Separation Anxiety

Dot writes: this week I have suddenly, acutely felt the sharpness of the modern mother’s dilemma: giving up work, which I can’t afford to do, versus leaving my baby, who needs me. The end of my maternity leave is only a month away now and I have to face the fact that this sweet, cuddly creature, who likes nothing better than to suck at my breast and gets upset if I leave him for longer than it takes to go to the toilet, who can’t sit up yet and is used to taking his morning nap in a sling, is going to absolutely hate being stuck in a nursery. I’ve been trying to tell myself that he will enjoy all the new toys and experiences and people – he definitely gets bored at home. That may be so, but it remains the case that he simply won’t get the same level of love and attention from the staff at the creche that he would from Ken and me.

I feel a whole lot worse since I got a visit yesterday from the lady who comes to see me under the Community Mothers scheme. She wanted to lend me a book about how bad nurseries are for the under threes. The more nursery care, and the earlier, the worse, according to this book; but apparently any is bad. The book is called Raising Babies, by Steve Biddulph. I was too upset to borrow it, but I took the reviews my Community Mother offered. According to them, the book uses findings from extensive studies conducted in the US and UK; it seems to have a good evidence base. A US study found that among the children who were in daycare for more than 30 hours a week, compared with those cared for at home, three times as many children (17%) had behavioural problems. A University of Cambridge study found that babies and toddlers in daycare showed elevated levels of stress hormones, and this effect persisted when they had been in nurseries for several months. (Other studies were mentioned too.)

So I’m feeling horribly guilty and worried about Hugh starting at creche. We’ve only booked a three-day week, but if I were to go into work just for 9 to 5 on each of those three days, given my commute takes a good hour, he’d still easily clock up 30 hours a week there. And in May, when he’s due to start, he’ll only be six months old. I also feel guilty because I’m not taking unpaid leave – six months is when my paid leave runs out. Financially, we could afford for me to take a few more months; but I have tasks piling up that need to be done this summer and won’t be manageable if I wait to go back in the autumn when teaching starts. While on the one hand I wish I had the option of giving up work altogether and being a stay-at-home mum, on the other hand I’m chafing for time to pursue my work projects; and sometimes (only sometimes) I do find being at home with the baby tiring and depressing. Ken suggested it might be more appropriate if he gave up work, since at present I’m the higher earner, but I won’t let him do that. He really loves what he does and has got as far as he has with dedication and grit. Now at last he’s in a position that could issue in a permanent job and a secure career. He’d be miserable giving up philosophy, and bored and frustrated staying at home. (Also, we wouldn’t be able to afford to move to a bigger place, and as we’re in a one-bedroom flat we’re definitely going to need to.)

So what are we going to do? My Community Mother recommended finding a childminder who would build more of a personal bond with Hugh. I hadn’t tried that route because I hadn’t been able to find any adverts from childminders and because I don’t feel very confident about picking a good one. But my CM says the thing is for the parents to advertise rather than the childminder. So today I went and put an advert for a ‘kind, affectionate childminder’ on the board in the local Tescos. I’ll try putting up some others in the shops in Dalkey and asking around at church and seeing what happens. Meanwhile, I haven’t quite been decisive enough to ring the creche. Ken said we should ask if we can defer the place till September and each take Hugh for half the week over the summer. But I suspect we will both need more than 2.5 days for work.

What would be perfect would be if some kind older lady who didn’t desperately need the money but felt like some loud but cute infant company and some cash on the side, were to offer to take Hugh and become a sort of paid auntie three days a week. But can money buy you love?

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7 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety

  1. sarahstewart

    Hi Dot, I really feel for you because it is a terrible dilemma. I was ‘lucky’ in that being a midwife, I worked ‘nights’ when my kids were babies and I had a great mother-in-law who helped out. But when I look back on what I did , I have no idea how I survived working all night and then being up all day with the little kids. I have used all types of child care, and I found childminders to be great – but I did know them before I used them.

    Dot, you’ll feel bad about whatever you choose, and that will continue throughout your ‘mothering’ life. In the end, you can only do the best you can do at any given time. Continue breastfeeding as long as you can because that will re-connect with you with Hugh when you are home. Take care of yourself – this is vital to your well-being as well as the rest of the family. If that means going back to work, so be it.

  2. Dot

    Thanks for that kind comment, Sarah. I’m veering now towards thinking we should ditch the creche, at least until September, and accept this won’t be a hot summer of research. I’m supposed to be writing a book (hollow laugh), but the world can probably do without it. That still only gets him to ten months, though.

    I guess without my job we wouldn’t have had a baby at all. But that isn’t Hugh’s fault.

  3. Laura

    I’d be curious to know more about that “evidence based claim” about US children in childcare more that 30 hours a week. My guess (based on my own observations of a country with no social safety net, inadequate or non-existent family leave after childbirth, and general lack of access to health care etc. ) is that most children who are left in childcare that many hours are either the offspring of single mothers* and/or from families with financial distress -such that the parent(s) are working multiple part-time minimum wage jobs. If there is anything to this guess, it would point to factors other than spending time in childcare facilities as an explanation for behavioral problems.
    Still , I see no reason this should disuade you from holding off on the creche if you have a chance to find a nanny or if you can spend more time with Mr. Prawn until Sept.
    *No slight intended to US single mothers trying to hold it together in this unfortunate system.

  4. Dot

    According to the reviews, the results of the US study were paralleled in the UK studies; and in the UK daycare is expensive and not much of an option for low-income families. (I know low income doesn’t equal disfunctional, or prosperous functional, but money problems and personal problems tend to accentuate each other.) The creche in Ireland is certainly extremely expensive. We’ve engaged to pay 787 euro per month for a three-day week (it would be 998 for five days). A childminder would probably work out at rather more: my CM said the going rate was 8 to 10 euro per hour, which would be (at the lower rate) 240 euro per week for a thirty-hour week. With a childminder it might be easier to pay for the hours actually used, though. The creche charges for the whole time it’s open, so you pay for convenience and flexibility even if you minimize your child’s hours.

    I wish the money angle didn’t have to play such a big part in this.

  5. Meri

    It may be worth remembering that whilst the large amounts of money involved may rule out low income ‘disfunctional’ families, the stats are still likely to be biased (how ever slightly) by a larger amount of parents who think it’s fine to leave their children for long periods of time.
    The fact that it worries you so much indicates that you’re likely to be in the branch of parents that put so much effort into the time they have that the child doesn’t grow up with the same kinds of stress. (sorry that’s rather badly put, I’m rather tierd right now).

  6. It seems that for that amount per month you might be able to afford extra rent and live closer to work and do your best to cover each other, only using a childminder when you both absolutely have to be otherwise engaged at the same time. I don’t know exactly how both your duties are arranged but academic work is generally quite flexible, so Ken could look after Prawn while your teach in the morning, then you can care for him in the afternoon while Ken goes to the library and you work on your book? It would be difficult, but might preclude the day care. It’s too bad one of your mothers can’t move in. That would be ideal!

  7. Belle Inconnue

    I wouldn’t pay any attention to this sort of absurd scare-mongering if I were you, and I can’t imagine why on earth this silly woman tried to force you to read this book, when you will obviously have to arrange for some sort of childcare for Hugh, so why waste time worrying about it? I don’t have any kids of my own, so I suppose I can’t imagine the wrench of leaving them, but it will far worse for you than the baby.

    I know people who have done all the ‘wrong’ things for their kids – not breastfeeding, going to work full time when the baby was 6 weeks old etc. There is absolutely no difference to be seen between these kids and those whose mothers did everything in the ‘perfect’ and ‘correct’ way. honestly, if they don’t tell you about their childcare arrangements, you can’t tell the difference between kids who are at home with mum or those who go to nursery 5 days a week. They are all healthy, normal, bright, jolly kids.

    just do whatever is the most practical, sensible and convenient thing, and don’t worry about it, Hugh will not suffer in any from going to nursery.

    Putting things into a historical context (I know you like to do that!) kids have not been particularly cherished or well looked after in the past. Rich kids got nannies and caned to within an inch of their lives at boarding school, poor kids got looked after by slightly older siblings, sent down the mines and up chimneys, and were lucky if they weren’t accidentally boiled to death on washday, and yet we’re all here now, are’t we?

    i think Hugh will get to enjoy nursery, and you will enjoy having a break from him, and will feel happier if you simply do what you need to do without endlessly reading about all the things that could go wrong, but probably won’t.

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