Guilt-free child care

Date

Elizabeth Byrne

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Photo: Getty Images, posed by models.

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.

39 comments

  • Terrific article, yes there is a need for structural change so women can work, the consequences for women denied re entry into the workforce and highlighting the role of grandparents. Only thin missing is some insight into what happens when women don't have the support of their parents

    Commenter
    Florence A
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 27, 2013, 9:20AM
    • @Florence

      The article did talk about what's missing: meaningful paid parental leave, such as the Swedish have.

      Commenter
      Think
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 9:47AM
    • The parental leave is one thing but what about the longer term? What about primary school aged children? It's illegal to leave a child 13 years old (or younger) unsupervised. Besides the law, there is also the right thing to do, IMO that is raising your own kids.

      We are so far behind the leaders in this regard that it is not funny.
      Having come from communist Poland I can tell you that even they did it better. I have spoken at length to my boomer parents that looked after me in Commie Poland. Even back then in the 70s there was equality for women. EVERYONE is equal in communism. Women worked (since the late 40's at least) .

      The social and economic equality resulted in a different attitude towards child care and the costs. Child care was available, adequate and used.

      We are behind sooooo far!

      Commenter
      crazy
      Location
      town
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 10:47AM
    • My parents did nothing to assist at all. We spent tens of thousands on dollars on childcare.

      To all the whinging grandparents out there, it is NOT a "favour", the only reason humans live so long past their peak fertility is to care for kids. And it means YOU can have a relationship with your grandkids. The attitude of Baby Boomers to this is "I still want to be a (selfish) kid". No, you haven't "done your bit" by raising your kids. If your generation hadn't made money by sitting on your backsides watching real estate grow in value & adding nothing to the world, we might not need help with childcare to afford a house/food.

      Commenter
      Carmine
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 2:14PM
    • @ Carmine, not all grandparents can cope with caring for toddlers 5 days a week. Many are elderly and have chronic health issues, and after age sixty most people don't have the stamina they had when they were younger. Caring for young children is very, very demanding. My neighbour minds her two grandsons twice a week. It's her choice and she enjoys it, but at age 74 she says the two days a week are quite enough thank you. She does find it very tiring. It will be interesting to see what will happen when it's our turn to be grandparents. With the way things are going we'll all be working until we're in our seventies. Who will look after the children then?

      Commenter
      vm
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 3:59PM
  • This is a great article. We have a serious issue with childcare in this country and neither side of politics seem to be doing enough. While I think tax deductible nannies might get us part of the way there, even if its by making more space in childcare centres, we have a serious supply and demand issues.

    I spent a lot of time with my grandma when i was small, but she was in her late 50s. As people are having children later, this means that grandparents are older, and may not be able to be as involved as Dennis and his wife.

    Commenter
    PoPoGirl
    Date and time
    February 27, 2013, 9:21AM
    • What's also good about the Swedish parental leave scheme is that it lasts until the child is 8 years old. That provides enormous flexibility for families: about 16 months of leave that can be taken full-time, part-time, or a mix of both. It means paid parental leave can last well into a child's second year, or longer. The Swedes have come to understand that infants and toddlers need their parents. They realised that most parents want to care for their own babies. They also realised that for quality care in the early years, it's more economical to pay parents than subsidize childcare centres.

      The other thing is that the Swedes just have a different attitude to work. Employers are far more flexible and consensual. Swedes work to live, not live to work, as so many Australians are brainwashed into believing they have to do. Their economy doesn't suffer one bit for it. Australia, indeed, has a long way to go.

      Commenter
      Think
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 9:25AM
      • My other issues with parental leave aside, I think that's an excellent attitude - it lets parents choose when and how they take their leave, and lets them negotiate with their employer for the times that are best suited for everyone involved.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 10:01AM
      • ....the othe thing is Swedes pay 25% GST and close to 50% income tax.

        Commenter
        dude
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 10:06AM
      • Thank you for saying "parents", not just "mums". Rare in Australia, home of the 1950s housewife.

        Commenter
        Carmine
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 2:16PM

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