In the news this week was the prospect of the government increasing the ratio of children to carers in childcare settings. Currently for children aged one and under you are allowed three children per carer – this is set to rise to four; and for children aged two you are currently allowed four children per carer – this is set to rise to six. The government want to do this with the aim of cutting childcare costs for working parents.

In my personal opinion – and admittedly I have no experience of working in a nursery or pre-school – this seems crazy. Most parents are reluctant to put their children into childcare anyway at such young ages, why would you be more likely to if there were less carers for your child? How can one person possibly cope with 4 crying babies? And can you imagine running after 6 two year olds?

The government say that carers looking after a higher number of children will have to be more qualified – how is that going to make childcare cheaper? With the average cost in the UK of a week in nursery being £177 – often significantly more in London and for younger children – and the minimum wage being £6.19, you’ve got to work at least 29 hours before you’ve paid for someone else to look after your child! That’s before you’ve paid tax, commuting costs, etc. Clearly you’ve got to be earning significantly above the minimum wage to even consider using a nursery.

So with the prospect of a lower standard of care for your child due to the higher ratios, and the certainty of high costs, it makes sense to try to find work that fits around your children so that you don’t need to take the childcare option. Lots of women find themselves in this situation at some point during their children’s pre-school years, and also during their school years as school hours are obviously much shorter than full-time work hours so there is still a need for childcare.

What are the options? Every mother finds a different solution if for financial reasons (or reasons of sanity!) she needs to go back to work. Here are some of the options that friends have taken:

  • Partner takes a career break/sabbatical: if you are the main breadwinner for the family then it makes sense for you to go back to work full-time if your partner is able to take a career break or sabbatical. Clearly this will depend on what type of work your partner does, whether they would lose pension entitlements, and whether they would be willing to take the reins at home whilst you go out to work…
  • The Grandparent option: you may be lucky enough to have fit, able and willing parents or parents in law nearby who can look after your children whilst you go to work. A popular option in these days of astronomical childcare costs – but unfortunately not open to us all.
  • Work evenings and weekends: “passing like ships in the night” – as your partner comes in from work, you go out to work an evening shift, or find work that involves weekends only. Sounds simple but you would need to consider how exhausted you would feel caring for the children during the day then working all evening. Also working weekends may leave you missing out on precious family time.
  • Short term contract work: some areas of work offer short term contracts e.g. the IT and telecommunications industry. Companies like Aim Hire recruit IT staff on a contract basis as well as full time. If you are only working for a few months then grandparents or relatives maybe able to step in to do the childcare on a short term basis.
  • Working from home: the rapid advancement in the world of IT means that working from home has become easier and cheaper than ever before. Either being an employee who works from home (ITSM recruit home workers for IT jobs), work freelance using skills you have gained in previous employment, or setting up your own business based from home means no commuting costs and either zero or much reduced childcare costs. Either work can be done around the children, or employing an au-pair is significantly cheaper than using a nursery – and you are on hand if your child needs you.

I was in this situation a year ago. My children are both of school age so I could work between 9am and 3pm during term time. Or so I thought! Jobs that were genuinely 9am until 3pm are virtually non-existent in the rural area in which we live – and they certainly don’t stop for school holidays, meaning childcare costs in the holidays would make it not worth working in the first place! And what if the children were sick? Or the school was closed for snow?

Stuck in this conundrum I searched on the internet for various work from home options – all seemed like door to door catalogue selling jobs, or scams! So I got chatting to a good friend who was in the same situation. Surely there is an answer we thought? And there is!

We set up a business working online from home and a year down the line we are doing better than we could ever have imagined. Our work fits around the children, we have no commuting costs and we are enjoying every second! We have learnt so much, gained masses of confidence and don’t have to worry about childcare quality or costs.

If you are stuck in this conundrum, think through your options, talk with other Mums – you never know, this time next year you could be in a job or running a business you love – and caring for your children 1:1!