Why the working life is not always a bed of roses for the single parent

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The Independent Online
Carmen Fielding, a single parent who wanted to return to work, found child care hard to find, expensive and inadequate.

Not wanting to be labelled as one of those single mothers who deliberately become pregnant in to obtain a council flat and sponge off the state, I decided to return to work when my son was three years old.

I looked for work locally but couldn't find anything that paid a reasonable salary, so decided to go back to the City. I thought that by returning to work I would be better off - financially, mentally and socially. Also that my son would benefit from having a working mother. I soon realised it wasn't that easy. Although my son went to a state nursery, he was considered too young for teatime club and therefore had to be looked after by a childminder.

When at five he was finally old enough, I thought, "great, now we will be able to afford some of those little luxuries in life". Not so. For a start teatime club has to be paid for if you are working (regardless of income). It operates for only two hours after school, so if you can't get home until 7pm further child care is needed. After 6pm it is considered unsociable hours and is charged at double the rate. Child care is very costly.

My son comes home with a reading book and list of spellings every day and is expected to complete these tasks. By the time we get in at 7.15pm, he is often very tired and gets stressed at having to rush through his book and spellings so that I can have him in bed by 7.30pm. He quite often ends the evening in tears.

I thought that perhaps the teatime club could help him with his reading, but they do not have enough staff to listen to individuals read. As a result my son is in the bottom group of his class for reading ability. Educationally, he is not benefiting from after school care.

After school clubs don't operate during the holidays, so for those without a flexible childminder this can prove a nightmare and again extremely expensive finding short-term reliable child care.

Even though I have been back at work for two years, my son still misses me desperately. He can't understand why I have to go to work, especially when other children's mothers don't seem to. Events put on by the school are usually during working hours, so I miss out and my son again feels disappointed I can't be there.

It is unfair to force single mothers out to work by reducing their benefits and do not see how providing more after school clubs is going to improve things. They will have to be free and operate for longer hours and during school holidays.

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