I made a big decision on my one-year-old’s behalf recently: I signed Astrid up to nursery.
As a solo mum, I felt a huge weight of responsibility choosing childcare for her so I could return to work. Like all parents, I desperately wanted somewhere that she’d be happy. And I would have loved to have been able to talk through options with someone equally invested in Astrid’s wellbeing. Instead, I canvassed the opinions of friends and family.
I joined in conversations at my local playclub in London with other parents with children of a similar age: we shared our frustrations at the outdated system of childcare in this country, where parents pay the most at a time when they can least afford it. Where the minimal support makes me wonder if the state still believes women should abandon their careers at the moment they give birth. More than 870,000 stay-at-home mums in England want to work but can’t find reliable, affordable, convenient childcare, according to Save the Children: something needs to change.
“More than 870,000 stay-at-home mums in England want to work but can’t find reliable, affordable, convenient childcare, according to Save the Children: something needs to change.”
Promised lands of free childcare
We talked of promised lands like Berlin where nursery is free, just like schools, and countries such as France or Scandinavia where it doesn’t eat the lion’s share of an average salary. Of cultures where it is considered absolutely standard for mothers to finish work early to pick their children up, and where the choice of whether to work or not is simply a preference, rather than a loaded decision that seems to encourage maternal guilt, whatever the best answer for each family. I only hope that when Astrid is an adult, our society will have moved on and she and her contemporaries won’t suffer any maternal work-related angst.
I found a nursery in a converted Victorian house that reminded me of my primary school, and hoped Astrid would feel the same sense of security there as I did when growing up.
I tell nursery that Astrid is donor conceived
I told the nursery that Astrid is donor conceived, writing it in capitals on each and every form that asked for her father’s details.
I wanted to make sure that if children made Father’s Day cards, and she said she didn’t have a dad, no one would disagree with her understanding. Friends with children conceived using donor sperm have told tales of teachers telling their children that everyone has a dad, though they may not live with them. Astrid has a donor: they’re biologically related but he’s not a daddy, just as mums and dads who raise adopted children absolutely are parents. Astrid’s unlikely to express any of this for a while; she has lots of sounds but few words and her favourite, ironically, is dada.
“I wanted to make sure that if children made Father’s Day cards, and she said she didn’t have a dad, no one would disagree with her understanding.”
I explained Astrid’s family set up, and the woman registering my daughter confided in me with pride: ‘Don’t worry about that, there’s a child with two mums here.’
Then came the dropping my daughter off. In a way, there’s a simplicity to being a solo mum: I am absolutely going to work. Luckily, part time, and I’m able to pick her up just after five. But there are no decisions to make over whether to be a stay-at-home mum (though I appreciate how fortunate this makes me with so many women currently unable to afford to work at all in this country). Otherwise, seeing my daughter cry when I left her would definitely have made me think twice. I too had tears in my eyes.
I had no idea of the level of effort involved to get her to nursery on time and with the correct things she may need for a day. I’ve run onto work meetings without a coat or umbrella when it’s been pouring with rain, arriving to comments that I’m brave: I nod, knowing that with a limited number of arms only one of us was going to be weather prepared. Usually, I’m pretty pleased at having arrived on time, even if drenched.
I miss Astrid hugely the three days a week she is not with me. But, after the emotional five minutes of me dropping her off, I don’t think she misses me; she seems to adore playing with paints and pasta with her classmates. I was sent a video the other day of her playing peekaboo with one.
I love that Astrid is the important one at nursery: everyone knows her, I’m just mummy. When I walk in to pick her up she gives me a big smile and carries on playing. I am thankful that this is the right way round, and the missing is all on my side.
A Tale of Two Parents
Two very different approaches to motherhood from women in the public eye. I can’t help thinking that Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson has done more for the freedom of mothers than Princess Catherine this week. The Princess looked radiant when she left hospital holding her baby. Who cares if someone did her hair? I’d have loved such beautiful photos of me and Astrid when she was brand new. Or even now, a year later. But heels? If ever there is a time to wear flats, I think this could be it. I hope she felt liberated enough to get changed once she was home.
In contrast, the Tory leader talked about her relief that IVF was successful after the “stress and pressure” of her treatment; how she hopes to “take some of the taboo or mystery away” from gay couples having children, and commented that her choice to have a child is simply what thousands of working women do each year. If her decision makes anyone feel more comfortable with finding a donor to become a parent, whether they know them or not, or following their dreams to become a mother even if it’s not in conventional circumstances, then she’s done a great thing for women.
Next time: Sunday 13 May – The importance of support networks for solo mums
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