Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Recession-time parenting

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The daily juggle of work, childcare, paying mortgages and finding time to have a brief breather probably got quite a bit harder for many families when the recession started to bite.

The worst recession in New Zealand for some 30 years, we're told, and so the question is: how are families coping with belt-tightening?

In my case, belt tightening has been going on for some time, but probably not at a fast enough rate.

Just three years ago my husband and I were earning two mid-level journalists' wages (not stratospheric, but not too shabby).

But fast forward three years, and we feed our clan of four on husband's income and my somewhat erratic freelancing work... which I have found is drying up, at least to some extent.

The reason for this is pretty obvious - magazine sizes are shrinking as advertisers become more prudent with their advertising spend. So media that rely heavily on the input of freelancers are - it seems to me - slightly less willing to be assigning pieces to outsiders.

However, other freelancers I know are busier than ever.

These are the people that have a good relationship with a major media outlet, who are pruning their permanent staff and letting freelancers pick up the slack.

In neither case are the wages good, however.

I have to say that for a while I cheered this slow-down in work.

It's not the most glorious thing in the world to care for young children all day and then switch on the computer as soon as they've gone to bed and do a further three hours of work.

We have avoided daycare so far but my son goes to kindy - three seasons a week at $17 each, even with the childcare subsidy. Billed for a whole term, the cost can be initially pretty staggering.

I have heard many ways in which to cut this bill down to size. Firstly, it's probably worthwhile to look for a childcare organisation that actually runs the "20 free hours" programme without adding extra costs.

Barnadoes, I have heard, has an excellent in-home care service that can be used in this way, and those like PORSE are also quality providers that follow the scheme.

I have had many friends pull their children from all-day daycare to sessional kindies or other care to take advantage of the 20 free hours.

Playcentres, which are free although require quiet a bit of parental involvement, are also doing a roaring trade.

It's a matter of what you can be comfortable with.

Of course, as the use of daycare becomes squeezed, the need for everyone to pitch in at home becomes heightened.

"Tag-Team" parenting, which is practised by a great many families already, is anecdotally on the rise.

Of course, this can have the unintended consequence of putting too much pressure on the main wage earner, who must not only be doing a great job at work to avoid the chop, but then has multitudinous duties to perform at home as his or her partner heads out to work in the evenings and weekends.

My own experience with this was instructive.

For a while, when we just had one child, my husband would work five days of the week and I would work both days of the weekend.

While the bank balance looked slightly healthier initially, the toll on our happiness was extreme. Usually, on a Saturday I would return to a happy, if not slightly tired husband and contented child.

On Sunday, I would return to an exhausted husband, grizzly child and a bomb site.

Husband woke up Monday morning looking less than ready for his work week. In the end it was not worth the extra money.

And that's probably the nub of the issue. What is worth continuing to pay for, and what can be relinquished?

I've heard of precisely no women letting their cleaning ladies go - and they're not just hired by extremely wealthy women either - but overseas holidays and enrolling yolur toddlers in a plethora of activities and clubs seems to have fallen by the wayside.

To read more about child-rearing in the recession and some of the unintended consequences, see these links:

* Don't worry, be healthy - The Listener

* Recession taking a toll of child support - Ask.com

* More abortions in a recession - New York Times

* Recession uproots families, takes toll on children - AP

* Married with bankruptcy - New York Times

* Recession leaves parents hunting for affordable day care - Orlandosentinal.com

Happy belt-tightening!

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: When times are tight, things like overseas holidays and extra-curricular activities for the kids are often the first things to go. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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