This story is part of Black Ballad’s takeover of HuffPost UK, a week-long series by Black women on parenting, family, and our post-Covid future.
After having my first child, I quickly found that time became my greatest enemy. There was never enough of it to do all the things I needed to. Each day that passed brought the end of my maternity leave closer – I would have to leave my child, but first, I needed to find childcare that wouldn’t break the bank or send my mum guilt into overdrive.
There aren’t many options available when it comes to low-cost childcare where we live in north-west Kent, which is also a predominantly white area. A lack of racial diversity can present its own problems, too – and, unfortunately for me, the free option of ‘daycare of mum and dad’ wasn’t viable. Neither was an au pair or nanny.
I’ve never felt comfortable sourcing childcare from overseas, but some parents have found great success with this route. “It was hard having someone in your house constantly at times, but the benefits far outweighed the discomfort,” says Bisola Ezobi, a GP from Bristol. “Our au pairs became family members.”
Esther Olowude, a learning disability nurse, also enjoyed the experience, but found she received a bit of cultural backlash from people who didn’t understand why she was using an au pair. “Some even challenged them when they saw them with my children,” she recalls. “Or called me to check my kids had not been kidnapped.”
If a live-in carer isn’t feasible, the more formal options of nursery or a childminder come into play.
We explored the childminder route with my eldest child, as we needed more flexibility. It didn’t go well and it quickly became apparent we were more suited to a nursery environment. Chrissy Offiah, a school administrator found her experience to be similar. “I’ve never used a childminder because the thought of my child being in a house with just one member of staff scared me,” she says.
Liz Pemberton, an early years consultant and trainer, believes both settings are “fit for purpose” depending on individual parents’ preferences, working patterns and affordability.
“In both cases, trust is at the foundation,” she says. “Developing strong parent partnerships can remove any reservations parents may have about the intimate nature of a childminder.”
Developing strong parent partnerships can remove any reservations parents may have. Liz Pemberton, early years consultant
Gina Visram, a career coach and consultant, found she had to overcome her own cultural prejudices in order to build that trust with her childminder.
“We’re a Black British family of African and Caribbean origin,” she says. “The first childminder we met was white from South Africa and over 50. I paused, given South Africa’s racially-charged past, and wondered if this would be a good fit. Four years later, we’re still in touch.”
For Belinda Raji, a pastoral officer and former teacher who lives in London, she found ‘cultural compatibility’ to be a deciding factor. “The one we went with, had a lovely home and she shared her background. We found out she was a twin and was mixed Nigerian and Ghanaian – and so in the same way that my two are Tawio and Kehinde, she and her sister also were Tawio and Kehinde.”
For an increasing number of parents, this cultural compatibility is fast becoming a key consideration when choosing childcare. In Pemberton’s experience, this issue has been at the heart of the difficulties many Black parents have.
“The factor which has propelled many Black parents to choose to place their children at my nursery has been the perception of quality attached with Black ownership and management and there being an unspoken assumption of meeting the specific cultural needs for their child,” adds Pemberton.
When you dig deeper into the idea of cultural compatibility, it often manifests in areas like cleanliness, food and perhaps most controversial of all, discipline.
Pemberton suggests Black children are often labelled as being ‘naughty’ and ‘disruptive’ – particularly boys. This leads to suggestions of special educational or behavioural needs which can cause confusion for parents. The real issues, which are often rooted in underlying racial biases, are never fully explored.
Pemberton encourages parents to try to “work consistently” with their childcare providers, whether it be potty training or behaviour management techniques. She also recommends attending parent and key worker meetings and being upfront when you want to raise a concern or complaint. Whichever childcare option you choose, it’s important that it works for you and your family.
This article was commissioned for HuffPost UK by Black Ballad, the lifestyle platform that tells stories of human experience through the eyes of Black British women and elevates their voices. If you would like to read more, become a Black Ballad member to get unlimited access to content, events and discounts, and to connect to its community of like-minded women.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.