Every parent has been faced with various situations involving their children: during the early years, parents take their children to the kindergarten and to school, accompany them to a football match or to gymnastics and music classes. Later in life, when their children feel nearly grown up, but are not, receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning to fetch them from a nightclub becomes somewhat usual for the parent.
A report of the FamiliesAndSocieties project looked at the studies and asked experts in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK about how parents make use of, and benefit from, specific childcare forms.
Besides formal structures such as kindergartens and schools, existing parental leave systems, cultural values and norms, it is worthwhile looking specifically at the way the parents deal with space and time constraints. The distance, for instance, between family home and the school or the playground, between work and the post office or supermarket and their opening hours, drop off and pick up times all structure the day, requiring parents to develop strategies for overcoming such space and time constraints.
The first reaction is to change the working schedule or to reduce working hours, though these are not the only measures required nor are they sufficient by themselves: family networks and informal care arrangements were considered an additional necessity in all of the countries researched. Firstly, the grandparents often ease the pressure of time constraints as do older siblings caring for the younger ones.
Local market providers, neighborhood organizations for exchange of services, child minders, au pairs, private civil society networks, often organized around local church, are all used by parents in order to manage the challenges of time and space constraints.
The need to be in a certain place at a certain time requires excellent organizational skills, and it trains logistic of organizing arrangements.
Everyone with children or grandchildren experiences dependency on informal local neighborhood structures and on individual adapted solutions.
What are the consequences of this for family support?
First of all, formal institutional structures cannot serve all the necessities of family care: social networks and local informal neighborhood organizations are an additional necessity. Filing systems and computer applications help organize the family further.
One of the strategies for family policy must therefore be to allow these local structures to function. One issue would be to de-bureaucratize as much as possible the engagement of daycare mothers or au pair providers. Giving thoughts to synchronizing formal and informal structures should be the focus of family policy.
But even more important would be to draw the attention of the employer: parents, especially mothers, develop enormous managerial skills in coordinating children, work and family life. An economic structure which does not take advantage of this would not sufficiently consider its core element: the costs. Therefore, employers should ask questions such as: What are the costs of offering training on such organizational and managerial skills in specific courses? What would one-year leave for further education in social competences and skills cost if it were to be paid by the firm?
Parental leave is very much intensive training in managerial and organizational competences, which employers should take advantage of.
Source: Alison Koslowski, Caitlin McLean and Ingela Naumann (University of Edinburgh). 2015. Report on incentive structures of parents’ use of particular childcare forms.