After 100,000 of you joined the campaign Grazia launched with our parenting channel The Juggle and charity Pregnant Then Screwed to tackle our failing childcare system, writer Caitlin Moran explains why she’s backing us too
If some modern artist created an art installation themed around British working parents’ childcare arrangements in 2021, it would be an intriguing thing.
For starters, it would be massive – as befits how it utterly dominates your life. It would probably take up most of a warehouse; and then spill out, unexpectedly, to confront people in the toilet. You know. Like how children do. It wouldn’t look pretty, either – the emotions most of us have, when thinking about our childcare arrangements, are a mix of anxiety, anger and dread, so it would probably be in a series of murky Adrenaline Greens (running to pick-up late because a meeting ran over!) and Cortisol Reds (childminder lets you down at the last minute – unbearable panic).
It wouldn’t be one, single thing – but a series of disconnected, rickety creations, vaguely lashed together by string, spit and luck. One part would be the delicate, crocheted spider-web of ‘mutually beneficial drop-offs and pick-ups’ – the agonisingly complex arrangements whereby you drop off Claire’s kids on Monday, she picks up yours and Donna’s on Tuesday, and then Nadia does everyone’s drop-off and picks-ups on Friday, in exchange for having her Sam sleep over for the whole weekend.
The way mothers – and it usually is the mothers – plan these schedules brings to mind the scenes in films about World War Two, where all the sexy WRENS are moving toy battleships across a map of Europe, using little rakes. Except you are doing it in a pair of joggers, on your iPhone, while trying to pick up a Colin the Caterpillar cake and new school uniform trousers in your lunch ‘break’.
A sprinkling of iPads and TVs – to honour their role as our most stalwart babysitters.
Next to The Cobweb Of Pick-Ups & Drop-Offs would be a more solid-looking statue, entitled ‘Granny & Grandad’: 36% of British families call on grandparents for some, or all, of their childcare – but that often brings with it its own problems. Using your parents can be complex. You might be in a long-running argument with them about the amount of Haribo they give the kids; they might keep trying to get your son a haircut because his hair looks ‘too much like Joni Mitchell’s’. Or maybe the problem is just practical – my mum put her back out lifting my eldest kid out of a swing when she was two, and I then had to abandon a whole day of work to take her and the kid to A&E. Grandparents babysitting often isn’t the stress-free, cost-free solution we dream of. My mum used to charge me £50 a day, plus ‘travel and coffees’. She’s quite the granpreneur.
What else would be in the installation? A sprinkling of iPads and TVs – to honour their role as our most stalwart babysitters. A model of a sleeping child, next to a can of Red Bull – to acknowledge that so much of working parents’ work is only, finally, tackled when the kids are asleep, and you jack yourself up on caffeine to work through until 1am.
The most notable aspect of this installation – let’s call it ‘Childcare/Nightmare!’ – is the price tag. The childcare system in Britain is the second-most expensive in the world – a full-time place is £14,000 a year, per child. It’s gone up 2% in the last year alone. It takes up an average of 35% of a family’s income – but for many that proportion is, obviously, much, much higher. I know many women who are, essentially, working for free – just to keep their job until their kids are old enough to go to school, and their childcare costs end. And no, paying shouldn’t just be the woman’s burden, but that is how the maths feels for many.
We all know you would never, ever invent the current system we have from scratch – because it is, to use the scientific term, absolute mad balls. In a society where 73% of families have both parents working, for there not to be any kind of solid plan for how they can actually do this, affordably, accessing good-quality childcare, can only be because there are not enough mothers overseeing planning and legislation. This lack of women’s power, voices and perspectives is obvious, at every level. As I write in the chapter ‘The Hour of The Working Parents’ in More Than A Woman, I am self-employed, and when I talked to my accountant about what I could claim against tax, I asked – hopefully – ‘Childcare?’ It is, obviously, the most necessary thing that enables my work. ‘No,’ he said. ‘But you can claim membership to a golf club, if you want? So you can entertain clients, while teeing off?’
I’m always happy to sound like a very strident feminist, so I am unashamed to howl, like a wolf, ‘A taxation system where childcare isn’t included, but golfing is, is outright, obvious, copperbottomed patriarchial bullshit, and how dare you even look us in the eye when you are so outrageously ignorant and blithe about the realities of women’s lives.’
The great irony in all this is that childcare still keeps being framed as ‘a problem for women’. This is a little like saying that ‘poo’ is a ‘DynoRod problem’. Dynorod are the guys who have to solve all the problems caused by poo – but everyone poos! Poo is an issue for all of humanity! We are all involved with the poo!
Mothers just want to drop their kids off somewhere safe, nice and affordable, and get back to the real work – writing slashfic about the Duke of Sexington from Bridgerton between meetings.
Childcare is only a ‘women’s issue’ because we’re the ones who tend to solve all the problems arising from it. But ‘who looks after the kids’ is, clearly, an ‘all of humanity’ issue. We’ve all been children. The human race will disappear within a hundred years if we don’t have any more of them. Kids raised by stressed, unhappy, financially unstable parents are far more likely to turn into adults who cause us all problems. I can’t think of a single issue more ‘everyone’s concern’ than ‘Who looks after the little humans while mummy and daddy contribute to the economy.’
Finally, if you don’t have children, I can absolutely appreciate how boring this all is for you. ‘Christ – not more mums wanging on about the problems of childcare,’ you might, rightly, be thinking. ‘This has been going on for decades now. God bless you – but I wish you’d shut up for a bit.’
Dude – we want to shut up, too! Of course it’s boring! I just tried to turn the British childcare situation into a humorous modern art installation, to amuse myself – and I still found it as tedious as fuck! Mothers just want to drop their kids off somewhere safe, nice and affordable, and get back to the real work – writing slashfic about the Duke of Sexington from Bridgerton between meetings. Dear God, help release us from this hell by supporting the Grazia campaign – and I promise we’ll never, ever mention it again.
I mean, I say ‘we’ – my kids are now 17 and 20. I don’t actually need childcare. But I am eternally bound, in spirit, to all my sisters who are staring down the barrel of yet another week of overpriced, shambolic, stressful British childcare, and doing what we all, secretly, do when we look at modern art: whispering, ‘What is it? It doesn’t make any sense. It looks a bit shit. And how can it cost that much?????’
‘More Than A Woman’ by Caitlin Moran will be published in paperback on 8 July. Caitlin will be touring the UK, for further information see penguin.co.uk/events.