As we start another year, many in the early childhood sector will be setting up their learning environments, reflecting on new curriculum ideas and settling new children and families into their setting. At the same time there is a group within the sector who are also ‘on the other side of the fence’ and will be taking time to settle their own children into an education and care setting — preparing to undertake another year of the delicate balance of work and home. I am one of many parents in this group. Having recently moved house, across the next month my husband and I will settle three children into three new settings, whilst both beginning our year at work. This year we will be parents of children at a Long Day Care Service, Community Based Preschool and an Out of School Hours Care Program. There is nothing particularly heroic about this feat in organisation and conquering inner city waiting lists; after all we are one family in tens of thousands who access early childhood services daily. But for this brief moment we feel that we have, quite possibly, achieved a rare moment of balance and flexibly.
As I read over Early Childhood Australia’s Early Childhood Flexibility Practices and Patterns Report, one statement particularly stood out to me. The report states ‘childcare flexibility, workplace flexibility and family flexibility are all part of a ‘puzzle’ in balancing workforce participation with child rearing responsibilities’ (Page 16). More than once over the last few months I myself have referred to 2015 as a “puzzle I am currently working on”. You see, unless you can line up all the pieces (childcare, work and family life) in the right way, daily life with young children can feel like a real struggle. The National Quality Standard calls services to create ‘collaborative partnerships with families and communities’. Yet sometimes I wonder how many services have the opportunity to truly consider what daily life is like for modern families as we seek balance and flexibly in our daily lives.
In my professional life I have robust, critical conversations about working with parents and caregivers, including strategies for engaging families in programs and partnerships. Meanwhile, the reality is that as I collect my children, the complex end of day routine and the challenge of collecting children from multiple settings have me running in and running out of early childhood services. I am guilty of being the parent that doesn’t have time to fully engage in a partnership. My teacher self wants to, and makes every effort, but my mother self knows that there are two more children to collect and home duties that await us all. So I do my best – email teachers late at night, send notes in bags, call important information I forgot over the playground fence. It’s not the partnership I intended to have when I filled in my first enrolment form years ago and enthusiastically completed the ‘how would you like to be involved with our service’ section.
The reality for our generation is that it is becoming increasingly challenging to be a single income family (particularly in expensive cities). I have repeatedly been reminded by my mother’s generation “but we seemed to manage it” (managed on a single income with one adult, usually the mother, staying home). In fact, I will guess that some reading this blog post may even have the same opinion, not quite fully understanding or appreciating why some children, particularly infants, are in child care. Of course every family will have different reasons and motivations for accessing care, but for many there is simply little choice involved. With increasing costs in living, many families living further from extended family members and an increasingly competitive workforce – modern family life can be extremely complex. And so as modern families we do our best, all of us placing our unique puzzle pieces on the board – weekly, monthly, yearly – hoping they will all line up, fitting snuggly together as we aim for the illusive goal of a balanced yet flexible daily family life.