Eva is a regular columnist for NZME publications.

Eva Bradley: Parents shouldn't be penalised

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It seems all you need is money to raise a child in the 21st century. Photo/File
It seems all you need is money to raise a child in the 21st century. Photo/File

It's long been said that it takes a village to raise a child but if you read the updated 21st-century manual it seems that all it takes is money.

For almost two years I've been adjusting to a new life script that involves a complex and exhausting matrix of parenting versus working.

While I'm in possession of every mother's golden goose in the form of grandparents willing and able to help and have the flexibility of being self-employed, it still takes what feels like a superhuman effort to stay true to the commitment I made to not leave my child in care until he is 3 years old.

Partly that's because of the realities of choosing to be a two-income family (though I doubt many Kiwi families would see much "choice" in that decision given the costs of living compared with average incomes) but partly it's just so much easier - and ironically cheaper - to outsource your kids.

What bites even more is discovering that the opportunities for toddlers when you choose to be their primary caregiver (both social and educational) are so much more limited.

Tired of wandering around the public playground (especially as the cooler weather arrived), I spoke to friends with older children who introduced me to a wonderful oasis for stay-at-home parents.

A centre that had all the amenities and activities of a traditional daycare but with one totally awesome addition: parents.

As far as I knew, it was the only one of its kind in a community that was flooded with similar spaces for kids left in the care of others.

The first time we went along one of the staff brought me a cup of tea and that small gesture, combined with an environment that offered my toddler all the learning experiences he needed and deserved, made me feel like crying with relief.

Staying at home with very young children can feel like the loneliest, most unsupported job in the world.

This week we were told, however, that in order to comply with Ministry of Education conditions, the model would be switching to a drop-off centre.

While parents would still be welcome to hang about if they wanted, weekly fees would be introduced to cover the cost of qualified early childhood teachers and outings to get kids ready for school.

In short, it was to become just like every other daycare, targeting the lucrative over-threes and the Government subsidies they come with.

While it seems unfair to question the business model and motivations of a privately-run centre, it felt like we'd been caught up in the modern-day childcare gold rush.

As the extended family and community network continues to be eroded by the pressures, pace and cost of modern life, we are being forced to outsource two of the most fundamentally important jobs in family and society; caring for our very young and very old.

Private enterprise has responded to that need because when there's a gravy train leaving the station, someone will always show up to pull it ... at a price. And when there's a price tag on vital community services, inevitably the Government will be forced to open up the chequebook.

But when it has become cheaper and easier to leave toddlers with strangers (or you find yourself paying for caregivers just to access the playground), you have to presume the system is broken.

It shouldn't feel like fighting against the current if you commit to being a parent for a few short and highly influential years.

I place my own inherent value on being a parent and am happy to accept the opportunity cost that comes with that decision. But it's time to reassess the model when parents get penalised practically and financially for choosing to stick around.

- Eva Bradley is a columnist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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