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Balancing work and children is a constant juggle of guilt

There’s not enough being done to help parents balance their home life with work, writes Maria Bailey.

Maria Bailey

IT’S GETTING EVER closer to Christmas and my children have their evening nativity plays coming up. I found this out while putting lunches in bags for my young daughters, Katy and Lauren. Katy wants to practice to show teacher, but we have no time. I drop my girls to school, promising we’ll practice this evening and make a mental note to allow time for this.

Getting out of the house even on a normal day is stressful, as I’m under pressure to get to work myself. Then from time to time, routine goes completely out of the window. Like when your four year old develops chicken pox overnight.

This happened last Wednesday, but an urgent phone call to my mum sorted the situation. We’re blessed to have that. We know a lot of parents don’t have the luxury of simply making a phone call to a nearby parent and for them, it means staying home and missing work.

Both my husband Jim and I have jobs, which is great for the financial security of our family. However the trade-off is that I have one eye on the clock all of the time. I have notes scribbled on our calendar in the kitchen, so I can remember which days the girls have Irish dancing and swimming and who’s going to drop them off and collect them.

Balancing it all 

Then just like us, their evening engagements seem to increase over Christmas. The words “juggle” and “guilt” are used constantly in our household because that is the only way to balance work and childcare.

The Minister for Children James Reilly has recently announced new childcare measures as part of Budget 2016, designed as a ‘first step’ to achieving affordable childcare that is accessible for all children.

One of the key measures has been to provide an additional 23 hours of free pre-school as part of the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE), reducing parents’ childcare costs by approximately €1,500, on average.

These additional ECCE hours will be welcomed by all parents, including us, but I still believe they’re not nearly enough for parents to balance their home life with work. Most urgently, we need to push for additional provisions for afterschool activities, not simply daycare.

As a Councillor in Dun Laoghaire, my working hours can be erratic, with a lot of evening meetings and events to attend at the weekend. So many other parents are in the same position nowadays, with working hours becoming less 9am to 5pm and greater expectations placed on workers to stay late and meet deadlines. It’s particularly heightened at this time of year, as we meet festive obligations and try to put in extra time to plough through our workload before the holidays.

After-school activities 

However our children should still be able to enjoy after-school activities and the many playdates that take place during the year. No parent wants their children to miss out and the feelings of guilt come when we can’t manage the balance between them living life to the fullest, and fulfilling our work commitments.

I believe that the best way to combat this problem is for more schools to provide on-site, after school childcare. This could take the form of after-school sports, art and hobby classes and homework groups, allowing children the chance to be challenged outside of school hours. All the while, parents can know that their children are being looked after in a familiar and friendly environment.

We are moving in the right direction, with paid paternal leave and additional childcare support for parents on lower incomes. However all parents, regardless of income, need greater childcare support right now. If parents can avail of increased support to look after their children first, they will then be in a position to further drive our economic recovery, so we all benefit.

Seeing Katy and Lauren grow up to be healthy and happy, with their own friends and hobbies, is my greatest joy. The most important thing to me is that I can be with them for all of their milestone moments to come. However when I’m not there and have to attend to work commitments, I look forward to the development of a childcare model that will assist parents in providing a solid foundation for our children’s future learning and development.

Councilor Maria Bailey was first elected to Dun Laoghaire County Council in 2004 and was successfully re-elected in the local elections of 2009 and 2014.

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