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CHILDCARE OPTIONS AND FLEXIBLE WORKING

Finding the right childcare when working full time or flexibly can be like finding a needle in a haystack and if you do find that needle it is often diamond and gold-plated! Parents spend up to 45% of their disposable income on childcare and when it comes to a return to work, families (and in particular, mothers) often have to make a decision as to whether it is even worth working after paying for childcare. Many parents therefore try, with some creative thinking, to combine flexible working with childcare to try and achieve a “happy” medium.

43% of working women in the UK now work part time or flexibly, the majority of these choosing part time / flexible working to balance childcare.

Flexible working requests are reassuringly becoming a norm, not only for those parents returning to work after maternity or paternity leave but also throughout the lifecycle of parenting. A parent’s working arrangements can change several times as their children grow up. As many parents quickly realise, the days of a worrying about how to leave the office at 5pm in order to collect from a nursery at 6pm, are soon replaced by school pick-ups and how to keep your child safe during the 13 weeks of school (and that’s just if your children are in the state school system!).

Unfortunately, whilst your working arrangements may be flexible your childcare is inherently inflexible. Therefore, parents are forced to look at creative solutions and combinations in order to find solutions to meet their needs. Nurseries have set hours; childminders will only pick up from certain schools, school holidays are fixed and so as their childcare is often inflexible so parents have to seek greater and further working flexibility at certain times of year or at certain times in their child’s life.

So back to basics what are your childcare options?

Nannies provide the most flexible option for childcare when your children are young, and being based from your home if you need to work late, they can also ensure the children are then put to bed and your house is tidy. Nannies are widely regarded as the most expensive option, but the reality is that if you have 2 or 3 children to care for, they can be cheaper than nursery fees. Nanny shares (whereby two employers share one nanny) can also provide further financial advantages and is a popular solution for many working flexibly.

Nurseries provide the least flexible childcare but are open all year round, except when your child is ill and they are unable to go. They have set hours and set sessions that you must pay for regardless of whether your child goes and there can be high penalties if you are late.

Childminders provide a home from home setting with relatively fixed hours but they do provide more flexibility particularly for families who need less standard hours, shorter days or part-time care. Most will also offer nursery or school drop off and pick up options (although they will only usually pick up from certain establishments).

Family has a great benefit of being free, home based and flexible to suit your hours however it is important for the family member to be fully committed (such as not taking lots of holidays when you need cover!) as arguments can cause more problems personally than within a professional relationship. Building a network of school families is essential not only for those emergency situations when you are running late home but also to arrange swapping playdates or holiday cover… a bit of sharing the load for childcare is a great way of cutting down on summer camp costs.

Au-Pairs are a very popular choice when children go to school as like a nanny they will work just for you and can offer 25-30 hours a week providing cover before and after school. Financially they are the cheapest option, providing you have a spare room available for them, but au pairs often have no (or very limited) childcare experience and travel to the UK for a cultural experience of only between 6-12 months.

Breakfast Clubs and After School Clubs
are available not just at your school but also some local nurseries offer a local school collection service and then they care for the children in premises near to the school.

So how do you go about finding the right childcare for your family?

The biggest piece of advice for any parent thinking of childcare is to plan ahead but also to constantly reassess. Childcare needs unfortunately change such as when there is a change is circumstances like going to school or changing schools, new additions to the family and also the needs of your children change nearly every year. What is a major bonus is an open and frank relationship with your employer, because the key to achieving the “happy” medium is trying to achieve flexibility on all sides.

Ultimately the right childcare option is the one that leaves your children happy, stimulated and safe and you with great peace of mind but also one that creates the less stress possible for busy working parents, whether working full-time or flexibly.

Parental Choice the essential “one-stop shop” to help you make the right decision on your childcare needs. Parental Choice offer childcare searches including nurseries, childminders, nannies and au pairs plus support employers of nannies with all their payroll and employer responsibilities. For more information on your childcare options and how Parental Choice can help visit www.parentalchoice.co.uk and quote MJPC5.

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Find yourself

Apart from the weight gain, hair loss, loss of inhibition and sudden fascination with bowel movements, one of the most common side effects of having a baby is a loss of confidence.

And we’re not just talking about in your abilities as a mother (let’s face it, we’re all winging it), but in doing the job you’d been doing for years before that.

You’ve gained a child, a family, a new purpose in life – but have you lost you?

So many women report that they’re no longer seen as a person in their own right, merely a mother. Combine this with the worrying number of mums who return to work when they don’t want to, or are prevented from working by redundancy or prohibitive childcare costs, and it’s clear that we’re facing a parenthood confidence crisis.

Kim Cutler, of MummyJobs coaching partner Storm McQueen, became a life coach after struggling to balance her stressful City career with looking after her two young children.

She says: “I had my first baby in 2014 and returned to work after a very short maternity leave of four months. What played heavily on my mind was the amount of hours I had worked pre-motherhood.

“I began to read The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, and, from this, I took action and got the support of a life coach. After just a two-hour phone call, I had been completely taken out of my comfort zone of allowing fear to control my life.
“Much to my own shock, I immediately called my boss and said I wanted to leave!”

The difficulty of balancing the professional and the personal is a common theme among Kim’s clients.
She says: “The common challenges I see with my clients when they prepare to return to work are loss of confidence, loss of identity and worries about flexibility.

“Pre-children, the majority were able to give full focus and time to their work, post-children, they can’t possibly see how this will work. For example, if a meeting runs over, pre-kids you would just stay until it’s finished; post children, you have to collect them from nursery, so you have to leave.”

So how can a life coach help? While their job isn’t to offer advice as such, a coach will encourage you to question yourself and establish what you want out of life.

Having a clear plan and the confidence to ask for it is often the key to making a flexible working request achievable – present your employer with a solution, not a problem.

Kim says the question to ask is: “What does your ideal week look like?” Once this is defined, how does this fit around the roles and tasks? What can you propose that works for you and employer?”

Like all of us here at MummyJobs, Kim’s vision of the future is for a fully flexible working environment, where parents are valued for what they bring to the workplace, rather than judged for what they take.

“I hope that more and more organisations realise the huge loss of talent through not offering flexibility in the workplace.

“I would also love to see coaching programmes more widely used in support of returners, this has such a significant impact on employee output and wellbeing.”

If you feel you could benefit from a confidence boost, whether in your personal or professional life, check out our partners here.

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Don’t give in to guilt, you’ve worked hard for your career

When you have children, your list of job roles suddenly multiplies. You become a mother, a caregiver, a nurse, a protector and many more. But one title many mothers feel guilty about is one they held long before their little bundle came along; employee.

Some women will choose to step right back into their career, others will take up new challenges, perhaps working from home or setting up a business. No matter which applies to you, there is one common thread; you have nothing to feel guilty about. Science says so.

A study led by New York’s Columbia University School of Social Work found that while there are downsides to mothers returning to work during their child’s first year, there are also significant advantages, including an increase in household income and a greater likelihood that children receive a high quality of care.

Here are some things to remember when feeling guilty about returning to work:

Life is full of sacrifices
There will always be compromises and sacrifices when it comes to combining being a mother and having a career. What’s important is that you remember why you are making them in the first place.
Make a list of the reasons why you go to work – money, sanity, friends that don’t wipe their sticky fingers on your clothes (we hope!). Although there will be times you miss a dance show or a school assembly, your family and yourself are all better off with you having a rewarding and satisfying career.

Should is not a word that belongs in your vocabulary
Do you remember your mum screaming on the sidelines at every football game? How about right at the front for the Christmas production every year? No? That’s because it’s unrealistic, especially for working mums!
‘Should’ is an unhealthy way of looking at your parental responsibilities. Once you replace it with ‘could’, you’ll find yourself feeling less guilty about choosing to work late on that all important project than being at the fourth performance of Jimmy being second octopus in the school play.

‘Good enough’, is good enough
You’ve made the decision to go back to work and your career is going better than ever – but you’re working yourself into the ground by overcompensating at home to be the ‘perfect parent’. If you find what that is – do let us know!
Going to work doesn’t mean it’s more important than your children, it’s just important to you. So when you’re at home, be present, be happy and be a role model. Don’t try to be perfect.

Although being a mother is possibly the most rewarding career you will ever have, you never need to feel guilty about going to work and doing something for you.

If you want to chat to like-minded mothers, or want to get something off your chest, join the conversation here.