Monday 26 September 2016

Au pairs are the only childcare option for the squeezed middle

Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30

'The whole au pair experience has opened our eyes to other cultures' (picture posed)
'The whole au pair experience has opened our eyes to other cultures' (picture posed)

Recently I have new-found respect and admiration for my widowed mother. As the second-youngest of six children I've been asking, "How did she do it and keep sane at the same time". I am a man in his 30s with two small children under two years of age and am just about holding it together. My mother provided an answer: she was a hard-working housewife.

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Looking back over the last couple of years, I only wish somebody had sat both myself and my wife down and explained the ups and downs that having children can bring in a little more detail.

We have two lovely children who bring a lot of happiness but it can be tough going with both of us working. Maybe if we had known we wouldn't have buried ourselves in so much debt and purchased a house that is now in negative equity. We both now have no choice but to continue to work.

With crèche costs beyond our capabilities, we found ourselves looking at the au pair option. Being self-employed I appreciate the benefits that come with having a wife working in the public sector and the security that it brings.

As much as we both would like for my wife to give up work it is just not an option for us. With very little choice, we contacted a reputable au pair agency who came recommended. Having looked at some au pair websites, we decided an agency would give us some comfort in properly vetting a suitable au pair and provide us with an out if either of us or the au pair were unhappy. We were lucky to take on a nice Spanish au pair.

We could breathe again. We are now on our third au pair and see them as part of our family. One of the au pairs has requested to come back a second time during the summer months and is in regular contact to enquire about the children. We have found the whole au pair experience great and it has opened our eyes to other cultures. We have always taken the view that we treat our au pairs fairly and make sure they are happy. After all, they are minding our children. Why would you treat them any other way?

I now find it incredible that following a ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission that au pairs must be paid the minimum wage, we find ourselves in a situation were we might have to reconsider having an au pair. All because there were a couple of bad apples as host families.

I find commentators' reaction to the outcome of the election odd, but everyone, including mothers and grandparents that are picking up the pieces, can see the pressure there is out there. The squeezed middle are struggling. It doesn't take much to make people angry.

What do we do now? Do we consider one of us giving up work? Downsize? Or do we look at taking on one of the rumoured 15,000 illegal Brazilians who would be reluctant to take us to the Workplace Relations Commission?

If only we had a government to sort this out.

Gerry Cooney

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14

FG and FF must put country first

A hundred years after the 1916 Rising, the only difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is which of the main players will be appointed Taoiseach.

The politics of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are indistinguishable; their policies differ only to the extent that one, or the other, might win a few more votes at election time.

I doubt that any of the current Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil decision makers believe that the historic differences between the two parties still exist.

The reason for the continued existence of the two parties lies in personal ambition.

In this crucial time for our country, we cannot tread water for 18 or 24 months before decisions are made to help economic recovery.

It is time for politicians to put away personal ambition.

Our people voted for representatives who would act in the best interests of our country, not in their own best interests.

Now is the time for a sea change in our politicians.

Our mothers and fathers suffered for us, let us not trample on their sacrifice for personal gain.

Harry Spillane

Mount Merrion, Co Dublin

Plight of the poor in 2016

With St Patrick's Day and the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising approaching, it may be time to ask if the graces of Christianity and the goals of the Rising are truly present in Irish society, especially in light of the shocking plight of the less well off in Ireland.

Jimmy Cummins

Broadwater, Western Australia

St Patrick's Day globetrotting

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny has cancelled the second day of his two-day St Patrick's Day visit to Washington ahead of potential talks on forming the next government. Last year, Mr Kenny, Joan Burton and 27 ministers took part in the St Patrick's Day programme abroad. This year, 10 acting ministers will travel.

It's an ill wind that does not blow someone some good - in this case the Irish taxpayer, who will save a small fortune on the reduced number of ministers globetrotting around the world.

If there ever was a valid reason for such travel, this year would have been no exception. The only reason for this cutback is that jobs are at risk - that is, the Taoiseach and ministers' jobs!

Seamus McLoughlin

Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

Putting on a political facade

Having, as I do, a somewhat idealistic turn of mind, I turned on the television recently to observe the historic vote for Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot.

As the members cast their votes above the Dáil chamber, the cameras focused on Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath and Barry Cowen all engaging in an apparently hilarious threeway conversation. When they returned to their seats however, they rather conspicuously made sure that the facades of grim seriousness and faux mistrust were once again painted on their faces.

It was a brief but illuminating episode to observe, as it unmasked the political posturing they are clearly enacting for public consumption. They are taking us for fools, I thought. Soon the practised rhetoric of 'mistrust to be overcome' was back on their lips.

I could not help but think of Ruggero Leoncavallo's great opera about the tragic Pagliaccio. But as to whether it is they or we who are the clowns, who can tell? Either way, the following advice seems prudent:

"Laugh loud, Pagliaccio, forget all of your troubles, laugh off the pain that so poisons your heart."

David Mullins

Arklow, Co Wicklow

Irish Independent

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