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Day two in this new era of my life resulted in another fun-packed adventure with my 3 year old, but again no one from the childcare-seeking public troubled to contact Laugh and Learn Childminding. That void of communication continued through the first week.
On a Monday morning, the first day of my week two as a male childminder, at approximately 9.15am, I received a call from a mother seeking childcare. I answered the phone politely. She asked to speak to the childminder of Laugh and Learn Childminding.
“I am the childminder.”
“Uh… oh, OK… I… I was just enquiring. Thanks.”
I listened to the disconnected phone tone for several seconds before returning the phone to its base.
I received four more calls in the following two weeks, with similar results. I tried, when possible, to have my wife answer the phone. But the same response occurred as soon as my wife, explaining that I was the childminder, passed the phone to me. A rushed, garbled voice on the other end would say she only wanted to know prices, or something similar, before hanging up.
This routine continued for the next two weeks. A month had passed since Laugh and Learn was launched and I had cared for not one child, apart from my own son.
Then one day in mid-October I received a call from another father. He was between jobs and required childcare for his two-year old daughter whilst he was job hunting, attending interviews, etc. We arranged a mutually convenient time for the tour around the house and garden. I gave him a take-home booklet of policies and procedures. He told me that he would ask his wife to ring me to arrange a time for her to meet me and have a look around. A day later she called, we arranged a time for her visit and she, like her husband, left seemingly happy at the services that I could provide in caring for their daughter. She did say, however, she was meeting two other childminders and would be in contact in the next few days.
My phones remained silent for the following two days. The third day brought her decision. I answered the phone whilst having lunch with my son.
“Hi Philip, we have decided we would love you to be our daughter’s childminder.”
The phone call continued as we made arrangements about when to meet to fill out the contracts, what would be the drop-off and pick-up times, dietary requirements, etc. My son, confused by all this, was keen to return to his lunch after receiving a huge cuddle from his beaming dad. I rang my wife with the news that I had acquired my first family to childmind for! As a family, we celebrate achievement, regardless of how big or small, and we enjoyed an Indian cuisine take-out that evening.
Contracts were agreed and signed. The first day was a great success and from then on looking after the toddler was an absolute delight for my son and myself.
The curt phone calls from paranoid Mothers continued to come in, however, and through the Christmas holidays I was unable to increase my clientele.
In early January, I received a call from another father looking for childminding. Again, he arrived with his daughter and toured the house and garden. After a successful visit from his partner, my second minded child joined the Laugh and Learn roster.
Now the business was beginning to gather momentum, I thought. I was a male childminder caring for two young girls. I naively thought the sexist, stereotyped-filled phone calls from presumptuous, narrow-minded mothers would decline. My hopes to be accepted as an equal in this harsh, cynical female world were dashed as my capacity to childmind was limited to the two girls I cared for. Enquiries continued to be brief, the female voices finding excuses to quickly end their calls.
Through my three years and one month as a childminder I also took care of two brothers for two days a month over a period of four months. We decided as a family to end the business. Given the insignificant financial difference it was making to our household, that seemed like the sensible choice. The two girls I did care for were leaving to start “big school.” Laugh and Learn Childminding came to a natural end.
I wouldn’t return to childminding unless there were a minimum wage put in place to support childminders. As self-employed workers, childminders can only charge in relation to what is competitive in their area. For me, that was £4.00 an hour.
A shift of understanding and acceptance has to occur if male childminders are going to have a fair chance to fulfil the role and be judged not by gender but by their experience, qualifications and quality of work.
My knowledge of other male childminders equated to those who ran their business together with their wives or female partner. I have yet to meet another male childminder who works independently.