A few weeks earlier I had excitedly accepted a job editing a website for career-minded women like myself and I couldn’t wait to get started. Before I had a chance to put my foot in the door my excitement had all but vanished. It was replaced with dread and doubt.
Finding childcare for our two daughters was proving to be almost impossible. Despite my nine-month old having been on a waiting list since she was 14 weeks’ in utero there was no position for her at the centre which her three-year old sister attends. A position is unlikely to be available there until 2014.
I rang two dozen day-care centres near my home and my prospective workplace and just as many family day-care places, all to no avail. The message was clear; I would be lucky to secure a position for my baby anywhere. Neither my parents or my parents-in-law live in Sydney but even if they did they work fulltime so can’t commit to regular caring.
Getting a nanny looked to be the only viable option until I did the maths. Engaging a nanny for ten hours a day, which by the time you consider the physical handover at the beginning and end of the day and the commute to and from work allows for eight hours in the office, costs upwards of $200 after tax and there is no rebate available. Outlaying $1,000 a week on childcare is potentially affordable to some families but not to many.
Trying to find a childcare solution consumed me for weeks. I spent hours online searching for childcare providers in Sydney. I developed spread-sheets calculating what we could and couldn’t cover. I tried to decipher information from the various family services websites. I listened to hold music for hours whilst waiting to speak with someone, anyone, at one of the relevant government departments. I drafted and sent dozens of emails pleading with childcare providers and resorted to promising freshly-baked cake in exchange for just a glimmer of hope.
For weeks, at the end of each day, being able to take the job seemed less likely than it had the day before. At the end of each day I thought the same thing. It shouldn’t be this hard. But it was and it is.
In the end a little luck was on my side. By chance my neighbour, an accountant also struggling to find care to facilitate her return to work, mentioned that she had recently been offered two days in a nearby family day-care centre for her ten-month old daughter. She had turned it down because the only two days available were the days she already had care secured.
I rang and I got lucky. Those days, in combination with my three-year old’s days at her preschool and a nanny one day a week, meant I could take this job.
The irony (not to mention madness) of almost not being able to take a job, working on a platform championing the success of women in the workplace, purely because I couldn’t access childcare was not lost on me. The experience was as frustrating as it was illuminating and I know my experience is not rare.
Accessing childcare should not be determined by luck or chance or a six figure salary but as it stands it is. And as long as that’s the case childcare will remain a legitimate barrier to parents returning to work, to equality and, ultimately, to productivity.
It is a barrier that needs dismantling and one upside to my personal experience was that it strengthened my resolve to at least try to make that happen. Over the coming days I will be speaking to the politicians currently vying for the power to make substantive changes in this area and will report back.
Have you been unable to return to work because you haven’t been able to access childcare?