When my oldest child, a boy was born, my partner was working as a driver and I was a health visitor. After the statutory maternity leave, we needed the money, so I returned to work on a part-time basis and I had to find someone to look after my son on the three days I went to work.
After a couple of poor choices of childminder, I found an older lady who was Italian. She was wonderful and he loved the time he spent with her. I am half Italian, so her approach to child care was similar to that I experienced myself from my mother. Frank remained with the childminder until he was ready for nursery.
At the time I needed a nursery place for my child, Social Services were on strike so we found a private day nursery. He remained there happily and was able to read by the time he left to go to school. By the time my second child, Grace was born, Frank was five so he was ready for full time school.
Grace was born during the recession, when jobs were terminated and companies went into liquidation. We needed all the money we could earn, so I took a job share and a ‘mum share’. Between us, my colleague and I had five children, with Grace and her baby boy being the youngest. Grace was such a placid amenable baby that, looking back, I feel she missed out on many opportunities for a one-to-one with me or my friend because her child was much more demanding and fractious. He was the one who always had to be carried or rocked to sleep.
My days off were spent looking after all five children. I never had energy for my own two so was continually under stress to be a good parent. When Grace turned two, my partner’s work began to dry up and I reluctantly had to look for a full-time job. I had fallen out of love with health visiting so went to work in a further education college. This involved a return journey of at least two hours by tube every day and cut into any time I had to spend with the children when I got home.
Again, Social Services were on strike, so no nursery places were available and we found yet another childminder. I wasn’t really satisfied with this arrangement but didn’t feel I had a choice. My partner’s work finally came to an end, as more and more firms closed and he took on the role of full-time carer for Grace.
He was supposed to be a ‘house-husband’ but whether because of my Italian temperament, or whether he actually wasn’t really competent at the work, our relationship, which had always been on the stormy side, deteriorated gradually. The pattern of our lives was that he stayed at home through the week, looked after Grace, cooked the meals, but couldn’t manage to clean the house. At weekends, I cleaned and looked after the children whilst he went out gigging as a part-time musician. Grace absolutely adores her father so from that perspective, the arrangement was wonderful.
From a distance, I think that Frank gained a great deal from the child care he had. He loved his childminder and his nursery. He only began to experience problems during his school life. At nursery he had begun to read and write of his own volition, despite being diagnosed as being dyslexic in his later school years.
I think I suffered more because I wanted my time with him as a small child to be valuable and memorable. I struggled to redress the balance by spending lots of time at weekends thinking of adventures we could go on. I am sure he would have preferred to relax at home with Mum, but I think I needed to prove something to myself.
Grace had a full time caring parent, but she also had a stressed-out Mum who wished it was her. I never wanted to be anything else but a mother. Circumstances dictated otherwise. I think, eventually, the care that we found for our children was adequate. If I had been offered a choice, I would have stayed at home with both of them, because I think that is where young children should be.