I grew up in the 90’s when the idea of women having it all had become a reality and most of my friend’s mums worked, often in jobs that gave them school holidays off with their children. The Holy Grail, as it seemed to me back then, and the ideal to which I have subconsciously aspired ever since. The closer I have got to this dream scenario, however, the more it has transpired that, actually, having it all is (for some of us) technically impossible.
By the age of 22, I had two children and few prospects. I studied part time, worked little jobs here and there whilst my partner was out of work, and volunteered too – anything to get something racked up on my poor starving CV. We drifted like this for four years until James nabbed a teaching job – something he had always wanted – with just one small snag… it was in China.
So off he pootled for the best part of a year whilst I stayed home with our 2 and 4 year old children. I quickly realised that childcare arrangements are absolutely key to having it all and, as a family on a wage too low to contemplate pricey nursery fees and with no relatives nearby who could commit to helping regularly, I simply had no choice but to stay at home and care for my babies, around the clock. A privilege, naturally, but one that settled on me with jagged edges of realisation that the longer I was out of work, the more difficult it would be for me to secure a job, when the time eventually came.
When my youngest started school, the pressure to suddenly be working, to be contributing to society and to our family budget, felt immense. I trawled websites for jobs and dropped my meagre CV into every shop in town, in the dim hopes that somewhere there might be a job that could work around school hours and didn’t require any prior training or qualifications. Unsurprisingly, my search was fruitless and, towards the end of my son’s reception year in school, I decided to take the plunge and go back to school myself. I would train to be a teaching assistant!
A year later and a Level 2 qualified TA, I somehow managed to coincide the culmination of my training with the epic funding cuts that befell West Sussex. Undeterred, I registered for the Level 3 course, certain that I would find my dream role at the end of it, that I would finally have it all.
And yet here I am. 30 years old. Mother of two. A few weeks away from being a Level 3 qualified teaching assistant.
Unemployed and with little chance of securing a job anytime soon.
Because what I had failed to consider when I was getting excited about this perfect role that I absolutely adored is that not only are TA jobs few and far between but the hours still clash with the hours my children are in school. I have found three positions in the last week, all butterflies-in-the-tummy ideal… but the hours are from 8:30 until 3:15 and the schools are a good 15 minutes away from my children’s school where, incidentally, I can drop them off no earlier than 8:40 and collect them no later than 3:05.
And that deficit, those few minutes either side, mark the gulf between me progressing in my own life or staying right where I am. I’ve looked into putting my two into breakfast and after school club 5 days a week and, frankly, it would cost almost as much to send them as I would be earning in a minimum wage TA role. We’ve thought about their dad doing school runs but he works 9-5 and has to leave the house at 8:20 every morning so that’s not going to happen either.
I have been priced out of having it all. Despite my willingness to retrain and the money and time invested in new qualifications and, maybe, actually being good at something and having skills to offer, I am as stuck as I was two years ago. As stuck as I have been since I became a mother. Hands potentially tied until my 7 year old can be trusted to walk home by himself at some point in the distant future.
So what now?
Answers on a postcard or, you know, in the comments (genuinely, I’d love to hear your suggestions…)