Listen: Journalist Georgina Dent chats about the choice to return to work as a mother.
The choice between whether to return to work or stay home after having children, is a deeply emotional one.
There are those who believe full-time parenting is the only way to go, while others can’t wait to get back to work, and there are part-timers of all kinds in between.
While many people see the cost of childcare as an obstacle to returning to work, there is one writer and mother who believes it’s a financially beneficial move in the long run, despite the initial expense.
Georgina Dent is a Fairfax writer who returned to work after having her babies, and she chatted to Hope 103.2’s Laura and Duncan about the financial reasons behind her choice.
She said that although the cost ($23,000 a year) was gobsmacking, she stands by her decision to “take the hit for the long term benefit“.
“When we had our first baby we were actually in the UK, we came back to Sydney and I had a job that was four days a week and we talked about finding childcare,” said Georgina.
The mother of three said she and her husband never considered not working as an option.
“I’ve had time off with each of the kids but long term the plan was always to go back to work,” she said.
After returning to Australia, the couple didn’t expect finding care for their child to be so difficult. They had to settle for their last resort, a facility located in the CBD of Sydney, far from where they both worked.
“We didn’t have any other choice,” Georgina said. “It was either not work, or work and use childcare. And for a variety of reasons we didn’t think about not working and it ended up being extraordinarily expensive”.
The centre they chose cost $156 a day.
Government Rebates Weren’t Enough
Georgina and her husband were under the impression that the government’s Child Care Rebate – advertised as covering 50 percent of fees – would cover half of their costs.
The writer shared her story in a recent article for the Sydney Morning Herald saying, “While still extremely expensive, this would have rendered the cost more manageable”.
However there was a catch. The Child Care Rebate cuts out once the government has contributed $7500 a year. For the Dent family, that cap was reached after only 24 weeks, leaving them to pay $624 a week for the rest of the year.
“It explains how I landed on the figure that drained the blood from my face: $23,700”.
Why Georgina Chose to Stay in Childcare
Despite the alarming costs of childcare, Georgina, who is a contributing editor of Women’s Agenda, decided to stick with it.
She believes it’s crucial to “stay connected with an ability to earn income”.
“Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction out of working,” she told Laura and Duncan. She believes that “saying connected to the workforce is about the best thing you can do to secure your financial security and probably one of the best things that you can do for your children.”
Georgina urges people to balance their financial fears about going back to work, with the fact that “it’s not just about the money right now”
In her view, “Women have stepped away from the workforce to look after the children but that has come at a fairly significant cost”.
She says parents who stay home full time are “foregoing career progression”.
“They are not putting away any superannuation, and then when things go wrong. whether it is a marriage breakdown or someone is made redundant, or the business goes bust, not being in a position to earn income is really problematic
The Benefits of Being a Stay-At-Home Parent
Not all parents think the same way as Georgina, though, and long-term finances and career prospects aren’t the only considerations for stay-at-home parents.
One former career woman who chose to hang up her work shoes is Jamie Davis Smith. In the Huffington Post the mother and former lawyer said, “to me, there is no right answer about whether it is better to work or stay at home. “
What stood out the most to Jamie when she made her decision was the question of who would be raising her child.
“In child care my child would largely be raised by someone else, and that other person would not always (or even usually) make the same decisions I would when it came to moulding my daughter’s young mind,” she wrote.
Interestingly, it’s the long-term benefits that were a key factor for Jamie, just as for Georgina.
“There have been benefits to staying at home I could not have imagined as a new mum,” Jamie said.
Jamie writes that her world has expanded as a stay-at-home mum. She has let the eyes of her children guide her to new experiences and is evolving as a mother and wife. She also talks of her ability to get involved in meaningful causes, so her kids can see an example of dedication and hard work.
Ultimately the thought of living in regret was what drew Jamie to her conclusion about staying at home.
“Once I read that if you stay home with children and realise you made a mistake you can always go back to work, but if you go to work and realise you made a mistake you can never get the early years back – I made up my mind.”
Call for More Government Support for Working Parents
Meanwhile Georgina Dent is championing the cause of working parents, and while she accepts the expense of the childcare system, she believes that when it comes to available and affordable childcare in Australia, “we’re not really hitting the mark”.
“With childcare unfortunately the policies at the moment are not working,” she said.
“The government is providing subsidies, which is useful, but parents aren’t getting reduced costs.
This in her view “seems to be a lot of dead money” that “impedes the ability for parents to balance their work and their family”.