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"I still feel like it's wrong." The childcare dilemma bringing parents to breaking point.

Right now is a really tough time to be a parent.

If you’ve still got a job, you know you should be feeling grateful. But what do you do with your kids? PM Scott Morrison announced earlier this month that childcare would be free. But with social distancing being enforced nationwide due to coronavirus, some parents are feeling hesitant about putting their kids into care.

As for schools, they’re still open, mostly. But the guidelines on which students should be attending differ from state to state. In Queensland, schools will only be open for children of essential workers. In Victoria, they’re open for children whose parents can’t work from home and vulnerable children. In the Northern Territory, children will be expected to attend school unless their parents make alternative arrangements.

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Video by Mamamia

What this all means is that many parents, trying to do what’s best for their families, are struggling with difficult decisions.

One mum, who works in allied health and has a husband in an essential service, says it might be the most stressful part of the COVID-19 situation for her.

“I have cried so many times from the stress of trying to decide what’s right and from the guilt of needing to send my children to school/daycare,” she tells Mamamia. “It’s truly awful.”

She says a lot of the guilt and worry comes from the fear of her children contracting coronavirus.

“But the health advice seems to be that they aren’t at risk,” she adds. “So much emotion caught up in the decision, because it involves our children.”

Another mum, Lisa, who’s working from home for an essential service, says she’s found it “almost impossible” to combine work and childcare.

“I am failing miserably at both,” she admits to Mamamia.

Lisa has made the “immensely difficult” decision to put her daughter back into daycare.

“The guilt is heavy, especially when I hear the judgment in others’ tone,” she says. “I question my decision to put my daughter back in every day and wonder – have I put her health or my family’s health at risk? I am 20 weeks pregnant too, so concerned for my unborn baby.”

First-time mum Trish has just spent 12 months on maternity leave from her government job. She feels “incredibly lucky” that she and her husband are still employed, and she’s reliant on the income, but can’t see how she can work from home with a baby.

“It’s impossible with a crawling, high-energy little lady who requires constant attention,” she says.

Trish is thinking of sending her daughter to childcare part-time, but worries because she lives in one of Sydney’s hot spots for coronavirus cases.

“The risk is incredibly high. I am a breastfeeding mother and am very concerned about how I would cope and look after baby, should I get sick.”

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With most schools across Australia staying open, even if only for a small number of students, some teachers are having to put their own children in school or daycare.

One teacher, married to a teacher, tells Mamamia that even though she could have done her job from home, she wasn’t given the choice. Her three children will be returning to school when she does next week.

“Whilst I completely understand and respect the need for schools to be open for essential workers and vulnerable children, I do feel like my family is collateral damage,” she says. “I can only hope that those parents that have the choice do keep their children home.”

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Another teacher, Rachel, is working from home. But with three children under three, it’s “just not possible” to teach and look after them at the same time. She says she tries not to think about the risk of coronavirus too much.

“I am comforted by the fact that most children are recovering well. However, there are days where I really struggle with it. My twins were premature and my boy suffers with wheezing when he gets any common cold, so that plays on my mind.”

Parent of kids with special needs are facing extra pressures. One mum-of-two, whose eldest son has Down syndrome, is working in aged care two days and from home two days, while her husband is working from home full-time.

“Whilst we juggle working and attempting to complete the prescribed schoolwork, we are also constantly dealing with very challenging behaviours,” she says. “We feel like we are currently failing on all fronts. Plus, school was normally our respite.”

She says they did think about sending their children back to school.

“However, if my son is at school, he also needs an aide, which would mean at least one more person in the school,” she explains. “In the end, for us, it was an easy decision. Safety is our first priority and we do not want to risk our children’s health or those around us.”

For some parents, the decision to send their children to daycare or school has been a tough one. But once they’ve made it, they’ve felt it was the right one.

Georgie works from home four days a week in an admin/management role, and for the past three weeks, has been staying up till 2am or 3am working, then looking after her two young children during the day.

“It was totally unsustainable,” she says.

So Georgie made the decision to re-enrol her sons in daycare.

“It was really hard, and I still feel like it’s a bit ‘wrong’ – almost like I’m betraying the childcare workers by handing the boys over to them during this time,” she admits. “But I knew I had to make a call between either keeping them at home and resigning – which feels like the worst option right now in this climate and with my partner’s job also very unstable – or putting them back into care.”

Today was the boys’ first day back.

“I can’t explain the weight that has been lifted off my shoulders,” she says. “I can now actually do my job!”

Are you facing a dilemma with schools and childcare centres open? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Feature image: Getty.

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