Juggling Childcare and Career: The Inevitable toll it takes on mental health, and how employers can help

Published: 15/05/2023

What should companies be aware of when they are trying to retain working parents?

Having the right childcare in place is crucial for working parents, and the availability and affordability of it can significantly impact their lives. In the UK, parents have been struggling with the rising costs of childcare for years, and the current cost of living crisis has only made the situation worse. 

The cost of childcare, and the worry of not having the right childcare in place, as well as the guilt of going back to work can be a significant source of stress, especially for those families in which both parents work. 

On top of that, the childcare market is fragmented and hard to navigate, which can lead to parents being overwhelmed with choice and sometimes making the wrong decision. This in turn leads to more problems down the line when they have to restructure the type of childcare support they have in place, leading to a constant feeling of overwhelm.

But fear not, that is why myTamarin exists. We are here to help parents navigate the childcare market, be it by hiring a nanny, or finding out more about their options for a local nursery or childminder. Many parents use a combination. Companies that use our service as an employee benefit find that they improve their employee wellbeing, productivity and ultimately it helps them with the attracting of and retention of (diverse) talent.

The guilt of going back to work

Parents may feel guilty about going back to work after having a baby for a variety of reasons. Many parents report feeling guilty about leaving their children in childcare, particularly if they have to work long hours or have a long commute. This guilt can lead to stress and anxiety, which can further impact their wellbeing and their ability to cope with the demands of work and family life. 

Many parents may worry that returning to work means they will miss out on important milestones or moments in their child’s life. They may feel guilty about not being able to be present for their child all the time, or worry that their child will form stronger attachments with their caregivers than with them.

Additionally, many parents struggle with finding a work-life balance that allows them to fulfil both their career and parenting responsibilities. The decision to return to work after having a baby is a personal one, and it's important for parents to recognise that they are not alone in their feelings of guilt.

Parents should remember that going back to work can be a positive thing for both them and their children. It can provide financial stability and help parents model the importance of work and responsibility to their children. Additionally, many children thrive in daycare and other childcare environments, where they can socialise with other children and learn new things. By focusing on the benefits of going back to work and finding ways to balance work and family life, parents can alleviate feelings of guilt and enjoy the best of both worlds.

It isn’t just up to the parents to ease the stress of going back to work. Employers can also make the transition much easier for parents. By prioritising the needs of working parents, employers can help create a more positive and productive workplace for all employees. This can be done by offering a more flexible working arrangement for a period of time, be it flexible hours or more opportunity to work from home. 

But flexible and remote working arrangements aren’t enough. In fact, they can create a false sense of sufficient support for working parents, while in reality - as every parent knows it - it is impossible to work when you have a young child around you, even if you are at home. (More on this topic below.)

What goes a really long way is employers offering expert support, via consultations or coaching, which shows both a strong sign of support as well as provides working parents with additional, tangible and practical support around childcare, and all other challenges linked to early parenthood. At myTamarin, where we cover six critical life stages as an employee benefit, the early parenthood and childcare pillar remain on top of the uptake chart.   

Giving up work due to the (un)affordability of childcare in the UK

One of the consequences of the high cost of childcare is that some parents are unable to return to work after having children. Many parents find that the cost of childcare is so high that it negates any financial benefit they might get from working. This is particularly true for women, who are far more likely to take on caring responsibilities for children. The cost of childcare is a major barrier to women's employment, with many mothers feeling forced to choose between caring for their children and pursuing their careers.

This can have a knock on effect on their mental health. Many women get a lot of fulfilment and pleasure from their work. Working allows them to have an identity separate to their role as a mother. When working isn’t an option purely due to the cost of childcare, it can take an emotional toll. It can also put even more pressure on the parent who does continue to work, as the family now solely relies on their income. This in turn can put a strain on parents’ relationships, especially if money is already tight.

The biggest mistake we see mothers make when making the calculation on whether they should return back to work or not, is that they compare the cost of childcare with their salary. The key word is “their” salary. When making the decision about returning to work it is important that parents consider the households combined income, not just the mum’s. Just like they would when they are considering a mortgage or a rent. Childcare is a household expense, not just the mother’s. 

Mothers should also also consider missed promotions, and pension contributions, and the cumulative effect of missing out on income for years. It isn’t just about the amount lost in those early years when childcare is most expensive and it’s important to consider the bigger picture. 

Lastly, parents should consider the diminished confidence for those staying at home for years. If they do choose to go back to work in the future, it leads to them taking jobs that are below their abilities and at lower salaries. With this in mind, it is sensible to think of the positive financial impact that returning to work will have. 

Whilst the cost of finding childcare can feel expensive, there are various ways employers can help. This might include paying for their childcare search, or via an allowance which covers some, or all of the cost of a nanny, nursery or childminder. All of which myTamarin can help with.

myTamarin works with many progressive employers who offer financial support with finding a nanny or nursery. As well as this benefit, there is opportunity for their employees to benefit from our virtual support through all life stages.

Finding the right childcare and its availability

The availability of childcare can also cause huge issues and stress for parents with 41% saying there is a waiting list of 6 months or more at their local childcare provider, and 1 in 5 parents (19%) say they have experienced the closure of their local childcare setting in the last 12 months. 

When parents choose to go down the nanny route, some pre-planning is needed, although typically not as much. Many parents just aren’t aware of the timeframes of when they need to start looking, while others have their unborn children already on oversubscribed waiting lists.

Having access to myTamarin’s virtual support can empower parents to get things in place and on wait lists at the right time, rather than waiting until the end of maternity leave. In fact, we have even spoken with people who are yet to have children and just want to explore what options they have when they do. It’s never too early to start thinking about what is right for you!

Does it get easier as children get older?

In some ways, yes. School is free for all children aged 4-18 in the UK, so this takes some of the pressure off parents. 

However, people - mistakenly - believe that childcare will be sorted because the child is at school. Not so. Schools go from 9am - 3pm (and work is normally 8am - 5pm), leaving parents “short” 2-4 hours of childcare. Parents require what’s known as ‘wraparound childcare'. However finding just afternoon childcare is notoriously the hardest format of childcare to arrange for. Plus, schools have anywhere between 10-18 weeks of holidays per year, twice as much as most parents’ annual leave. 

Speaking with a consultant at myTamarin can help you figure out what support is available and right for your family at this stage.

Flexible working -  a real solution or simply misleading?

Many workplaces have become more flexible, particularly since 2020. Parents can work from home more, or flex their hours around childcare. This can help some parents to better balance their work and family responsibilities and reduce their stress levels. However, not all employers are open to these kinds of arrangements, and not all jobs can be done remotely. 

More importantly, even if flexible working is an option, flexible and/or remote working isn't the solution. If you have a young child at home, without any childcare, you can't meaningfully work at the same time, even if you are remote, or working flexibly. 

Childcare is a 24/7 job and children require (and deserve) their carers full attention. During the pandemic, many couples with children have reported working in shifts, i.e. one would work the first eight hours in the day, while the other would be looking after their child, and they would swap the roles for the next eight hours just to find themselves completely exhausted, and unsatisfied with both their work and family lives.  

Childcare therefore, really is necessary for work to be working for working parents. There simply isn't a way around it, and employers need to understand that childcare is a critical enabler for working parents.. If companies want their working parents to be productive, efficient, and fulfilled, they will gain only limited benefit from flexible working policies.

While the current childcare market is hugely flawed, it’s not all doom and gloom. Many progressive employers have started contributing to the cost of childcare or giving their employees access to virtual support to help them to navigate their options. 

At myTamarin, we can help working parents directly, or via their employer’s employee benefits packages reduce worry and stress, save dozens of hours of time, and provide them with peace and tangible support they need to thrive both at home, and at work.

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