We all know that childcare is expensive - but what's the reality of making it work day in day out? And when childcare still falls disproportionately on women's shoulders, how can you go back to work and still make it pay? Each week we speak to a different mother about how she balances work and childcare.
Christina, 37, picture editor, London
Monthly income after tax of mother: £1600
Age of children: 1-year-old and newly pregnant
Childcare arrangement: I work 4 days full time, with my day off on Mondays. My husband works 4 days (compressed hours so basically 5 day's work compressed into 4), and his day off is Friday. Our 1-year-old daughter is in nursery on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Amount of paid-for childcare: 3 days per week
Cost of childcare: £70 per day around £840 a month.
Cost of travel: approximately £5 per day
Take home pay after bills, childcare and travel: £800
How I Make It Work For A Week
We always rise at 7am, my husband tries to head off before 7.30 (the earlier he gets in the earlier he can get home). Mondays we go to a playgroup. I like to get out and about in the morning, so my daughter has some fun and I get to chat to other mothers, plus they serve cake a tea. It runs from 9.30 - 11am so fills the morning and gets us out of the house, plus at £1.50 is very cheap. We head home after and have lunch together and both nap in the afternoon (I am pregnant and exhausted). When we both wake up, we have a little play and head to the nearby playground, before we head home for her dinner at 5. Her daddy doesn’t get home until just before she goes to bed. He reads her a story then lights are off. As he is doing compressed hours he doesn’t get to see her much on the 4 days he is working, but he gets 3 whole days a week, which makes it worth it.
Total spend: £1.50
I get up at 7am to take the baby to nursery for 8am. This is actually easy compared to my day off as feeding a 1-year-old is a long messy process, so just dropping her off for breakfast there is a breeze. I come back home as I don't leave until 9am for work, so I have a leisurely breakfast and watch some morning TV. Husband finishes work at 5.30pm so does the pick-up. I finish at 6pm so by the time I get back she is nearly ready for bed having been fed at nursery. I guess as all meals are done there, the small time we have with her morning and evening is easy and relaxed and also there is very little tidying to be done when she has gone to bed.
I’m actually pregnant at the moment with our second child and I know that I won’t be able to go back to work this time round - once you’ve taken off the cost of childcare for a second baby, I’d only be left with £100 a month, and it’s just not enough to justify all the rigmarole we have to go through to make it work. It’s a shame though, because I really enjoy my days in the office at the moment, and I think it’s good for all of us to have the variety. My daughter won’t be eligible for pre-school until she is 3 and 3 months, by which time my new baby will be 18 months. I am not sure how it will pan out, as I won't be able to work school holidays. Originally, I was thinking freelancing could work, £120 a day, but I wouldn't be able to guarantee work and I would have to sign up and pay for my youngest to go to nursery a month in advance, and I expect I won’t even break even. I feel like I will need to cross this bridge when we get to it.
Total spend: £3 travel (I take the longer cheaper route) plus lunch £5. Nursey £70. £78.
Same morning routine as Tuesday except I forget her favourite comfort toy, so I have to go back and get it. This makes me late to the station, so I have to get the faster and pricier tube to work. I seem to be having a bad transport day as I have delays coming home too, and only get 20 minutes with my daughter. As my husband picks her up I don't generally have to worry about being late back, but sometimes he gets stuck in meetings etc, and I have to ask to leave work early to pick her up in time. It can be awkward and if I am honest I feel like management are judging. There are not many working mums in my office, and long hours are sometimes expected.
Total spend: £7 on trains, £5 lunch, nursery £70. £83
Today followed the same pattern as Tuesday, except I have a night out tonight, so I don't get to see my baby before I get to bed. I regularly have a night out with my friends; usually we go to a really lovely restaurant in the centre of town. Even though it’s a little expensive I love it, it makes me feel young and I guess carefree when visiting new 'cool' places again, like I used to, although I never choose the venue as I am really out of touch. I am pregnant so no wine keeps cost down.
Total spend: Travel £5, dinner £45, nursery £70. £120
Work again. Today is my husband’s day at home with our daughter. We’ve been very lucky in that my husband's work have been very generous in allowing him to do a 4 day arrangement. One of his good friends also has this arrangement, we got the idea from him. They both meet up on Fridays with the girls and spend time together, they call it 'daddy daycare'. They often take them to pub gardens and have a lovely time. Monday I am off but I guess as all my friends are at work we just do some playgroup and go to the park. I get back at 6.3pm0 and take over childcare, while my husband heads off into town for a night out, while I put my daughter to bed and relax in front of Gardeners World, then early night.
Total spend: £3 travel, lunch £5. £8
We'd like to know how you make it work: if you'd like to feature in our series then email us at email@example.com with the subject line 'How I Made It Work'. (You can be anonymous).