Kids or careers? We want both
The cost of childcare is forcing working women to think outside the box, writes Chrissie Russell
Last week a difficult dilemma already faced by parents around Ireland was made a little bit worse.
Every year thousands of mums and dads have to decide whether it's better for their families to leave jobs and become stay-at-home parents or carry on working even if it means paying vast childcare fees.
If draft guidelines for homeowners seeking to renegotiate their mortgages go ahead, the difficult decision could be taken out of their hands.
Transport minister Leo Varadkar initially stated that, if mums were earning less than their child care costs, then that was something that needed to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement, essentially suggesting that women might have to chose between their jobs and mortgages if the sums didn't add up.
Since then there's been a degree of backpedalling with Taoiseach Enda Kenny wading in and insisting no-one will be forced to leave their jobs.
But the Government's inconsistency and the possibility that it might be banks, not parents, who end up ruling on some family's living arrangements is concerning.
"To suggest that the banks are more qualified than the people in that family is horrific," says Siobhan O'Neill director of parenting forum, mumstown.ie.
"Parents sit down and discuss what's best for them. They look at how childcare costs will change as the children get older, they consider the payscale they're on and how that will change.
"A lot of families are struggling to pay their mortgages but they also have to weigh up the importance of job satisfaction and their children's needs – it's not just a numbers game of 'childcare costs more than income so leave work'."
She adds: "Considering the horrendous judgement exercised by the banks in the past 10 years and the extortionate salaries some of them are on, it's insulting to suggest that they should have the power to tell families what to do."
Not that all families feel they have much of a choice. Every year mums and dads (yes Minister, sometimes it's dads who leave work to care for their children) have no choice but to leave work because of how much childcare costs.
"The childcare v employment debate is one that comes up on MagicMum over and over again," says Mary Bouchez, founder of parenting forum MagicMum.com.
"For many women the 'choice' that we hear so much about isn't really there at all. Prohibitive childcare costs force women to stay at home minding their children, regardless of their preference."
According to Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,300 childcare professionals, Irish families spend a higher proportion of their income on childcare than any other nation bar Switzerland and the UK.
A nationwide survey carried out by Newstalk found that the cost of placing one child in a crèche in Ireland amounted to three months of the average annual wage.
The research found the average weekly cost for a three-year-old in 9 to 5 care is €162 per week, with prices in the capital soaring to an average of €222 a week.
"The elephant in the room is still that the Government has failed to deliver on childcare," says Siobhan O'Neill.
"On top of that they've cut childcare allowances, incentives and got rid of the early childhood supplement – they are simply not facilitating parents who want to work."
Financially unable to continue in full time employment and pay childcare, but unwilling to give up work, many mums are having to look at a third option.
Laura Haugh runs MumtrepreneurClub.ie, a website supporting entrepreneurial mums juggling childcare with a new business.
She says: "It's not just about the sums. For those mums who were used to working full time and have now given up their job due to the excessive childcare costs, the need to 'exercise their brain' and have financial independence is important.
"These mums are now turning to home-based businesses, using skills from their working life, turning hobbies into businesses and coming up with a new service or product."
She adds: "Ireland's economy can only improve with the valuable contribution that entrepreneurial mums make, which, if supported by childcare tax incentives, could grow into businesses with the capacity to create employment."