Employment versus children

I’ve been in my temporary job for just over a month and even with good day care, a flexible employer and a helpful husband I’m already concluding that work and small children don’t mix. L has had two minor illnesses in the last five weeks that have meant that she can’t go to nursery and Edward and I have had to take time off work. There have been cases of chicken-pox at nursery; if she gets that she may be off for a week.

I can write this blog this morning because I’m not working. On the days I’m working a full day I have to be out of the house at 7.30 am. On a good day I’m back at 6.30 p.m., on a bad day it’s nearer 7 p.m. This is actually pretty easy as far as commuting from Hitchin goes – one couple I’ve spoken to recently mentioned getting the 6.40 am and 7.20 am trains respectively. L’s nursery is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.: it’s only the fact that Edward has a relatively short trip to work that makes using it feasible.

Even the pay doesn’t really stack up, if I consider it objectively. I earn, gross, just under £250/week. I pay £60+/week for travel, £90+/week for day care. By the time I’ve paid tax, there’s not an awful lot left.

I end up feeling I’m short-changing both L and my employers. I think one of the big problems with most professional jobs now (and a lot of non-professional jobs) is that there is too much work to be done in a normal working week. Staff have been cut and workloads increased so that you’re running all the time just to keep in the same place. As a parent you have more excuse to avoid the long-hours culture, but when you have to take off time to look after a sick child, it still means inconvenience and problems for the employer. (And of course there’s never any corresponding flexibility from schools/nurseries etc – we had to close today, so we’ll make up the time for you in the holidays etc).

So why I am doing this? At the financial level, it is at least self-sustaining, which my time studying was not (paying for daycare for studying, while not actually earning). One alternative is being a full-time stay-at-home mum, but I would find that immensely frustrating. The job I’m doing is interesting; it gives me a certain identity and even status. Equally, it looks good on my CV: my skills are being updated and broadened. L will be starting school part-time in September, full-time a year after that. I have another twenty or more years till I retire: I have to try and make a career for myself. In the long run this job makes sense; in the short term, though, it’s tough for L, Edward and myself.

3 thoughts on “Employment versus children

  1. The way workplaces are run can be tough for everybody. They are staffed on the assumption that nobody (or their spouse or children) will be ill, that no one has family obligations, that there will always be someone else to stay in for repair men and that public or private transport will never fail.

    When I was working I felt very stressed knowing that any absence or lateness caused extra work and problems for everyone else. If only there could be some slack in the system to allow for human fallibility working life would be more comfortable.


    • Part of the problem is that the slack has deliberately been taken out of the system, in the name of efficiency. This has all sorts of unintended knock-on effects, not just on employees. All the hype about patient and parent choice is pretty much irrelevant if most hospitals and schools are full to capacity. And there have been recent comments that one of the reasons it’s so hard to eliminate MRSA from hospitals is because their occupancy rates are so high there isn’t the spare capacity for isolating patients/closing off wards to disinfect them thoroughly.

      Actually, when so much of the spare capacity is cut out, you are bound to get problems. I studied a bit of queueing theory when I was doing my maths degree and one result stuck in my mind. You have a queue of people waiting to be dealt with (in a hospital or to buy a ticket or whatever). They turn up randomly, but on average (say) every 5 minutes, and the average time taken to serve them/deal with is also 5 minutes. How long are the people going to have to wait in the queue (on average)?

      You might think it would stay relatively low. In fact, the answer is that the the waiting time is eventually going to get longer and longer (it tends to infinity in mathematical terms). The only way you can prevent this is by having extra serving capacity, so people are dealt with faster than they turn up.


  2. I suppose we’re looking at a limited sort of efficiency. A service with fully occupied employees and totally utilised resources is bound to be inefficient for service users who can’t get what they want when they need it – their needs and time deemed less valuable.

    I see what you mean about the queues. The only power the consumer has is to not turn up – easier with a supermarket than a hopital or transport situation.


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