It Takes A City

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. But, that was in the olden days, when you had two parents, and one stayed home. That was before children had swimming before school, rugby, hockey and netball after. Piano, drums and singing practice interspersed between lessons. Mandarin and Japanese in addition to the more traditional French and German. Drama, dance, debates… and that’s before cubs, scouts and volunteering for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. So, if it used to take a village in those happy pre-Brexit days (sorry to mention that again, I remain bitter), these days I’d like the help of an average sized city like Manchester.

When I was a child my brother and I would spend Saturday nights at either my Nana and Granddad’s house, or my newly married older sister’s. This gave my parents one guilt-free evening off every single week, as we were spoiled rotten by assorted family members. My first child was born when I was living overseas, which meant that we were indebted to friends, visiting family and babysitters. Over the years we’ve spent tens of thousands of pounds on child-care. I have tales to tell of the Guatemalan lady who slapped my four year old, the Thai twenty-something who put jelly sweets into peanut butter sandwiches, and the Ukrainian who didn’t see the youngest run into the road in front of a school bus. (A neighbour came around a week later to tell me what she saw). All of these events happened when I was at work.

And, that’s just scratching the surface… there was the call from my alarm company telling me that our fire alarm was going off when the kids were at home with the sitter who was not answering her phone. I still remember every minute of that drive back to the house. The time that my older son was supposed to be collecting the younger from camp, and forgot… What saved me were my friends who’d call, and say “Bring the kids over for dinner, now!” Smita would make Mac and Cheese out of a box, served in brightly coloured Ikea plastic bowls. Or Natasha would breadcrumb chicken, fry it and serve with salad on proper plates, which I was sure would always get dropped, but never did. At my house we’d make pizza, it would get messy.

I was lucky to have flexible working as standard (thank you Deloitte!), and boy was I flexible. But even so the cost of childcare ate up all my post-tax salary. The long Summer holidays in the US were crippling for working parents with small children. After we moved to Australia it was so complicated to even find a pre-school in Sydney (realistically you must apply at the moment of the baby’s conception), the idea of finding child-care to cover the working day for three children was a bridge too far. By far the best place to be a working parent was Singapore. The children were collected for school by a bus at the end of the drive, and returned home the same way. We had live-in help, we’ve never been so tidy, or so ironed. It turns out that having another adult (albeit a salaried one) makes life significantly easier if both parents are working. Add in the tax incentives for working mothers in Singapore, and it’s easily the best country to work in as a woman with children.

In the UK I feel as if I have two full-time jobs, and only one pays actual cash. My husband thinks he’s a rockstar if he picks the children up from school one day a week – this happens maybe twice a month. But, he’s a brilliant weekend cook, and I feel lucky that he’s a complete neat freak, as that saves me additional housework. Most nights I make dinner from scratch and even manage to mix dough for pizza before work on a Friday, which makes me think that I’m a hero. We have a cleaner once a week, which helps, we have friends who step in when I have to be in three places at once, we have family who are there during all those school holidays, which in no way match my twenty-two days away from the office. These people comprise my average sized city. The hardest thing that I must do is leave work on time, while my colleagues continue to sit at their desks as I race to my other full-time occupation.