I have refrained from complaining about my family’s childcare situation for a little while because I feel lucky to have the care for our two daughters that we do. Having any childcare – let alone good quality care – is no small feat. But the culmination of too many painful commutes and Samantha Maiden’s fantastically astute column on the lack of understanding around childcare issues on the weekend have prompted me to fill you in.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful let me explain. Sydney is divided by the stunning and iconic Harbour Bridge which I am now, sadly, more closely acquainted with than I ever thought possible. You see, at the moment, we live on one side of the bridge and our kids go to a daycare centre on the other side.
This means we criss-cross the city in peak hour, with two children under the age of four, three times a week, twice a day; once before 7.30am and once after 5pm. It costs a bomb in tolls and in petrol, not to mention the sanity of whoever is driving (most often me). It’s madness but what’s the alternative? Until next year there isn’t one.
If hiring a nanny was remotely affordable we would but it’s not. The reason our distinctly child-unfriendly commute arose was because in the middle of the year we moved. The girls’ current daycare is actually one of the reasons we resisted moving for as long as we did. The fact it took us so long to get them both into the fantastic centre they’re in made us reluctant to move anywhere.
But it came to a point where there was no denying our family had outgrown the apartment we rented so in June we bit the bullet and moved across the bridge in search of a little more space. (A situation I am sure is familiar to many young families.) The space has been a huge relief but there is no way around the fact that commuting across the city with two kids is less than ideal.
Relief, however, is in sight because from the end of January next year both our daughters will start in a daycare centre in our neighbourhood. I’m still pinching myself that we got that care but by that time it begins we will have done the cross city commute for 7 months.
Am I telling you this because I am hoping for an outpouring of pity? No (although sympathy and cake, for example, are always welcome) I say it because we are not alone. Most Sydney parents who I have explained our situation to can relate; they have either done a version of it themselves while they were waiting for a position or they know another family who has or is doing it. I imagine similar stories are relevant in other capital cities.
It reflects how hotly contested childcare positions are in metropolitan areas and, to some extent, illustrates why so many parents opt out of working.
Solving the childcare puzzle isn’t simple but one critical aspect of the equation that needs to be addressed in trying to, is proximity. Demand and supply for childcare positions need to match up in geographic locations; because having to commute long distances to childcare before you even arrive at your own workplace is a genuine impediment to workforce participation of parents.
On paper, however, I am aware it may not seem like that. What’s the big deal someone who has never travelled in a car with a hungry and tired toddler during peak hour, might ask? That is why I am extending an open invitation to Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and any other member of Cabinet, a ride in my car. I’d hazard one trip with my kids over the bridge would prove persuasive. As Samantha Maiden wrote sometimes firsthand experience really is valuable.
What lengths do you go to for childcare? Please share your war stories.