Is 12-weeks too early to put your baby into childcare?

Ellen and her family

Ellen and her family - Credit: Archant

There is a nasty rumour going round the playground, writes Ellen Widdup.

There is a nasty rumour going round the playground, writes Ellen Widdup.

Some heartless mother is abandoning her 12-week-old baby to childcare.

How shocking. How unnatural. How dare she? OK, OK. I own up. It’s me.

In my defence, he is going to a childminder only twice a week and only during school hours.

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But what am I saying here? I shouldn’t really have to justify it. So why do I feel obliged to?

At a baby group earlier this week I admitted my crime to one group of new mummies.

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“I feel terribly guilty about it,” I blurted out immediately, to combat the furrowed brows and general disapproval.

Of course, I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t taking maternity leave this time around. I returned to work five days after my son’s birth, albeit from my kitchen table.

Running a business from home gives me the flexibility many working mothers long for.

In theory, I start work after the school run and stop when the kids come home for tea, often returning to my computer after bedtime to finish up.

But this system has suffered a little shake-up after the birth of Number Three – hence the need for nanny. Of course, I could take a break from work. I could embrace full-time motherhood. I just don’t want to – and it’s a shame I have to defend this position.

Earlier this week Susan Keogh, from Kildare, Ireland, a newsreader for Today FM, was forced to hit back when an online troll told her she shouldn’t have a baby and a job. In an open letter, which she shared on Twitter, she wrote: “I got your message. The one where you pointed out that if I missed my daughter so much while I’m in work, then I should just give up my job. Or quit posting pictures of her, at the very least. How had I not thought of that? So helpful.”

She went on to explain that she loves her job. That it’s important to her. That it makes her happy and content.

“I miss bedtimes most nights,” she says. “Do you know how many people point that out to me? Too many. My husband leaves the house at five every morning. He misses ‘wake up time’ every day. Guess how many people point that out to him? You got it! None.”

This sentiment struck a real chord with me.

You see, since our son arrived in late November, my husband, who also works from home, has been doing the vast majority of childcare.

And he has received heaps of praise for this “sacrifice”.

He is commended for his “willingness to help”. Female friends of mine are “jealous” or “amazed” by his “wonderful” parenting skills. He is performing tasks which would go unnoticed if a woman were to do them but somehow, by changing a nappy or bottle-feeding, he is worthy of extra recognition.

The icing on the cake came when he was tagged by a friend in the Motherhood Challenge – and I wasn’t.

For those of you unaware of this virtual competition, it’s a Facebook viral that has been doing the rounds for about a fortnight, asking women to contribute by posting a series of photos that make them “happy to be a mother”.

They are then encouraged to tag other people they think are “great mothers”, asking them to post their own pictures.

Unlike some other viral memes, there is no discernible pay-off ? no money being raised for charity, no heightened awareness of breast cancer or reminders of the dangers of giving whole grapes to toddlers.

And it’s unclear whether the “challenge” here is to prove what a great mother you are or merely to challenge your friends to prove that they are too.

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

An excuse to show off your mummy credentials through a series of heavily-filtered snapshots and a few pithy hashtags ? #blessed #lovinglife #mywholeworld – which then make the rest of us seem desperately inadequate by comparison.

Or is it just me who feels like they simply don’t cut the motherhood mustard?

I think not.

In fact, it is my belief that all mothers – no matter what carefully-crafted external impression they give off – harbour feelings of guilt and fear.

They want to be seen to be doing the right thing, acting the right way, saying the right things. But behind closed doors they are secretly worrying they will never be as good as the rest.

Earlier this week one mother wrote a touching Facebook post to a stranger “with crazy blonde curly hair” who she had watched on the school run for the last 10 years.

Rachaele Hambleton, 33, saw the woman’s young children grow up under their loving mother’s care while she, a working parent, felt inadequate in comparison.

“Every morning I would watch her and be in awe at how organised she was, how she could possibly manage and how happy her babies looked,” she wrote. “I would then continue the rest of my journey to work with a lump in my throat that someone else was doing all of those things with my babies because I felt I should be at work.”

In response, the woman ? known only as Naomi ? got in touch and said that while she was touched by the post, she often felt like a “parent machine”.

It seems both women found their lives a bit of a juggling act.

There is a lot of pressure put on mothers to live up to certain expectations.

We should try to give birth naturally, attempt to breastfeed, get our figures back, take time off work.

We should enjoy spending time with our kids, relish every moment, cherish each day.

But guess what?

It’s not always a bed of roses.

Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes depressing. Sometimes you just can’t do what is “expected” of you.

But just as you may take pride in how easy and rewarding you find parenting, so too can you celebrate making it through the day without crying.

If you ask me, the main thing parents “should” do is stop believing that they “should” do anything.

Besides which, if anyone is allowed to judge you as a mother, it should be your kids.

Despite the fact that I work full-time, rely on my husband more than I should, employ a childminder and am the only woman I know who can burn macaroni cheese, mine say I’m doing a great job.

That’s enough for me, but hey, I will throw in a #blessed and a heavily filtered snapshot of me “in action”, just in case you doubted the sentiment.


See more from Ellen here

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