As I type this, it’s 6.30pm. My husband left home for work twelve hours ago, and won’t be home for a good while yet. My eldest is out at a youth group, from which I’ll collect him in an hour along with four other children since it’s my turn to drive. My two youngest are curled up on either side of me watching “Cool Runnings”.
The house is clean (or as clean as it ever gets). The shopping is done and the uniforms are already drying on the racks. The children have eaten, and dinner for the adults is in the oven. Homework is finished and in school bags, along with the RSVPd party invites and endless permission slips.
When I worked, there was always a mad dash to get to nursery before it shut. We, quite rightly, depended a lot on food that was quick and easy to prepare (often involving little more than transfer from fridge to microwave to plate). Laundry was a constant headache, and I was forever buying gifts at the last minute and apologising for not getting back to people about things.
Some of that was because I am a disorganised and absent-minded soul, of course. But some of it was simply down to the fact that I was trying to do too much. Childcare was covered, for at least ten hours a day, but the functions of running a home and a family were squeezed round the edges of a busy job and the demands of two small children. I joked then, but I meant it, that I needed a housewife: someone doing, in fact, what I do now.
I don’t plume myself on being essential to my children’s welfare by my ability to make a pan of soup or a nutritious pasta sauce, and anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that my hours are not filled with carefully crafted activities to develop their abilities. I’m happy enough to let them veg, within reason, when they come home; happy enough, in fact (despite the frequent angsting) with my role as facilitator. There’s someone on hand for sick days, for hospital trips and GP appointments, for shopping and all the rest.
We are effectively buying the luxury of someone at home. We are consciously choosing to direct our finances into having a person always available to look after the children, yes, but also to take care of the domestic drudgery which every family demands. We’re fortunate in being able to make this choice, I know, but the stuff that I do would need to be done by someone whether I was employed outside the home or not.
Someone, rather enterprisingly, has spotted the gap. We are well accustomed to the concept of outsourcing childcare to a nursery, nanny or childminder, but there aren’t many among us who can afford in addition to pay someone to clean or cook or let little Billy’s mum know that we can make his birthday. A day nursery in Clapham is offering services to parents ranging from an on-site business centre to Pilates classes. More temptingly, though, is the offer of taking home a freshly cooked meal and some freshly washed laundry along with the paint covered offspring (or was that just mine?) There’s even a concierge service doing some of that boring bureaucratic crap required in every household.
Clapham is, in every sense, a long way from here. I can’t see anyone offering a similar set up locally, so I’ll never be required to choose whether to use it. To me, though, it seems an unequivocally Good Thing…unless, that is, you don’t think that any of it (childcare, osteopath, childcare…) should be necessary. I was puzzled, therefore, that the first piece i read about it, in the Independent, via a Twitter link, was rather dismissive. Even more so that, when I googled, so too were the other pieces I could find, all with reference to the “nannying” of the parents involved by virtue of the provision of all these services under one roof.
Why should this be? Do we “pander” to parents who have their shopping delivered, rather than drag their children around the shops? Do we “infantilise” those who take advantage of the wonder of the internet and mail order to source Christmas presents? Where do we draw the line at requiring adults to stand on their own two feet: having a window cleaner, paying to have the car washed, contracting someone to cut the grass? Or is it only those things which traditionally women have done which somehow remain sacred to the lot of mother? We may all nod along that it’s women’s choice whether or not to work outside of the home (even though there is precious little real choice one way or the other for many), provided that mums don’t drop the pretence that we love trying to do it all really; that being the linchpin of the family home while holding down paid employment is just dandy and integral to who we are as mothers.
This is only ever going to be a niche solution for a tiny minority of privileged, if stressed, parents. But the principle behind it: that homes and families don’t magically run themselves and that it’s the hard slog of (usually mothers) which keep things together when paid employment is added into the equation, deserves merit and consideration even as “childcare” continues to be the only element we hear about.