Really enjoyed this article thanks David.

    John – it wasn’t a plastic bag it was ‘not a plastic bag’.

  20. SpinstaSista

    Good article, Steve. A former colleague opened a creche a few years ago. In the early 1990s she worked US creche, then came back to Ireland and took a temping job in the same company where I worked. She was useless but covered up her incompetence with lies and never got caught. She was the best liar I have ever met. I pity anybody who has children in her creche.

  21. Joe

    I agree with Cliona from Sweden – treating this as a problem for women is just not right. Fathers can give up work too – I did it 2 years ago to look after our 4th son and be at home for the other 3 when they come home from school.
    It is assumed by most people in Ireland that the mother is the one with the decision to make about working or not – but it does not have to be the woman who stays at home.

  22. Glen Quinn

    Hi Joe,

    I agree with you but it must be borne in mind that the parent with the lower wage should stay at home and look after the children. It would be stupid for the parent with the higher wage to give up the job to stay at home. In todays society the parent with the highest wage is normally the father. I do not like it myself and I would prefer wages to be the same across all sexs, In my book people are people and I don’t care if they are male or female as long as they can do the job and they should be payed well for it.

    SpinstaSista: It’s good to read your new comments and I completly agree with you.

  23. @Sarah & Joe: Wow, thanks for letting us know that fathers can also look after children. Thats a real eye-opener for me and I am sure everyone else in Ireland.

    No matter how much equality we have, women have the more maternal DNA (ergo mother). Until we reach the utopia of equality whereby millions of years of genetic coding is resequenced so the maternal instincts are spread equally, women will always feel torn between their children and their careers. Thats what David is talking about, and how stark the choices are. He isn’t saying that whoever popped the sprog should look after it.

    Cliona has some good points about how they do things in Sweden, but left out the part about the higher taxation that pays for it. But of course you can’t have your kids and eat them. Sorry, I meant cake.

  24. beautfan

    I have friends who will often tell me that Dad ‘had to’ mind the kids
    for the weekend but she is happy to report that they are still alive. As well at that
    they were dressed (not the right clothes but whew at least he dressed them),
    fed (often get to hear what they got for dinner) and washed (teeth too).

  25. Dónall Garvin

    Interesting article.

    One suprising number I have found is that the TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of the typical Irish Women and her cohorts is less than the replacement rate (~2.1).
    In recent years Ireland’s fertility rate has been one of the quickest falling in the world.

    On another point – I don’t like the idea of living in a 2-tier society where immigrants are second class citizens. That goes against my own sense of justice.
    The problem of creche facilities, working mothers and the strain on working families is nothing new and Ireland can learn from other countries that have faced their demographic challenge before us.

    Personally I empathise with Cliona – I lived in Sweden for a while and saw how their system works and allows women their right to have fufilling careers, public child care facilities and an operating economy.
    What Ireland’s choice should be I don’t know – but the government probably lacks the foresight to make the changes.

  26. Cliona, Sweden

    How it works in Sweden is that the parents have 18 months parental leave to divide between both the mother and the father. Usually the mother will take the first 9 months or a year and then the father will then take his parental leave of between 6 and 9 months. The child therefore has a primary carer for the first year and a half of their lives. After that the child goes to the creche. My point is that because both parental roles are equally valued the society has adapted and Sweden is therefore very family friendly for both fathers and mothers.

  27. Glen Quinn

    The most important years of a childs development is the first four years of its life. Also as a personal choice I would not leave my child in a creche fore some stranger to rear my child up.

  28. John

    Beautfan,
    Thanks for the corection. I thought it was some sort of biodegradable bag. Still makes you wonder how the women who spend so much time studying , having great jobs , breaking glass ceilings etc are still dazzled by a carrier bag.

  29. MB

    It’s fantastic all the men writing in here about how women can’t have it both ways and they just need to realise that children need full-time care and if they can’t provide that then they should just not have a family – when Cliona points out however that men have a role in parenting too and yet they’re somehow allowed to have it both ways, they instantly come up with the old chestnut “oh but all that childcare stuff comes naturally to women, they’re just better at it, you know”.

    Yeah, good one, lads. Well, speaking as a married woman about to start a family I have news for you that you won’t want to hear: it doesn’t come any more naturally to us women than it does to men. It is no easier for a woman to sacrifice her dreams and ambitions to stay home and be with a tiny helpless baby 24/7 than it is for men. If it is, then someone better let me know what hormones all these women who find it easy are on so I can get some too. The key difference is that social expectations make it easier for a woman to be the one who chooses to put her career on the back-burner and live off her husband’s earnings. Women in the past were routinely expected to bear the brunt of society’s need for carers and put their own needs second to those of men and children. In rural Ireland of the past, it was common for parents to keep a spinster daughter at home to care for them in their old age. Any chance for her to get married or get an education to fulfil herself would be scuppered deliberately by the parents to ensure that they would be loooked after when they were elderly. It was selfless and admirable of these daughters, yet somehow we don’t hear people today suggesting that women should give up their careers to take care of their elderly parents. Instead we have nursing homes, care facilities and it’s widely accepted that it’s OK for women to just visit their parents part-time or help out in their care rather than give up their whole lives, including marriage and children, to do so.

    So why is childcare any different? We do a lot of things differently now but somehow when it comes to childcare, a chorus of people stand at the ready with cries of selfishness and greed when a woman chooses to put her ambition and career first. We’re all more selfish now, not just women. I think it’s a really easy cop-out for men to portray this as a problem for women to deal with. Too many men are happy to get support from their wives in financial responsibilities to their famlies while not offering support to their wife in her caring responsibilites. An equal society is a two-way street and men can’t just get off the hook that easily. If you want educated, hard-working, articulate wives, then you’ll have to sacrifice something too. Of course there are men who don’t want that and they’re still free to marry a more traditional type of person if they choose, just as there are women out there who don’t want to work or earn their own income. Whatever other people’s choice, I for one am glad that I have a husband who shares my values and the ideal of an equal society.

  30. David says “If the ESRI and Fas are right about the advancement of women into the professions, we are either going to have fewer children or we’ll need an influx of poor, women immigrants to look after our kids.”

    What about a third option – fathers taking a bigger role in looking after their children?
    As a “stay at home” dad of 4 children I know how rewarding it can be – and how boring it can also be at times. Maybe it is easier for women – but it doesn’t mean men shouldn’t give it a try. Employers and the state have a role to play – for example the income tax for a single income couple is more than a dual income couple on the same total salary. That is hardly encouraging one parent to stay at home. Paternity leave and flexible working for fathers is also an area where employers could help out.

  31. SpinstaSista

    MB, some sons and daughters still care for elderly parents at home. Most of them try to fit it in around their work because a household doesn’t run on fresh air. Caring for elderly parents is more demanding than any paid employment, no matter how highly powered, so these people are to be commended.

  32. Where are your recent articles, David?

    thanks
    Bertie

  33. Bone Idol

    The only thing we are breeding in this country at the moment
    is mediocrity. I can already see in Dublin 10 the next generation that will
    be the future clients of our Social Welfare and prison systems: obese hyperactive
    feral children. There is no early intervention to put an end to this self
    perpetuating cycle. This is the generation that will be working to pay our pensions.
    I think not.

  34. I’ve read this article and the comments with great interest. I myself am a mother of two children, now aged 17 and 11. When our eldest child was 5 (12 years ago) we were working full time, paying a childminder, going out early in the morning and coming home late at night. By the time we got home, it was time for our son to go to bed and the amount of time we had with him growing up was mainly at the weekends. The childminder knew more about his development than we did.

    Like others who have posted comments, I believe that people want to have it all. We want to be with our children but we want the houses, the cars, the holidays, the lifestyle. It takes a lot of courage to decide to give it all up to do what you really want to do.

    I made that decision and gave up work to be a full time mam at home. I stayed at home for 4 years and will admit that it was tough. I was used to using my brain and I lost confidence in my ability to go back to the workforce. I was lucky that the company I had worked for contacted me and offered me a part time job so I did go back to work on a part time basis which suited me.

    During the time I was at home we did not have our “foreign” holidays, our fantastic social life or our shopping trips to Grafton street on Saturdays. What we did have however was a great balance in our life. We got to spend time with our children, going to the park and doing simple things that we now appreciate.

    At the start I said that my children were aged 17 and 11. To all young parents reading this let me say one thing. TIME FLIES. I cannot believe that my children have grown up so quickly. If you are considering taking time out to stay at home, know that it will pass quickly. You can always go back to work but you cannot turn the clock back when your children have grown. The few years that you will have with your children will be ones that you and they will appreciate forever.

  35. guinness416

    The concern I would have as a woman (which is somewhat academic, I earn twice what my husband does, so he would be the stay-at-home if it came to that) is what happens when the kids are older if I give up work. I have a couple of neighbours who feel completely purposeless and down now that their young teenagers don’t need or want them around 24 hours a day, and are finding it enormously tough to find full-time or that holy grail of part-time work with nothing on their resume for the last ten-plus years. If any of those women had been left by their husbands in the interim, their financial situation and future prospects would be a train wreck.

    (Canada is another country that recognizes the Dad’s role and provides a “parental leave” allowance which can be shared between two parents no matter their genders).

  36. Declan

    At the root of this mother’s dilemma are some inescapable facts.
    1) She did very little financial planning for the education of her little darling. Chances are the man in her life did absolutely none. Because financial planning requires sacrifice, and Irish people are above ‘doing without’.
    2) Men are sliding down the educational ladder, thanks to less male teachers in schools, less practical subjects, and an overwhelming emphasis in our culture on ego pursuits for the young male. Classic example is the growth of rugby. In ten years time men will be about as useful in the professions as they are in Australia. Nerds are no use to a retail driven society, because they opt out.
    3) When people have to live one hour away from their parents, sisters, brothers etc.. the family infrastructure, which was available in previous decades is a completely inpractical option.
    4) Heavy mortgages.
    5) The state sector in Ireland has a history of overspending and underperforming. Any effort by the state to ‘fix’ childcare would probably come too late.
    6) We can safely assume that the lady in the article is not employed by the public sector. Public sector mothers have more energy in the evening for children.
    7) The children don’t get enough time to bond with the parents. Can we expect them to be relationship experts ?

    I conclude that the crisis that this mother faces was determined by the society we have become. In the 1970s children were everything. Now, shopping is the religion of the sheeple.

  37. Kate

    Hysteria over how children will turn out aside I believe one of the most far reaching and frightening aspects of our reliance on childcare will be the weakening of family bonds. In Sweden (so often quoted as the utopia of family life) there is a major problem with care of the elderly. The state takes care of you from 12 months to the grave. If you have not had full time care from your parents as a child why would you even consider caring for ageing parents? I have family in Sweden and they and their friends regularly express their feelings of isolation and fear for how their later life will pan out.

    I am a full time mother of two very young boys. At times it is terribly dull but nothing would persuade me that my family does not benefit from my being at home. I can’t imagine missing out on all the things I do with my boys. I also hope that our family bond will be strong and longlasting.

  38. Exasperated

    I’d like to back up the points made by other posters that parenting is as much a father’s job as a mother’s. In our family, both my husband and myself cut back our hours (and consequently our career prospects) so that we could both look after our children more easily. We are both on four day weeks, and we pay a childminder (fairly and generously) to look after them on the remaining three. This is working out really well for us – we’re obviously fortunate in that we can afford it and have employers that facilitated it. We don’t live a luxurious lifestyle, but the time with our kids is the one thing we want to be able to afford, and means more than any flash car, jewellery or foreign holiday.

    Before we started our family, I told my husband that we’d have to split childcare 50/50 – he was surprised, but having thought about it, liked the idea. Now he’s the most devoted father you could find, loves his days with the kids and would not at all be happy if I pushed him into a model where he had to give up that time so that I had more time at home with the smallies. It’s great for them too – they can see first-hand that men can also be devoted and hands-on parents.

    It drives me mad when the childcare issue is presented as a direct consequence of women working – it’s much more complicated than that. Shouldn’t we move forward, not backwards, and think about putting in better structures (e.g. paternity leave, flexible working) that give men the same kind of state and social support for their parenting roles that women have? Looking at it this way, men suffer the same kind of discrimination that women suffered with regard to their working roles until quite recently.

    Finally, what would really help us would be for childcare costs to be taken from pre-tax income. That would show proper commitment from the government for supporting the next generation (which we all need – parents and non-parents alike) and may afford some families more choice in arranging their working lives.

  39. a young father

    Interesting article and comments

    - initially had our 10month child in a part time creche (dublin) – state subsidised – he was bullied by older children amongst other things. Cost to us: 400-500 EU/month

    - now in a very good (only option full-time) Creche – cost: over 1000EU/month !!

    - child happy and learning much, but parents not looking forward to future costs of living and bringing up a family in Ireland …. starting to think about emigrating ! … the nexy desporia – will be jugglers who’ve had enough.

    For all the supposed wealth and improvement in Ireland – is the quality of life really that great when the state ‘muddles’ through everything.

  40. John Dooley

    Quality of life issues are what will make or break Ireland in the future as more people make the decision to leave because of child-care and other pressures. In my work-place I’m sick to death carrying the can when the women go on maternity leave. I know the employer is supposed to provide replacements but our workplace is so demanding,(shift work, on your feet all day etc… ) that most pregnant women get out early on doctors advice well before the statutory leave happens and stay out for longer after the baby is born. Such leave is not covered by replacement workers and the other people in the mothers department have to carry the can and do extra work.
    I am not looking forward to the future predicted by ESRI and other economic think-tanks when women will control 60% of the wealth and, hence, a majority of the power in this country. Also a system that must provide equal access to scarce education places at third level, only to have some of the recipients leave the workplace early to have children is an awful waste of both the education resources and the leavers talent.
    More home based work is one partial answer or work-based creches is another one; but if women form 60% of the wealth creators in this country and hence 60% of the work-force. ( Unless the men become lower paid), what will the reliability of that workforce be like?

  41. Genevieve

    We as a society ought to recognise the job of parenting give it status and a salary, not for the full 24/7 care of children but for the so called “working day” ie 7 am to 7 pm. The reason that so many women today do not want to stay at home and rear their children is because they are stigmatised as “not working”. Rearing children is usually a good 20 years of a parents life and when there is no status for this 20 years the parent in question loses out on social welfare contributions, and pension rights, this has happened mostly to women. The other trap women fall into is that if they are seen as “not working” during those years and become separated, divorced or bereaved, they then find themselves with no status at all, but more seriously no income. They are then labeled as “lone parents” and are then expected to rear thier children 24/7 but also to work outside the home. This is rather strange when we see that even in two parent families it is a well documented and accepted problem that most two parent families cannot afford to have the mother either work or stay at home.

    If we recognised the “work” that so many mothers do at home, even just a token 10 hour day 5 days a week and gave a salary, it would take the burden off families to come up with two salaries. It would enable families to have one parent at home if that is their choice, and it would enable both parents to work and use the “childcare salary” to pay a creche if the kids are small or a Nanny if they have many or older children.

    A salary would also ensure that a parent whether in a couple relationship or alone could have a choice to be at home with their children or work outside and have good quality Nanny care to free them up to show commitment to a full time job.

    It is true that in America there was a steady supply of wonderful spanish women who had values similar to American families who could take over the Nannying. Here in Ireland we would find it hard to find the number and quality of nannies we would need to encourage more mothers to leave the home to take up careers and I dont think it would be wise or desirable to hand over our children to refugees from war torn countries or from countries where values are so different without them going through thorough training and vetting procedures.

    But then again I dont see that we need to follow the American or the European systems we have a unique situation where most mothers opt to stay at home and rear their children, and we have a strong tradition of parenting, so rather that push them all out into tthe workforce why not include them in the workforce by paying them a salary. This way mothers who want to mother can stay at home and mothers who want to pursue other careers will do so, There will be less pressure on providing creche and nanny services, and the services that do exist could just be improved rather than expanded.

    We could do away with all welfare payments, (childrens allowance, lone parent allowance, family income supplement, back to school allowance etc etc) to parents as every parent would be a salaried and contributing member of society. I believe that a lot of money is wasted in Social welfare and the billions spent every year rarely make it to the parents and children in need but gets lost in administration and personnel costs.

    Our government has tried for many years to tackle poverty especially amongst Lone parents and yet it was responsible for maintaining those parents and children at a “below the poverty line” allowance. Minimum wage would be a huge improvement for most mothers and especially lone parents. But I imagine that it would not take long before parenting moved up the salary scale given the huge responsibilities parents have rearing and protecting children.

    But leaving poverty out of the equation, isnt it about time that Mothers (and or fathers) got some recognition for the wonderful work they do and that the financial dependency of one partner on the other ended. Women may have fought for equal pay and equal opportunities but as there was no male equivalent to childcare in the 70s, mothering/parenting seems to have been relegated to the bin. But now we have lots of people albeit it still mostly women “working” minding children, nannies, creche workers, carers etc so we are in a position to offer equality to stay at home parents even if it is just to offer minimum wage for a token 8 to 10 hours a day, and just 5 days a week.

    I think employers would also welcome parents receiving a salary so that there would be no more reluctant mothers in the workforce who would rather be at home or who dont have adequate childcare and expect an employer and other employees to carry the can while they attend to domestic affairs.

    And I think that it would open up better prospects for fathers to stay at home when the mother has a desire to pursue her career. Not many fathers opt at the moment to stay at home and maybe it is because they also dont want to be financially dependent on a wife or partner and dont want to have the non status of “unemployed” while they rear children.

    Am I alone in thinking that salaries might be a solution, or do all parents now a days want to have careers other than childcare. I had a very happy childhood and a full time stay at home mother. I am a full time mother myself now but hate the no status and no pay aspects of it. I worked for 20 years before becoming a mother and hope to work full time again when the kids reach 18 but the “gap” in employment is devastating.

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