Returning to work presents a wealth of challenges and the biggest one for parents, in my humble opinion, is the mine field that is child care.
When we lived in Cape Town, child care wasn’t the big issue it is here, mainly because it is affordable and back then I felt that I had simple and straight forward options that I understood. We moved here when Jimmy was 6 years old and immediately I saw the huge difference between childcare in the UK vs childcare in SA.
What should you know when choosing childcare in the UK
1) The cost of childcare in the UK is eye watering…
I was stunned when we first arrived and I realised that full time childcare was going to mean I spent my entire salary on child care! To have the same type of childcare that I was used to having for my child in Cape Town, we had to pay much more than what we were used to and at first I was miserable because the quality of care was poor and at the time I was unsure of what, if any, options there were. Coupled with this was a complete lack of support system so I was in the dark for a long time and wish that someone could’ve helped me to explore better options for my child. At this stage I must stress that I was only looking at breakfast clubs and after-school care as that was all I really knew.
2) Childcare types are an education all on their own
There are nurseries, pre-schools, child minders, and nannies; au-pairs and sitters, mothers-help and grannies (see what I did there!). Each type of child care is unique, with some being home based, some being based in other peoples homes and some being formal work premises. There are long lists of pro’s and con’s for all types and often because of the cost, you have to balance what you can afford with what you actually want which also is not necessarily the same as what you actually need. There are difference expectations with time, what is supplied, what you supply, how payments are made among a few things.
3) Choose what works for your family
What works for my family would not work for yours. I have a pre-schooler, a child in infant school, a teenager, a husband working irregular hours and all these routines need to some how co-ordinate with my own. At the moment our 17 year old is doing a fantastic job helping out, but he is taking a study break and that won’t last long. We have had touch and go success with au-pairs, with our first one setting the bar high, followed by the laziest person known on earth, followed by a love-struck girl who ended up running off with her boyfriend on a whim. I have had wonderful child minders, and child minders who really should rethink their life choices. I’ve used nurseries, which are great in some ways, difficult in others. My mother has often taken care of the kids as has my brother in law and his finance. Different options have worked for us at different times in our life and no two experiences are the same. An environment one child thrived in, may have just not worked for the other. Each type of child care has up sides and down side, and you have to prepare to be adaptable.
4) Networking is vital
The mother’s network is CRITICAL to getting the inside scoop on everything, everyone and every single local establishment, and honestly don’t bother asking if you are not prepared to listen. I once believed an Ofsted report over and above the advice of local parents and it cost me dearly with me having to move my son out of the school I chose for him 2 months down the line. Not fun. Hugely stressful. Not worth it. Listen to the Moms network. Seriously, a mother knows and many mothers are invaluable.
These were the lessons I learnt when moving from SA to the UK. Many years of trial and error and I’m still like a fart in the wind most of the time, always trying to make the right choice, and invariably always learning from trial and error. I hope these tips help you, and if you have your own experiences or tips to add, please feel free to leave a comment below.