Yesterday was a good day. 9 parents and their children came together to work, play and interact in a new space that held everyone.
The idea was simple – get some professional childminders in a room, with some resources, toys, musical instruments, play kitchens, teepees and streamers and offer to look after people’s children whilst they worked downstairs. It was offered on a pay what you could afford basis and it worked.
Moms who hadn’t used ‘traditional’ childcare yet – either because they felt that traditional childcare wasn’t for them or because their babies were only months old, were able to gently stretch the distance between them and their babies and to see how it felt. Parents could get their head down whilst their babies played and explored with each other. Fathers were able to see what co-working was like and artist mothers could meet with their collaborators to get stuff done and best of all the children had fun. The atmosphere was (mostly) serene and moms could come and go to breastfeed and check in as much as they liked.
It was a simple intervention to enable the discussion about #radicalchildcare.
But why is this important? I believe that the lack of flexibility in the current traditional childcare model of daycare, childminders and nurseries, especially for freelance workers is suffocating. If we can join a gym on a Pay as you Go basis why is Pay as you Go childcare only a niche venture in places such as London and Brighton? What are nomadic & sporadic workers, including those re-entering work from maternity leave, home-schoolers, family carers, job seekers, etc meant to do when most settings ask that you commit to a minimum of 3 days a week and the ones offering creative education cost £50/day.
An industry largely run by private companies the best provision goes to those who can afford it rather than those who need it, our poorest children miss out. Front line workers are often young women on minimum wage, there is little professional development or career progression for these young women but yet they are given the mammoth task of helping to raise our children in their most formative years. During this #radicalchildcare journey I have heard very sad tales of prospective visits to daycare settings. One mum told me that she came back after a ‘settle session’ to find a young girl who had been given charge of her 3yr old, engaging her daughter by cutting out pictures of toys from an Argos catalogue and making a collage of what the little girl wanted for Christmas.
Government rhetoric is about ‘getting women back to work’ an economic argument, rather than one that imagines the best possible provision for our young children through this critical stage in a child’s development and it is to the detriment of everyone. EVERYone. To quote Whitney at this juncture:
‘The children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’
But seriously, children are the ones who are vital for deciding how the world is going to be. This will be their world. But yet we are working within a deficit, within a broken system concerning their early years. The feelings surrounding childcare for parents are generally wrapped in an amount of shame, guilt and limitation and it must stop. It doesn't help.
Parent invisibility and inflexibility of provision.
The UK has a culture of invisible parenting, unlike other European cities it feels like a social taboo to bring your child to a conference or restaurant or to talk about your family commitments in a job interview or online. ‘Family’ experience is fenced in to specific events/activities/venues (often involving a Gruffalo) rather than considered as an accessibility issue. What would people with children need in order to participate in this activity, often it might just be baby changing facilities, maybe a lift or a ramp? Why do Women still fear losing their job/contract when pregnant and why are women routinely discriminated against whilst they are pregnant or after having a baby ? See: @PregnantScrewed.
The feelings of isolation and potential lack of confidence amongst stay at home parents can lead to career apathy. The feelings of guilt from parents who go out to work, full time in order to afford childcare, can seem incongruous and at odds with their choices around work/life balance. There are little examples of parents who both work and stay at home – society tells you that you should belong to one camp or the other and that you can’t have it all. You often get penalised financially for using part time childcare and there are very little examples of successful ‘flexible’ working employers and the benefits for both employer/employee.
Thinking holistically surely supported, empowered parents will make for a better society?
How you work after having children changes, as does your skills and experience. Having children can make you feel more motivated to contribute to a better society for your child’s future, but a lack of media representation and discussion on the subject suggests you must make do and get by. Rather than excel. I want to find these people, these mom-trepreneaurs, wherever they are in the world and to tell their stories. It is possible. I am sure of it.
#RadicalChildcare has entered an enquiry phase where we hope to further explore some of these ideas and opinions. We welcome people to come on this journey to explore, imagine and invest in bold new ideas for the future of childcare. Join us, take a look at #RadicalChildcare.
The co-working crèche is a pilot funded by Arts Council England and forms part of my #radicalchildcare research with Impact Hub Birmingham, Birmingham Open Media and NearNow Studio. For more information and to bag the last couple of spaces visit this LINK.