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Guilt-free child care

Elizabeth Byrne
Published: February 26, 2013 - 11:59PM

There are two times in a person’s life when you really need your parents.  The first is when you are a child; the second, when you have a child yourself. 

We now live in a world where grandparents are being subbed back into the parenting domain, as their children raise their own families while trying to accommodate the competing demands of career and home.  Behind this is an overwhelming lack of structural support for working parents leaving many with no other option but to appeal to their own parents for help.

As we head towards another Federal election, I’m certain that we’ll get more shots of Tony Abbott in his speedos and the Prime Minister arguing for further budget savings.  There will also be some finger pointing at who has done a bad job and who isn’t costing their promised policies.  But what isn’t certain is what will change about our childcare system.

For me one of the biggest hurdles as I look to re-enter full-time work is the cost and availability of someone to look after my daughter. Even though I put my name on numerous childcare centres when I was pregnant, more than a year and a half later, I still haven’t gotten a place.  Hiring a nanny is of course an option, but on my income it’s hardly worth the effort.

Yes, from the start of this year, Dads are now entitled to two weeks off work at the minimum wage when their baby is first born.  And Julia Gillard did also ensure that I was paid at the minimum wage for 18 weeks after I had my baby.  But despite the changes we are still far behind the Scandinavian holy grail of parental leave, Sweden, where parents are entitled to 480 days of leave when a child is born or adopted. Sixty days of leave is also specifically allocated to each parent, meaning those days cannot be transferred to the other.  The result is the burden of child-care is more evenly spread between the couple.

Australia is still significantly below OECD averages when it comes to maternal employment rates.  According to last year’s report while the OECD maternal employment rate is 66 percent, in Australia just 60 percent of mothers have jobs despite a female employment rate of 72 percent.  In Sweden, the gap between females and mothers is minimal with both rates around 80 percent.  It’s not a surprise that Sweden spends around one percent of its Gross Domestic Product on childcare whereas Australia spends 0.3 of a percent.  

Recently, the Human Rights Commission launched a discussion paper arguing for more support for unpaid carers.  Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says current superannuation, tax and employment systems severely disadvantage women who care for children. The result is that more women are in danger of retiring in poverty or being permanently shut out of the workforce.  The paper advocates the introduction of policies to better support flexible working arrangements, and strengthening leave arrangements so that women can keep a foot in the workforce door.

So for many families it is a case of relying on grandparents as a guilt and cost free way to keep their daughter or sons working.  My local neighbourhood is packed full of baby-boomers pushing grandchild filled prams. One of my local heroes is Dennis.  He and his wife look after their two year old granddaughter five days a week while their daughter works.  Every day he’s down in the park pushing swings, throwing balls and encouraging his charge down slippery slides.  At the library invariably there are more grandparents at “Nursery Rhyme Time” than young parents.  Many of these grandparents admit that they find the work tiring but know that there’s little option for their children but to rely on them.

For me, my parents have provided invaluable and unimaginable support since I had children. I just wish my government could keep pace with the times and also lend a hand.

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