Belfast Telegraph

Kerry McLean: I felt sorry for Meghan but my real sympathy is for parents paying big bills for childcare

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex wave to crowds at Trooping the Colour event
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex wave to crowds at Trooping the Colour event

By Kerry McLean

I've said before that it's strange to feel sympathy for a millionaire member of the royal family but it's a feeling that crept up on me yet again recently for Meghan Markle. Currently on maternity leave from her duties, she made a special appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, joining her in-laws to celebrate the Queen's birthday at the Trooping the Colour ceremony.

She'd gone to ground after giving birth, staying well away from the public and the paparazzi since baby Archie made his appearance at the start of May but there she was, looking delighted to be out, mixing and mingling. It's a feeling all mums can remember, when you get dressed up and have a few hours away from your baby for the first time.

It feels so nice to wear clothes that aren't just functional for feeding, attire that's stylish and ironed instead of being comfy and covered in baby boke.

But instead of being allowed to enjoy a moment away from her mummy duties, she was attacked for how she looked. 'Bloated and boringly dressed' was one charming comment that stuck with me. She was also accused of being overly excitable and chatty on the balcony. If you've spent the best part of six weeks with no one but a newborn to chat to when you're awake at all hours of the day and night, then I think it's absolutely understandable to be excited when you get a roomful of adults to converse with.

It seems there is nothing she can do, no course of action, that won't leave her open to attack. When the time comes for her to return to work full-time, I hope the criticism eases up.

You put enough guilt and pressure on yourself as a working mum without it being heaped on from the outside. Of course, there's one aspect of returning to work that won't worry Meghan but is a massive problem for many parents - and that's the cost of childcare.

Over the last week, two separate but connected news stories have hit the headlines, concerning the mammoth bills that mum and dads face.

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The first brought the news that childcare costs in Northern Ireland are the highest in the UK, with £166 the average weekly cost of full-time care.

The second news item was about the desperate lengths families go to attempting to cover these costs, with two in every five households resorting to using credit cards or payday loans.

That's a shocking amount of people fighting to keep their family's finances above water.

I have a friend who returned to work last year after her second baby was born. She signed him up to go to a daycare nursery, the same nursery which collected her eldest from his primary school and looked after him until she or her husband could get back from work.

The jump from paying for one child, part-time to paying for two, with one full-time, was shocking.

When she sat down and worked it out, she realised that by the time she pays the nursery from her monthly wage, she is left with less than £100 in her pocket to pay for anything else.

She's scared to leave her job in case she can't get back into a career that she loves but, at the moment, feels as though she's working purely to pay someone else to raise her children.

It's a tough position to be in.

My husband and I work opposite hours, me during the day, and him at night. This means we've been able to juggle a lot of our childcare needs between us.

But there are of course times when things come up, work beckons, our hours cross over and you need some help. Having enough willing family members, especially my mum who bears the brunt, to take on and look after my three has been a financial lifesaver. I'm very conscious of just how lucky we are.

Here's hoping that this issue being in the news can inspire a change and bring about help for all those families that so desperately need it.

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