Last week I was almost dying from need of a break, and I haven’t felt like that much, but it’s just really time for a break. I was feeling overwhelmed with mothering full time and pissed off with our isolating social structures. But this week, too many lovely options have been plonked at my feet. Or rather, one option I pulled together myself, the others burst forth from other mamas I know.

Let me share with you a beautiful alternative to childcare; a model which has been working for many groups in this town for some time. It’s called ‘playcare’.
You need: 6-8 kids
One paid carer. Anyone with energy and enthusiasm for kids will do.
Keen parents.
One morning a week, 3-4 hours, the kids all go to one house, to play and be cared for by the carer plus one parent. The parents take turns being the “parent-on”. They play, share morning tea (and possibly also lunch), and the other mothers get a morning OFF. And everybody wins. The location rotates every 10 weeks, to share the burden but avoid too much shifting round for the kids.

An alternative model (the second group I’m involved with) has no paid carer, but instead 2 parents are rostered on each week. It’s cheaper, but means everyone is doing twice the shifts.

I prefer it to regular child care because it’s grassroots community based, between friends. It builds community, as everyone spends more time together, understands better where everyone else is at, and creates more possibility for sharing child care and supporting each other outside of playcare.

It has disadvantages too. More time organising. Can’t just drop a kid off somewhere without doing any of the planning. And it cannot accommodate more than the most flexible job. This is an issue for me, as my desire for a ‘real job’ is growing.  The other childcare option that emerged this week was a Family Day Care spot, with a carer recommended by a friend. I have decided to put that off for now, not wanting to start too many new things at once.

I haven’t blogged about it yet, but Wren has cystic fibrosis. The main implication in relation to childcare is that he needs to take digestive enzymes with his food, anything that has fat or protein in it, which is pretty much anything except plain veg and fruit. It’s not difficult to do once you get the hang of it, but there are some guidelines to learn and it does require someone to pay attention to what he is eating.

The response to this at the first playcare group meeting was disappointing. People chose to limit morning tea to fruit and other foods which don’t require enzymes. Okay, so they’re accommodating him, but nobody was willing to learn about the enzymes or take on that responsibility. Afterwards, I felt really sad about that, alone.

The following day at the other playcare group meeting, the response was very different. People immediately expressed an interest in learning about his enzymes. They asked questions and had proactive suggestions about how best to organise it. It was heartwarming. It really made me feel supported.

Okay, so the enzymes are not the biggest part of managing the condition, they’re not difficult for us these days. But it really means something when people make an effort to not simply ‘accommodate’ difference, but to understand it and to share the responsibility in managing it.I feel concerned that a situation will arise in the first playcare group where Wren will help himself to something fatty another kid is eating and nobody will remember he needs enzymes, or if they do, they won’t know what to do. It certainly won’t kill him, but it’s not good for him.

I don’t want to be too hard on the first group.  One mother in particular was having a stressful day, she was in the middle of moving house, not in a frame of mind to take on too much more. And I did present the issue slightly differently to the two groups.

But let me say this: if you have a friend with a child with any kind of medical condition/ disability/ special need MAKE AN EFFORT to learn about it. Ask them about their needs. Offer to help. It means a lot, not just the practical help, but also the feeling of being supported, less alone.

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