Childcare is not just a practical problem

How Lebanese mothers can transition back to work

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I had been working in childcare for two years before I became a mom. As a founder of Jaleesa, an online platform to find babysitters and nannies in Lebanon, I have spoken to hundreds of parents—mainly moms—about the challenges of work and childcare. Parents have helped us to define a carer’s main role: to keep the kids safe, clean, and fed—and to support their development.

But now I am a parent myself, I realize this is just the beginning. Another key role of childcare is to relieve the pressure on parents. For the wellbeing of the whole family, there has to be a good child-care plan in place when mom returns to work.

Maternity leave is not generous in Lebanon; new mothers find themselves leaving their 70-day-old babies in the care of others as they head back to work. I look at photos of my baby at that age—he was so vulnerable and small. How could I have gone back to work? How could I have concentrated for a whole day on anything but him? It seems impossible—but I did it, just like thousands of other moms. And I was able to do it because I had a childcare plan in place that I trusted was good for my baby.

Designing a childcare plan is not just about solving a practical problem, it is an emotional issue. We are looking for peace of mind and the best for our kids. We also need to know that things are sorted at home, so we can concentrate at work. This is not an easy task, the lack of accessible childcare is one of the greatest barriers moms face when hoping to return to work. A 2017 OCED Gender Equality Report found that the most common response—cited by 23 countries—when asked for the three most effective ways to tackle barriers to female employment was “making childcare more accessible.”

When parents return to work, they have to weigh their options. Most people’s childcare plans combine one or more elements from the available options: daycare, a family member, a domestic worker, and a nanny.

Finding the right fit

There are some truly excellent daycares in Lebanon, and this can be a cost effective part of a working parent’s childcare plan. Daycare is a chance for kids to learn to socialize, which they start to need at around 13-23 months according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Before this age, babies are interested in other babies, but their brains are not yet developed enough to make friends with their peers, so socialising is more about learning to trust other adults and caregivers. Parents have to anticipate that their children will pick up illnesses while their immunity develops, and that can impact on parents’ ability to work productively. Flexibility can also be a challenge: worrying about getting through traffic to fetch the kids is a stress working parents do not need.

In some families, when a new baby is born, teta steps in as a childcarer. For those who have this option it is fantastic; nobody is better qualified to teach young babies how it feels to be loved, nurtured, and looked after than those who raised us. But with our parents enjoying their health, and working later before retiring, this is not an option for everyone. My mom would love to spend more time with her grandson, but in her mid-sixties she is still busy with her own work, commitments, and travel.

Some families decide to put their domestic worker in charge of childcare, although this is not a choice I would make. I want my carer to be 100 percent focused on the baby, not worrying about other household tasks at the same time. And while many families still do have a live-in domestic worker, not all newlyweds can afford a big enough home to share with employees—if they even want to share their private space at all.

A nanny can be the main solution, she (or he) can be the glue that holds the childcare plan together. Some people fear that a professional nanny will be very expensive, but combining a full or part-time nanny with support from grandma, daycare, and flexible working can actually save the family money.

Hiring your own childcarer or nanny also helps relieve some of the avoidable stresses of returning to work. Childcare is the clear priority, but when the baby’s sleeping my nanny is so proactive that sometimes I feel I have a sitter,  home helper, and PA all in one. She is not just part of my baby’s daily schedule, but also supports our parenting choices and helps to manage challenges like tantrums, weaning, and sleep routines. Jaleesa hand-picks childcarers through an extensive vetting, interview, and training process, designed to find people who are trustworthy, professional, experienced, and who love kids.

A big part of me was happy to return to work—perhaps in part because I work for my own company, and we are extremely parent-friendly. My nanny could bring the baby to the office at lunchtimes so I could feed him, and my team have been very open-minded about this (though our auditors found it to be quite a shock). We have all gotten used to the growl of the breast pump in the office twice a day. However, it has not all been smooth. Some days, I start later and finish earlier than I would like. Not everyone can enjoy so much flexibility, but with the right support at home, hopefully other mothers can find their return to work less stressful too.

Childcare is not just about liberating our time for productivity, it is about freeing up our brain-space so we can be fully present at work. Having a plan, even one concocted from several options, is the first step toward a smooth transition back. Of course there are always hiccups along the road. My baby bumped his head for the first time because I was checking work emails on my phone. I feel guilty about that, of course. But I absolutely do not feel guilty about going back to work, because my baby is well looked after by a nanny I trust. To offer that peace of mind to more families, my plan is to keep working as long and hard—and flexibly—as I can.

Angela Solomon is co-founder of Jaleesa, an online platform for babysitting services in Lebanon.