Finding a Balance Between Childcare and Household Duties

Every parent discovers very quickly that bringing up children is a full time job. From the early months of sleepless nights and endless feeds, through the energy and tantrums of the toddler years, and beyond into the constant battle against untidy rooms and chaos spread throughout the home, children are no respecters of the parental work/life balance. It would all be difficult enough even if we could devote 100% of our time to childrearing, but in today's world of mega-mortgages and constantly rising expenses, employment for most parents is an absolute necessity to make ends meet.

It's obvious that something has to give, but no parent wants to feel they're putting anything even the tiniest bit before their kids' welfare and upbringing. Nevertheless, the realities of life mean that we can't simply let the bank account or the household chores look after themselves, and so for most of us we need to get some outside help in from time to time. This can take many forms and can come at many costs, but here are some ideas that might help to square the circle.

Full Time Childcare

In an ideal world, all parents could afford live-in help with childcare, either with a traditional Nanny or the more modern version, the au-pair. Although this is indeed an option for some people, for most of us it's not realistic: it's just too expensive, and too disruptive to family life unless we live in a mansion-like home.

Full time care in a nursery or similar is another option, although this is just as likely to be extremely expensive, especially if the child is not yet old enough to be spending time at school or preschool, and not eligible for government help towards childcare costs. Nonetheless, if the employment pays well enough this can be a workable solution ,although many parents find this is just too much time apart at such an early stage of life, and a more flexible solution is preferable.

Extended Childcare

Once the child is old enough to be eligible for free childcare hours, usually from the age of three but in some circumstances from two years onwards, this immediately helps to lift the burden, giving parents some extra 'free' time to either take a part time job or simply catch up on the household chores. These free hours can also serve as a foundation for building on, by paying for extra hours on top to make a part time job a viable option that pays its way. Most nurseries, breakfast clubs and after school clubs will require a commitment to fixed regular hours or your child's place may be at risk, so you need to be sure you can regularly earn enough to pay for this choice.

Informal Childcare Arrangements

If you are part of a circle of parents with similarly aged children - and this is very often the case - it might be possible to arrange a rotation-agreement, where one parent looks after several children for an afternoon, leaving the other parents free to catch up on housework, part time employment, or anything else they could do with a little extra time.

If this can be arranged, then it's a good solution for everyone involved, but it comes with an important caveat: there are very strict rules about who can look after children, and surprising as it might sound, if you can be deemed to be benefiting financially by caring for someone else's child, even indirectly, then this can cause problems (think background checks and so on). While not a major concern for most ad hoc arrangements, it's something to bear in mind.

Occasional Outside Help

If you don't need help to a regular timetable, then it can be tricky to find someone willing to give up their time without a regular commitment. For covering an occasional night out, babysitting by either a family member, a friend, or a properly qualified agency is a viable option, but getting occasional childcare help during working hours is altogether more difficult.

One option to pursue is to contact a local babysitting and childcare agency and see if they have any free slots during the week - you may have to be flexible here, as understandably most people would prefer to have regular work and so may not be available at the drop of a hat. As always, be absolutely sure you're satisfied with the credentials of any outside agency before trusting them with your child.

A second idea is to come at this from the other direction: if you're looking for someone to care for your kids while you catch up on the housework or tidy the garden, why not look after the kids yourself and pay someone to come in and give the house a good clean or wrestle the garden into shape? You're likely to find cleaners and gardeners more readily available than childcare professionals, and they are more likely to be available at a time that suits you.

This lack of time for balancing childcare and household work is a common problem, and many childcare agencies are able to provide reliable help to either look after your children, your home, or your garden - whichever option will work best for you.

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