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Parent Trap: Creche, bang wallop

There's something unnatural about walking away from a panicking child who's desperately trying to go with you.

But all parents have done it. Some of us have to do it a lot. Conor had his first day at the childminder's this week. He'd been in her house before, so us calling over there first thing didn't seem odd to him. Then, once he was absorbed in a book or something, I stood up and said, "Right so, I'm off, see you Conor". He panicked and struggled off the couch to come after me, but I kept going, and left Grainne the childminder to scoop him up and try to interest him in something else.

I waited in the hall with my hand on the door, listening to see how long it would take to calm him down. Five minutes. Not bad I suppose, but what was he thinking in that time? I've been abandoned? Hope not. Grainne reckons sneaking off when he's absorbed in something is a bad idea, that you're better off being upfront about leaving. That way, he'll learn that yes, you leave, but you come back. Makes sense I suppose, but who knows what goes on in the mind of toddler?

Hostile

At 20 months, it's about time for him to start mucking around with other kids his own age. There's one other toddler there most mornings. Grainne says that like all toddlers, they spent a few minutes warily eyeing each other up. Toddlers are kind of like drunks in that way. They start off hostile, you might get a few poorly aimed punches but they're not really any good at it. An hour later, they're holding each other up, chattering incoherently and feeding each other banana off the floor.

But this morning, the second morning, he was wise to what was going on and clung to me for dear life until I managed to distract him with a tractor or something. As soon I was out of his range I said cheerily, "Right then Conor, see you so". Again he reacted with sheer panic and started to follow me, and again, Grainne caught him and the distraction game began. This time, it only took three minutes for him to stop crying, so I guess that's progress.

The worrying thing is this whole professional childcare business is barely a generation old. We were all looked after by our mas, with a few of us by our nanas. There were no creches back in the stone age.

You have to wonder, is this generation of professionally minded kids going to kick back? My fear is that once our generation shows any sign of infirmity, we'll end up in Shady Pines retirement community and only get taken out to the local carvery every other Sunday for roast beef and rhubarb crumble.

But the reality is that the fearful stereotype of a kid deposited at the creche at 8am, to be taken out again at six or seven in the evening, is a minority experience. According to the CSO, most pre-school children -- 64pc -- are looked after by a parent in the home, with only a fifth cared for somewhere else during the day. And of that fifth, some are going to Montessoris and playgroups.

The average number of hours per week spent in non-parental childcare is 21, which works out at around five mornings a week. So this idea that we have of the children of the nation being abandoned to industrial creches while their parents go out and toil all day doesn't really hold. Probably because it's so effin' expensive.

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently said that Ireland is the most expensive country in the world in which to get childcare. In the world! Imagine! The obvious implication of this is that Irish children are the most difficult to look after. I could well believe it.

Anyway, the OECD said that the average double-income family with two children here spend 45pc of their net income on pre-school care. Nearly half their cash goes to the creche. That's nine times dearer than in Belgium. We were in Belgium on holidays this year, and I can report that, for the time we were there, my children were definitely the most difficult kids in the entire country. So it must be true.

The reality is that everywhere else in the EU, governments throw huge amounts of cash at childcare, which means that it's being sponsored by taxpayers, millions of whom don't have any kids at all. But in this country, the people with no kids at creche refuse to shell out.

Thanks for nothing, cheapskates.


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