Friday, 2 March 2012

The childcare dilemma

One of the reasons we came to China was to spend more time with our children. Two weeks in and we have one son at kindergarten and another with a part-time Chinese nanny.  Our dreams of endless play and homeschooling are not entirely out the window, they’ve just been…supplemented.

Before we left the UK our plan was to home-school and to have a Chinese nanny for a few hours a week to cover when our teaching timetables clashed. This seemed ideal- the boys would get some language exposure and we would be able to work. We knew there was a kindergarten on campus and we thought that perhaps later in the year F would go there a few mornings a week to make some friends. 

What we didn’t consider…

1.            Chinese grannies/nannies do not look after two children; they look after one and only small ones. Years of one-child policy and generations of ‘little emperors’ mean that when I have the children by myself or J does, we are met with awe for our ability to look after two children at the same time. As far as all the childcare providers, nannies and many, many curious (nosy) strangers are concerned - bigger children go to kindergarten, end of story.

2.            While our timetables don’t clash much, with all our time being taken up by looking after the boys and working, this leaves no time to prepare lessons or mark papers except our evenings. With all our evenings taken up with work we have no time to write, read, learn Chinese take photographs and explore new interests, which is a big part of why we’re here.

3.            A little bit of language occasionally is not enough for the boys to settle in and feel like China is their home. I don’t want them to always feel alienated and unable to play with other children. F desperately wants to play with other kids and they want to understand each other. Before I was underestimating his need to be independently social- not months down the line, but NOW.

4.            We talked endlessly before we came about the joys of being bi-lingual and how great it would be for the boys if they could acquire the language in an organic natural way rather than through years of books and slog (of which I have many more to do!). If they are not away from us learning to communicate, this opportunity will be denied them.

5.            The local kindergarten is great and stimulating and the teachers and very switched on and fun. They run about all day, make things and sing songs. My prejudices of cold, dark classrooms with nothing but rote learning sad little infants were thankfully totally unfounded. The best bit is that they have a long two and a half hour break in the middle of the day when F comes home after lunch and gets full-on attention from Mummy or Daddy (or both) while L naps.

6.            I adore my children, they are my world but I have to be honest and admit that I am not always the best person to look after them all the time. L is 17 months old and all he wants to do is walk around a small area, touch things, pick things up and decide which way to go. This is wonderful and inspiring and it can be great fun to slow down and go at his pace. However doing it all day drives me crazy, especially when I’m also chasing a boisterous nearly 4 year old in the opposite direction. L’s ‘Guo Nainai’ follows him around all day, and best of all, is part of a community of grannies and nannies all doing the same thing. It’s social and fun and he’s outdoors for hours on end learning, playing with other toddlers and being showered with praise and attention. If the nanny is to be believed he said his first proper word a few days ago. It was in Chinese.

7.            The selfish part (if you didn’t think the above was selfish enough!). I need the space to be my own person. Before we left the UK I had absolutely no time just for me during the week. The boys went to nursery part-time but only during the hours I worked, we couldn’t afford babysitters, had no family nearby and consequently I was exhausted, run-down and uninspired.  Since we’ve had our family I’ve either been a full-time Mum or madly dashing between work and nursery never stopping to catch my breath.  Now, I’ve found the middle ground. More time with my children than before, a job I enjoy (so far) and some time for me to explore my own interests. Our eldest was born when we were both 22 so our twenties to date have been a bit of a happy nappy haze. I’d like to be able to do more with these years than just raise my family, important as that is. When I have time to myself I am a happier, better mum and wife and I return to my family energised. My children are thriving and for the first time in years, I feel like I am too.

Always an emotional issue, but what do you think, am I just being selfish?

photo by


  1. What a lovely blog. It's nice to read this after nearly four years of watching you both swim about in the busyness of babies. I can honestly say that you were both swimming rather spectacular butterfly strokes and looked very elegant, but it is nice to hear you get a chance to do doggy-paddle and splash a round a bit too (man, this metaphor has mileage). The very fact that you are both so blooming creatively productive now, with my news feed filled with photos of food and (challenging) blogs about books, is just joyous. It was always inspiring that your Facebook description of yourself was 'happy lady'. It was so straightforwardly content. Hopefully this time in China will only enhance your happy lady status. Childcare is not a sin or a failing. Whether it's nannies or grannies or 'her upstairs', it's entirely accepted that parents can't do everything parents need to do without a little help from their paid-or-otherwise friends. Now, I should take up the gauntlet to be as creative as you are being in my copious, child-free time. I'll see what I can do...
    Ishbel x

  2. Thank you Ishbel, you are so very kind :) Splashing about just about sums us about right now but it's definitely preferable to treading water! Your creativity inspires me constantly xx

  3. What a wonderful adventure your family is on - thank you very much for sharing!
    You aren't selfish for needing some time - your children are stretching out into their own adventures. It's exciting!

    1. Thanks very much Didi. It's all about the balance I think. I may never feel we've got it quite right but I'll keep on trying!