Comedian Tiernan Douieb writes about the stress – and the expense – of handing his child over to someone else
As of a few weeks ago, we finally caved on sorting out some childcare for our daughter and now, two days a week, she is looked after by someone that it’s very clear she prefers to either me or her mum.
She naps properly with the childminder; she eats everything she’s given and when it’s time for us to pick her up she bursts into tears at the absolute injustice of us taking her away from all of the fun. If the true role of the parent isn’t just to remind their children that actually, large parts of life are largely disappointing, then I’ve definitely been doing it wrong. Note to self: I’ve definitely been doing it wrong.
It’s funny to think how hesitant we were about getting childcare sorted and how long we waited to do it. Part of it was how expensive childcare is, because it turns out that looking after someone else’s children isn’t just a luxury for people to do, in return for the sheer joy of glimpsing your increasingly large bundle of joy ruin their home as well.
But I don’t think I had realised quite how expensive it was and while my wife and I obviously wanted someone that was correctly qualified and checked to looked after the mini-one, we were also hoping someone out there would agree to do it whenever we needed for you know, the occasional cheeseburger and the occasional Christmas card.
Instead, as we’re both freelancers, it was more a case of ‘Is it worth us working only to spend all of that day’s money on childcare meaning that ultimately all we did was put a lot of effort in avoiding parenting?’ Which let’s be fair, on some days is definitely worth it. There are definitely times when I’d have picked ‘working for the experience’ in a collapsing coal mine over having to read ‘The Hungry Capita (sic)’ for the sixteenth time in a row. But then it turned out that, yes, it was. Especially when we can both work, and frankly, for our own sanity and bank accounts, really needed to. Or when we can both spend the time trying to get work so January won’t be spent seeing if the tiny one can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a crate while I badly play the accordion. Or even – and I know this is a shocking idea – not work and actually do a proper food shop, or clean the flat, or even just sit for two minutes and relish the sheer quiet of a home when you don’t have a tiny gremlin shouting ‘Capita!’ at you over and over again while sitting precariously on the edge of a sofa arm as though to say ‘it’s the book or I’m going over’.
Prior to parenting, my only experience of childcare was when, well, I was a child. My parents both worked and so my brother and I had a mix of foreign students who stayed with us and doubled up as babysitters teaching us, among other things, Finnish punk and in the case of one particular Hungarian doctor, correctly diagnosing me as having Type-1 diabetes allowing me to get whizzed off to the hospital and stopping me from urinating my body weight away at the age of four.
I don’t know how my parents found them or they found us, but it seems there is no longer an abundance of students happy to change nappies for a few quid on an evening, and to be fair, our small flat would mean if they stayed with us they’d probably have to sleep on the washing machine.
Instead my wife and I had to sign up to a childcare website where those who specialise in the wrangling of children hawk their abilities on what feels like a weird Tinder to look after the results of, well, Tinder.
Some have all their qualifications, some don’t have anything and hope that by telling you they are nice and have rabbits that you might for some reason let them look after your offspring even though I’m sure that’s the sort of thing I was warned against by public service broadcasts in the 80’s. You can search and message them and sometimes you get these private messages saying they’re interested in you, which is not really how it works otherwise I’d be looking to hire someone to feed me three times a day and take me for trips to the park. Actually, that does sound pretty nice.
We spent a few days arranging meetings and met two brilliant ones who lived too far away, one strange one who’d position four children in different rooms in front of different TVs, which didn’t seem great but at the same time, was pretty skillful. Then finally, the one who my daughter immediately ran into the home of, played with her similar age children and seemed very at home. Actually, I lie, she did that with all four places, she’s worryingly trusting and keeps going up to strange women in the park and asking for hugs. But we liked the last one the most and that’s really what matters.
So, the next worry was whether or not there’d be attachment issues and loads of tears if we tried to leave her there for a day. On day one, mini-Douieb totted in and shouted ‘bye-bye’ at me without even turning round. Ah I realized, she’ll be fine, it’ll be me that misses her and ends up in tears as I realise just how unbothered she is that I’m not there.
Still, after a day of food not being thrown at the wall, getting to eat lunch without half of it being stolen by tiny hands, and more admin work done in an hour than I’ve managed to do in the last 18 months, I knew I was definitely ok with the childcare thing and certain it was a very good decision on our behalf.
The biggest issue now is if two days a week is enough or if there’s any way the childminder could do three, or even four, or possibly seven? Worryingly I think my daughter would probably be keen.