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?