The working mum conundrum

I can’t afford an office job.

While we were on holiday I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with my career. I’m at my happiest in an office. I love the social aspect, I like having to make an effort with my clothes for the day, I like the set hours (even if I did used to work a lot extra!). I like the feeling of working as a team, and that collective high when you know you’ve done well. I know I’m glossing over the less-than-great aspects – long hours, pressure and stress, office politics –  but despite all those things, I loved the job I had before the twins were born.

But I’ve done my sums (multiple times) and I can’t make it work. Once I’ve paid childcare costs for the twins plus my travel costs I’m making a loss, based on my typical day rate.

This seems ridiculous to me. Ive got four good A Levels and a 2.1 degree. Before having children, I’d reached a good level in my career. I want to work, and it makes me incredibly angry that I can’t.

But I also can’t afford not to work – we need my income. So I have had to find a way to contribute. I work for myself, from home and I cram as much as I possibly can into every spare minute.

I’m just counting down until the twins are old enough to qualify for their 15 hours government funded places.

As long as it’s not the next thing to get cut.

25 comments to The working mum conundrum

  • That is utterly grim and totally wrong – childcare in this country is ridiculously expensive and inflexible. If we want to work surely there should be scope to make that possible – effectively you are saying to a lot of motivated people that they aren’t wanted in the workforce

    I was lucky that when I went back to work after Bigger Mr and I agreed to split the childcare costs between us – he believed (and still does) that I am happier working and that my future earnings would compensate for short term financial hit plus the positive impact on the family

    Good luck – I wish I could suggest something (don’t suppose you can find an employer with a cheap onsite creche?)

    • Heather

      Splitting the childcare costs sounds sensible. We do something complicated working out percentage of earnings vs percentage we put into bills account or something like that. An employer with a cheap onsite creche? Do those exist?!

  • troubles' Mum

    I agree with every single word. I love working. I did work for a while with two children, but it was pretty much break even on the childcare at best. Now I’ve got four it’s impossible.

    If it makes no financial difference whether you work or not, I would stay at home for a bit longer, enjoy the time you have with the children and wait for something better to come along that makes it worth it. The only gain that is possible is that you might be entitled to help with childcare through the joke that is the working tax credit system, but your OH would have to be on quite a low wage for you to get any help. And sometimes claiming is more hassle than it’s worth, as you probably know already.

    Working whilst having children can be really hard work. Who will take time off when the children are poorly and the nursery wont take them? What about if the nursery is closed? I found a nanny to be the best solution, but I paid through the nose for it.

    It’s hard being out of the loop and stuck at home all day. Good luck x

    • Heather

      Great comment, thanks. Unfortunately I do need to bring in some kind of income. I’m going to work from home for now, but probably try to take on a few short-term contracts in an office so that I can pretend to be a grown up for a few weeks, even if I do only just break even.

  • I feel your pain. We were talking about this at work and how there is an acute shortage of businesses with their own subsidised creche facilities. Definately needed!

  • I did the sums recently and its totally scary – my income won’t cover childcare, bills and a roof over our heads when my mum leaves us (she cares for the twins when I go to work) to help my sister who is expecting baby number 3 in December. MiL is stepping in financially because she wants to but I would rather we could handle it all ourselves but we just can’t. I only took 9 months off for maternity leave for both pregnancies because I was determined not to lose my ‘work status’. I’m too scared now to take a career break as I hit 40 in a few weeks; it defines me and makes me happy. Ho hum we will muddle through until they are all at school – one done, two more to go….

    • Heather

      That must be really stressful. I think that’s what we’re all doing – muddling along – and it just seems like such a poor solution to the problem. I hope it all works out for you (and can totally identify with the work makes you happy feeling) x

  • I whole heartedly agree with your sentiments. Its frustrating to be living in a financial climate that limits our choice.

    Now I am expecting my second child I have done the calculations about childcare for two children and I just can’t see how this can work. This is stupid because we are a high income family and yet even with my income we won’t be able to afford the childcare but without my income we can’t afford our house. If we can’t cope then how can others?

    When i went back to work after 7 months with Lara I was working for 4 days and we struggled financially so I agreed to work another half day. For that half day I needed to pay full-time nursery fees. After working out all of my costs I calculated that working an extra half day a week only brings me home another £24 a month. It hardly seems worth it, does it?

    • Heather

      Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS! I’ve been meaning to email you all week but as usual, I’ve been useless.

      But I’m so sorry the childcare calculations are causing you such headaches. I feel exactly the same – we are a relatively high income family, and yet we can’t afford childcare. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, but I think we’re caught in no man’s land. Incomes high enough to mean we don’t qualify for any benefits, but not high enough to mean that childcare is affordable.

      I hope you can work it out. Shall we set up business together?!

  • Bloody nightmare isn’t it. Sad reality is even with paid government childcare it is often not enough to cover what is needed. The hours my nursery ran meant my childminder had to drop them off and pick them up so I could go to work. Cost a bloody fortune. We so need a better system that encourages parents to work….

    • Heather

      Yes, I didn’t realise that they make you take those free hours across five days. That’s a pain in the arse, isn’t it? I don’t know what system to suggest, but as I said, it makes me incredibly sad and angry that I can’t go out to work.

  • Particularly when there is more than one child involved, making the sums work is a challenge for so many of us. I think employers across the board should be more flexible/creative at how they pay staff – perhaps allow for more flexible working hours that fit in around school or pay for the extra day / half day for work done in the eveings so a day of childcare costs can be saved. I know this wouldn’t be possible in all jobs but surely if you are given work and deliver it, when it gets done (during the day with childcare) or in an evening (after children are in bed)shouldn’t matter? Yes it could be said this would be hard to manage but I think if employees prove they are delivering and not abusing, it should be more about the output. That little bit of flexibility would help.

    • Heather

      You’re so right, it’s the flexibility that our employers are lacking. Flexible working hours are exactly what we need. I know some people would take the piss, but if you get your work done, I don’t see why it matters how/when you do it.

  • I totally know how that feels – having the twins plus Noah forced the decision to stay at home but actually I love teaching and really miss it! It just didn’t make financial sense. It makes me cross when I played it by the rules – worked hard, got a good job, married and then had a family. We are functioning on just one wage…just! It is tight and makes things difficult. I wrote a post about this myself…the link is here http://multiplemummy.com/blog/the-crazy-cost-of-childcare-and-why-i-cant-return-to-work/

    MM
    xx

    • Heather

      Totally get what you mean about playing by the rules. Thanks for adding a link to your post – it’s great to see the figures and know I’m not alone in my struggle!

  • Elly

    I’m approaching the time when I need to sit down and number crunch. I fear that like you it just won’t be financially feasible to return to work.

    • Heather

      I think the cost of childcare comes as a real shock. Maybe I walked around with my head in the clouds while I was pregnant, but I definitely hadn’t got any idea until it was time to think about returning to work. Good luck and I hope it can work out for you.

  • I couldn’t justify going back to work with all the running round I would have to do ( 2 in nursery and 1 in school ) it didn’t seem worth it to barely break even :-( In some ways I was glad the choice was made for me, but it seems like there are lots of very capable women who want to work sat at home, unable to work. It seems to get even harder when they start school. There is a huge waiting list for after school club here also!

  • It is very frustrating.
    When I went back to work after my first child, it cost me £200 every month to be at work. I stuck it out and got a pay rise some months after. I broke even – wowzers.
    I now have two children, and in my last job, after factoring in overtime childcare costs and travel costs, it would cost me about £100 to be at work some months. It’s not just financially, but also emotionally. I never got to see the children. By the time I picked them up, it’s time for them to go to bed.
    I’m now freelancing, and continue to be amazed by working mums who manage to make it work.

    • Heather

      Yes, there’s definitely an emotional cost as well as a financial cost of trying to do it all. When I first started freelancing I took on way too much, and I feel like I ‘lost’ six months. Our lives just turned into a blur and I really regret that, though it was a massive lesson to me.

  • sam bam

    i have 4 kids but i can afford to (lucky us) but if you know you simply can not. why have more kids.

    • Heather

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately when you have twins, that element of choice about when you’re financially ready to have the next child is effectively taken away from you. If we had one child, I would have been able to return to work without any problem, and I would have waited until that child qualified for the 15 hours free care until I had my second. I don’t regret having twins for a second, but it has made life much more difficult financially.

  • [...] The doubt about whether I should go on with a full-time job came because 1) I hardly saw my kids and 2) all the money I earned went straight out into childcare costs. Like Heather from Young & Younger, “I can’t afford an office job”. [...]

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