I love my job — but I may have to quit

Cork mums have outlined the challenges they face, in light of a new survey that revealed childcare costs are keeping them out of the workforce. ELAINE DUGGAN asked Cork women for their reaction to the study by the ESRI and Pobal
I love my job — but I may have to quit

“There needs to be a flexible approach to working and to childcare,” says one Cork woman.

Mum of three, Anne Marie Crowley,

Carrigaline

“From my own experience (as a mother of three) and my work with clients (as a Life and Executive Coach and Trainer) I can absolutely say that it is a huge barrier.

The fact is that bringing up children is not given the same level of importance as going out to earn money and until that is respected we will always be in the same poor place, which is not good for our children, nor their parents.

“I think that there needs to be a flexible approach to working and to childcare, which allows parents to share both working and child rearing with the support that suits their particular circumstances.

“My own experience is that I had to pay what was really a second mortgage to go to work while my children were young and I was working what were termed ‘reduced’ hours, i.e., 26 to 30 hours per week — which meant that I could collect my children from school every day when they eventually went into Primary education.

However, the thing is, I took a huge hit in my career as a result, because being on ‘reduced hours’ meant my career was on hold until I decided to go back full time, i.e., 39 hours per week.

“Because I was working in a very well paid job I could afford the huge childcare costs but it definitely would not have been worth it at all if I weren’t so well paid or if my job was not interesting enough to justify leaving my children every day.

“My husband works shift work, and every second weekend, so childcare supports were essential. And I do not believe it is right to look to grandparents to fill the gap, they have done their time and deserve the rest!”

Mum of two, software engineer, wishes to remain anonymous

“I am a 29-year-old software engineer and mother of two boys, aged one and two. I am still in my early career stage because of the two maternity leaves.

“My annual salary comes to around €35,000 and I paid €889 per month for my elder son and if I need to pay the same for my younger one, that will just wipe out my salary completely.

“I came from India to study and have already invested €20,000 in this country just for study. Now the childcare expense is making me think about leaving my passion and look for something else to keep me going.

“I had to leave my younger son with my parents to take care of him, or else I coudn’t work and keep the mortgage going and give my children good facilities. Leaving my son in India haunted me every second and I brought him back after three months.

“I opted for the au pair option, which is still expensive, but I am able to mind my kids at home, government subsidy is nothing compared to the expense we have to pay. There needs to be some better system in place based on the family income so the weaker section in the society will benefit.

“At the moment, parents who can afford to send kids to crèche are on the high end salary scale and getting the subsidy benefit. My kids too deserve to get socialised and develop by going to crèche, at the moment it is not affordable.

“I am crying thinking about leaving my job just to keep my family, shouldn’t it be the other way, encourage people to work to keep their family?

“I love my job, have big dreams about my career, but at the moment I am thinking about leaving behind everything. I want my kids to have a better life than me.”

Mum of two, Clodagh King, Carrigaline

“I’ve been very torn about returning to work. I have returned, but to be honest, the guilt has been immense. I love my job. I’ve been fortunate to find a good post with promotional opportunities after having a few years’ break from paid work.

“The reality is this: I’m 40, unmarried (living with my partner, in fairness) and renting. I spent 16 / 17 years in Dublin renting, throwing money down the drain, and stupidly never saved. It’s no-one’s fault but my own.

“Now, though, I’m still renting as I need to be in a permanent post for over a year so as to secure a mortgage. (Dipping in and out of an overdraft won’t help). And ‘baby daddy’ can’t get a reasonable mortgage at the moment because he is close to 50.

“Trying to get this sorted requires me to be working. We’ve had difficult experiences with childcare, finally striking gold, but currently over half my wages is paid out in childcare.

“As I said, I love my job. I also love my family. I hate leaving the kids with someone else, regardless of how good they are. The cost isn’t as much as others to be fair, but I’m pretty lucky.

“I’m not sure the article is asking the right question though... it’s not only the cost of childcare, but the emotional cost too that women tend to pay out (not dismissing the feelings of the fathers here). We’re judged for staying home, we’re judged for wanting to be at work; we’re judged for needing a few hours off if we’re a stay-at-home mother, we’re judged if we need time to ourselves if we’re working full time.

“Yes, the actual monetary cost affects the decisions we make, however there are in fact other costs, and conversations need to be had about that too. It’s OK to want promotions and careers. Equally, it’sOK to work at home with your children. One thing isn’t better than the other — what works for your own family is what is best for your own family.”

Mum of two, Kinsale, wants to remain anonymous

“I have a toddler and an older child who needs after-school care. It used to cost over €1,300 in cash per month for childminders as I couldn’t get a creche place near home.

“I then changed jobs to allow me more flexibility in the mornings and evenings as I was always late home and having to pay extra — but at a cost, as I now earn less and my childcare costs aren’t reduced much.

“I looked at staying home but am petrified that if I took a career break, I’d never get back into the workforce, and certainly not at the level I have worked for 20 years to attain. My parents are both still working and in-laws are 90 minutes away.

“I can’t win. I wish there were tax credits for all working parents to help towards the cost of childminders as there isn’t enough subsidised childcare places in creches.”

Mum of two, from Carrigaline, wishes to remain anonymous

“I worked for years before I got pregnant. We both had a good job and were settled. We had our first child. My husband, who had never had to travel for work in 12 years, was suddenly sent here and there for contracts. Meanwhile, opportunities started to pass me by at work.

My job was given away to somebody else and I had to start from scratch, however, according to the law, both positions were at the same level. I kept working for the next two years, even though half my salary was going to pay a creche, but I was brought up to have a career and a good job.

“When I got pregnant with my second child, I decided that my children were more important than my career. My full salary was going to be wasted in paying somebody else to bring up my children while I was working, what’s the sense in that?

“My kids are in primary school now and every year I think, should I go back? And the answer is no, because I would still need a child minder with a car to collect them at 1.30 and 2.30 (the nonsense in that is a subject for another day...) and bring them to the afterschool activities (including play dates).

“I would go back if I could find a part time job during school hours. I don’t understand why a part time position has to consist of two to three full days, as opposed to mornings only.

A lot of us could work Monday to Friday from 8.30-9am (provided your partner can bring the kids to school) to 2pm (in time to collect them at 2.30). This adds up to 20 hours per week. This option seems to be unheard of, yet it would suit many women.

“I understand it might not be an option for shift workers and certain occupations, but I was doing a desk job. Wouldn’t I be more reliable and more productive for the company being there every day of the week than only two to three days a week?”

Donna Lally Flynn, Carrigaline

“Childcare is a barrier to return to work. It’s undeniable. When you’ve already committed to loans/mortgages (or other financial responsibilities), how can you just leave your job not knowing what the future may have in store? Future illnesses, economic collapses,etc.

“How can you (knowingly) grow the family, knowing the pressure it will put on your relationships and your stability? It’s not straight- forward and we all do our best. No judgments. Bottom line, childcare in Ireland is extortionate and unaffordable for the regular earner.”

Mum of two, Emer O’Mahony, Douglas

“I would love more kids but the cost of childcare in Ireland wouldn’t make going to work worth my while, we would be severely out of pocket. I find it very hard to digest that we work hard in college / climbing career ladders when we are young women, only to have no support with childcare costs when the kids are preschool age, so careers have to either be put on hold or given up. I wish they had warned us about that in school as I worked very hard to build a career but wanted to have a family too.”

Mum of two, from Carrigaline

“The cost of childcare not only is a barrier to returning to work for many parents but also on whether you stay at work or choose a career break or whether or not you go for promotion.

I went from 9-5 to shift work to cut the cost and cut the guilt... now a few years later I’m back 9-5 as I was offered a promotion.

It’s impossible to get childcare if you are on 12 hour shifts or nights and the eldest is now school going... yay, every nurse’s dream, right, to get a 9-5... not for me anyway, more childcare fees, more guilt and trying to cram everything into a weekend... dreaming of the day I can go back to shift work or cut a day.

And then for some people, if you are not seen to be driven and going up the ladder in work, your are left behind... can’t win!”

Mum of two, Vivienne McCarthy, Glanmire

“The cost to put two kids into childcare is crazy. I would literally be working to pay for the crèche. Grandparents are not able to mind the kids so it’s a tough one.”

96fm Opinion Line editor and presenter, Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, mum of one, who is on maternity leave.

“The ESRI’s findings that mothers’ ability to work is affected by childcare costs came as no surprise to me — in fact, if anything I felt the figures understated the impact of childcare costs on family income.

“12% of a family’s disposable income strikes me as rather low — for anyone with a child in full time creche care, they’ll be paying that percentage of gross income, not disposable income. If you have a child in childcare, you don’t have such a thing as disposable income! While I don’t begrudge childcare staff a fair wage — they are highly qualified and the people who look after my son are brilliant at their jobs — the Government needs to do more to keep families afloat.

“We are in a really lucky position to have two solid incomes in our household, but with baby number two on the way I am really at a loss to see how we will afford creche for both of them. It’s one thing to talk about making sacrifices, but the cost of a family break would only cover a couple of months’ fees; there is no way of scraping together almost €10,000 a year by giving up coffee or swapping steak for mince. It’s just not feasible, and that’s why so many women, who don’t want to, end up giving up or cutting down on work, sacrificing career prospects and pension entitlements in the long term.”

Cork-based Karen O’Reilly, Founder of Employmum

“The childcare costs in the Ireland of today are prohibitive in some cases and while there is not going to be a significant change in this in the near future, Employmum believes the solution lies in flexible work for all. Flexible work can mean part time/jobs share/remote work/flexi hours/compressed hours and all can alleviate the costs of childcare for a working parent.” 

Professor Margaret Linehan, CIT 

“High childcare costs in Ireland are preventing working mothers from reaching their full potential in the labour force. Childcare and elder care still tend to be viewed as a ‘woman’s issue’ by many organisations.

“Flexible working arrangements for women returning from maternity leave are still not the norm, and women are too frequently judged to be prioritising their family at the expense of their careers.

“More than lack of flexibility from employers, however, it is the high costs of childcare that prevents women from returning to paid employment after maternity leave.

“The recent ESRI report confirms widespread anecdotal evidence suggesting that women are all too often denied career advancement due to high childcare costs.

“Too many working mothers are forced to abandon their careers due to crippling childcare costs. This results in fewer women reaching senior management in many Irish organisations. This, in turn, reduces the number of female role models for mothers returning to the workforce after maternity leave.

“The timing of career advancement for women often coincides with their child-bearing years. This, unfortunately, reinforces to senior management that their male counterparts would be more suited for promotion.

“Childcare costs are forcing women to ‘opt out’ from working outside the home, which denies organisations of diversity in their senior management teams and ultimately impacts negatively on their financial bottom line.” 

Stay At Home Parents Association Ireland, spokespeople Pauline O’Reilly and Catherine Walsh 

“We support lower childcare costs in TANDEM with subsidies for all other families. That is really putting children and not employers first.

“Parents continually weigh up priorities. Do they want lower childcare costs?; Yes of course, but they also want to be able to have the flexibility to stay home, work part time and so on.

“If the government really wants to help, they would sort out pensions, subsidise all families equally and support companies that take on employees who have been at home caring for a number of years — not subsidise one form of childcare making it impossible to stay home.”

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune

 “Once a woman finishes maternity leave her child will be just one year old and will need full-time childcare if a mother wants to return to work. Families are faced with very tough decisions and often cannot afford to avail of childcare.

“In order for women to succeed in the workplace — they need to be supported. That support can come from a number of places such as the State, employers, managers, family and friends. The Government is working hard to ensure it supports working parents and I would also urge employers to do what they can too to support parents. Employers can have a big influence in the success of female employees and even small changes can mean a lot. Giving women the option of more flexible work practices would go a long way to ensuring they continue to play a vital role in the workforce. It might be allowing them to come in after the school run or work from home a day a week, whatever would work for the business and the employee should be explored.”

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