Today, we have a guest post by Rachel, a mother who has visited The Motherkind Café and who is part of our online community. Many thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us.
It has been a gradual dawning. I knew something was irritating me when I kept hearing journalists talk about Dominic Cummings’ “childcare arrangements,” but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Then I heard myself complaining to a friend that my husband and I have been “doing all the childcare” for our 1 and 3 year olds since lockdown, and the penny dropped. It’s the word “childcare.”
I find the term inadequate. It sounds so simple, so neutral, if anything rather soft and cosy. It brings to mind cheery people doing crafts and singing jolly songs. But I think it really misses the mark.
The time I spend with my children is not just about me providing “care.” A lot of it is about seeing the world through their eyes, which is invigorating and wonderful. Every building site now brings me the vicarious excitement of a possible dumper truck viewing. Being with my children is about more than just making sure they are kept fed, clean, and entertained; their desire to have me around is about more than the fact I can work the remote control. A lot of the time it is just about living together and knowing each other as amusing, interesting and maddening companions.
But the word “childcare” also fails to capture the dark side. I’m thinking of the strenuous exhaustion that being responsible for two preschool children involves. The physicality of it all – lugging double buggies into car boots, hauling a chunky three-year-old up onto the toilet. “Care” sounds soft, but my days with the children are defined by heavy lifting.
When the effort isn’t physical, it’s mental. I grind on through the daily tasks, while the children pitch against me with a stream of opinions about what they’d prefer doing instead. That endless list of morning wees, nappy changes, teeth brushing, buggies to be got out, cats fed. I’m the only one who really seems to want any of it to happen: the children would very happily stay at home in their pyjamas surrounded by crumbs all day. At these times, it feels less like “care” and more like an endurance test.
There is also a shadow lurking over the word “childcare”: what “doing” it means I’m not able to do. It may be controversial to say, but I used to be better at doing my job well. I miss being the kind of person who could say to someone “yes, I’ll get that done,” and know that I would. I dislike being unreliable and cancelling things because of a vomiting child; I flinch at reminders of things I promised I would do but haven’t got round to, months later.
I miss being able to think trains of uninterrupted thoughts, or start personal projects. I spent my childless 20s failing to finish writing a novel, so I can’t blame the children for that one. But to hear people wax lyrical about how they’ve never had so much time on their hands as they have during the lockdown is galling when I’ve never had less. I long to grow seeds, do crafts and re-read classics. We did try to grow some sunflowers with the children but the cats dug them up and left a big turd in their place (absolutely true story).
Anyone who has done it will have discovered that turds are at least as likely to be a feature of “childcare” as crafts and jolly songs, but the word still rings hollow to me. The best parts are so much more vivid and lovely, but I miss the person I used to be before “childcare responsibilities” came along, and don’t always find my life easy while they’re here.