Choki Wangmo

Finding balance in the chaos of corporate life can be a daunting task, especially for working parents like Dechen and Sonam, who call Thimphu their home. With demanding work hours and a never-ending to-do list, their lives are a constant juggle between career and family responsibilities.

But amidst the hustle and bustle, they have managed to carve out a precious routine that begins at seven each morning. Together, they navigate the challenges of parenthood, taking turns in the kitchen, washing dishes, and getting their bright-eyed five-year-old son, Namsey, ready for his day at the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre.

In this fast-paced world, their unwavering dedication to their family and each other is a shining example of the strength and resilience found in the hearts of ordinary people.

Dechen was working in a private firm before she gave birth to Namsey. Without adequate resources, the office gave her only three months of maternity leave, after which she had to drop her son off at her sister’s family.

“I couldn’t feed him on time as my job required much fieldwork. He was bottle-fed,” recalls Dechen.

Balancing the needs of home and work is still challenging for the couple. When Sonam is away at various workstations, they leave their son with the neighbours.

As much as Dechen considers childcare an important part of her life, working to earn an income to meet the crushing expenses has become a priority. She wants a second child, but without a caregiver, it is not possible.

Today, many families with young children in the towns of Bhutan must make a choice between spending a significant portion of their income on childcare, finding a cheaper but potentially lower-quality care option, or leaving the workforce altogether to become a full-time caregiver.

Most working parents choose the former, leaving their children in the care of family members, mostly grandparents.

Over the past two decades, in the US, the cost of childcare has more than doubled while wages have remained stagnant.

Many parents say that childcare costs take up the majority of their income, and some make the decision to leave employment as a result. Too often, mothers must make job decisions based on childcare considerations rather than in the interest of their financial situation or career goals.

Research supports that high childcare costs and limited financial assistance are driving mothers out of the workforce.

For Chencho, a mother of two, childcare is not a huge challenge. She works from home and has the support of her father and her niece.

“I occasionally take breaks and stay with my children. I try to plan ahead and complete work before my younger son returns from ECCD.”

Although she has deadlines to meet, Chencho said that it was not difficult as she has a sympathetic boss. When her work is heavy, her husband looks after their four-year-old son.

The family saves the weekend for family outings and relaxation.

“It can be difficult and exhausting for working women to balance a job and children. It is a lovely experience, though,” she said.

For Tshering, an employee of a Non-Governmental Organization, his wife works from home and looks after their two children. He drops off and picks up the children from school or ECCD. Most of the household chores are divided between the two.

A study reported that fathers relaxed for 47 percent of the time that their partners were looking after the child, while mothers did the same for only 16 percent of the time that their partners were performing childcare duties.

Tshering doesn’t take his work home as he wants to spend stress-free family time in the evenings. “I do not make official plans during the weekends as I want to spend time with my family.”

Parents say that ECCD facilities have supported them with childcare. The government targets to increase the ECCD enrollment rate to 50 percent by 2024 and 100 percent by 2030.

However, the lack of facilitators, the bureaucratic procedures in recruiting facilitators, the lack of funds to establish ECCD centers, and the professional development of ECCD facilitators are major challenges impeding the progress of ECCD goals in the country.

Dechen hopes that with improved facilities and policy support, it would be easier for working parents to raise their children properly.