Sarah Rees shares her thoughts on becoming a Mum in today’s economic climate
In 2014, Sarah gave birth to a baby girl. She quickly learned the true cost of motherhood, and since the birth of her second child in 2016, feels she has been priced out of a fulfilling career due to the overwhelming cost of childcare.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to give birth to a beautiful, perfect, healthy daughter. At the time I was working for a wonderful community project enabling women across Wales to participate in their community and public life. I have always been a hard working woman, proud of my career, and was looking forward to returning to my part time job once I’d got the hang of being a mum.
Within a few months alarm bells began to ring, though quietly at first. Going to check my work email and finding that I had been locked out; contacting my boss and colleagues and not receiving any response; visiting the project website to find that I had been removed from the staff biographies. Then I got an email from a concerned board member who let me know that my redundancy was being discussed in board meetings - she felt sure I had no idea… I didn’t.
Following a testy debate where I wasn’t even able to attend my own grievance meeting as the largest women's organisation in the UK wouldn’t hold it in my local office, (I was a new breastfeeding Mum, unable to take a day trip to London), I decided it was time to move onwards and upwards.
Launching a new business: Onwards and Upwards
By the end of 2015 I was running a successful social enterprise, providing career support for women and employment for the local economy.
Fast forward to the end of 2017 and I am now the lucky Mum of two children, following the birth of my son on Boxing Day 2016. Following my first maternity experience I ensured I took a full year off to enjoy the precious early days with my baby… and to be honest with his colicky ways and a house move I’m not sure I could have added anything else to the mix and stayed sane. (On many days I certainly wasn’t operating at full mental health at all.)
In the last few months I have tried to get back into the mix and pick up my working relationships, but with an ever dwindling savings pot and no new contracts, covering the cost of childcare to get out during the day is hard. It’s really hard.
Recently, I took my kids to a charity event advertised as child-friendly. At 12:30 I fed them, got the bag packed with nappies, snacks, drinks, bottles and bundled us into the car. By 1:30 we had arrived and managed to find a parking spot. I swiftly ran with the kids through the wet and windy day and into the event, along with Dewi Draig, the school mascot. By 2:30 the kids were bored, I’d had 3 half-conversations, and too many photos being the only kids there. The advertised childcare was no more than the offer of a cuddle for the baby. By 3:30 we were home, minus the sodding school teddy that we had lost along the way. Epic fail.
Last week I was invited to a brilliant event to launch a report into gender stereotyping by the Advertising Standards Authority. I managed to get someone to watch the baby, but had to take the 4 year old with me. It went like this: 11am, get baby bag together, wake and dress him, go to school and pick up 4 year old, go to train station and drop baby with Nanny. Park the car, buy lunch for the 4 year old, aiming to stay clean for event. It’s now 1:15, get to event, 4 year old needs a pee, so we arrive late. Try not to interrupt the speakers as 4 year old gets excited by the fruit kebabs on offer. Sit her in a corner with colouring book, listen to speakers. Get 4 year old fruit kebab, aim to do some networking, surgically remove biscuits from 4 year old, more networking. Leave by 2:30 to get back to Nanny and baby. Home by 3:30 enjoying 5 minutes peace while kids both take a power nap. What for others was an hour and a half networking event to me was a 4:5 hour juggling act of anxiety.
Was it worth it...? I just don’t know. The alternative is paying £98 for my two children to go into childcare for each day I want to work, and I really want to work. It provides me with a life outside of motherhood, validity to my existence, continuation of my career and most importantly, financial independence.
The crippling cost of childcare
Childcare is the second largest bill to my household, other than the mortgage. Until the government tackle the crippling cost of childcare for working families, women are going to find it hard to return to work, let alone be entrepreneurs.
I already know the Welsh Government response to this, as I had this exact conversation with the First Minister during the 2017 election: “We are trialling 30 hours of free childcare for 3 year olds and will be rolling it out soon…” Paid maternity leave ends when your child is 9 months old. Between 9 months and 3 years of age you get zero support. Tell me a self-employed person or entrepreneur who could put their business on hold for 3 years with zero income and be happy at where their business/career stands at the other end. I’ve taken 12 months out, and many would tell me that’s much too long as it is.
In order to keep it real I tell people I talk to that childcare has priced me out of a return to work. The responses have ranged from “that’s the lot of motherhood” to “bring the baby to the office”. Is it really the lot of a mother in 2017 to stay at home patiently waiting to have a career once my children are both eligible for free childcare support? Or should I rent a cot space along side my desk space so that I can bring baby to the office along with his nappies and tantrums, and try my best not to nurture him so that I can work?
A call for better government legislation
On the 31st of October I organised a March of the Mummies, along with Pregnant Then Screwed, where we asked governments to meet 5 demands:
- Increase the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from 3 months to (at least) 6 months
- Require companies to report on how many flexible working requests are made and how many are granted
- Give both parents access to 6 weeks parental leave paid at 90% of salary
- Give the self-employed access to statutory shared parental pay
- Subsidise childcare from 6 months old, rather than 3 years
Lets get talking about parental rights and the workplace, as without parents our economy doesn’t have a future.
Sarah Rees is leader of the South Wales Women’s Equality Party, Mum of two, and a woman with a desire to make life fairer for future generations. Get in touch with her on Twitter if you enjoyed this article.