I quit finance to retrain as a childminder – it's not a 'step down'

I run my own business, but it’s probably not the sort of business you’re thinking of.

Sparked by a life reassessment in lockdown, my new venture is thriving and I’m loving the experience of being an entrepreneur. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and the work is varied, busy and joyful.

And while the word ‘entrepreneur’ might take your mind to the world of start-ups and beyond, I’ve pursued a very different path. 

I’m a childminder. My colleagues are typically under five years old.

My days are a whirlwind of messy play, park trips, and creative projects. It’s not only a brilliant job, but an incredibly important one. I’m helping ensure our youngest children receive the quality early years education they need to thrive.

But, all too often, people look at me perplexed. ‘Childcare?’ You can see them thinking. ‘I thought she was a career woman?’

Well, I was – and I still am. But my transition to running a nursery from home wasn’t the next career step most people thought I’d take…

Prior to retraining as a childminder, I spent 17 years with the same company as an Assistant Director of Finance and Business Support. 

I loved my job and worked a lot. I was ‘always online’; responding to emails and calls at all hours, on weekends, even on holidays – something I kept up even after my son was born 10 years ago. 

I thought I had the juggle under control, until lockdown hit. 

I was working non-stop. Starting at 7am and finishing at 6pm, while furiously trying to homeschool my child. It’s a reality that far too many working parents were confronted with during the pandemic. 

Without realising it, I’d been slowly burning out for years

By July, it had become too much. I was completely drained. I wasn’t sleeping properly, felt anxious, and deep fatigue had set in that I couldn’t shift. I knew that this wasn’t normal and I couldn’t keep up any longer, so I sought help from my GP.

For the first time in my career, I was signed off work for four weeks. During that time, I got the breathing space I needed to reflect on my job, health and what I wanted out of life.

I realised pretty quickly that I needed more than a break. I’d been running on empty for a long time but had normalised it as part and parcel of being a busy, working parent. But the gear change that the pandemic brought meant everything came to a head. 

Without realising it, I’d been slowly burning out for years. During those four weeks off, it didn’t take me long to realise that I owed it to myself, my son and partner to make a more fundamental life change.

After 18 years with my company, I took voluntary redundancy. I was scared and apprehensive as to whether I was making the right decision but, mostly, it felt like a massive relief.

I’d previously toyed with the idea of moving into childcare – I’ve always loved children and thought it looked like an enjoyable job. But, compared to my thriving career in the world of finance, it never seemed like a logical next step. 

Quitting my job forced me to really confront what I wanted from and valued in a career. So, when I stumbled across a Facebook post about an early years initiative group called tiney, which is run by the founder of Teach First, I decided to enrol in its childminder training.

I began the training in September 2020, which was mostly online (thanks Covid!), and involved learning how to deliver education to under-fives based on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework – plus there was plenty training on early childhood development and the benefits of learning through play. 

I also completed First Aid and safeguarding training, and was supported in how to meet Ofsted standards, which tiney is regulated by. It was super flexible, meaning I sometimes did a few hours a week and other weeks I worked longer hours to ensure I could qualify as soon as possible.

I loved the 12 weeks of training and, before I knew it, was opening the doors to my own home nursery in January 2021.

It was quite daunting at first as I’d never run a business before and felt nervous about building up my network and getting the word out to families, especially as I opened during lockdown.

I’m proud to be challenging that stereotype and hopefully encouraging others to embrace caring careers

But I was given lots of support around how to handle the marketing, such as joining Facebook groups, connecting with parents through local community hubs and school forums, and showcasing my nursery through Instagram. 

Welcoming the first child to my nursery in February was such a pivotal moment. It was a real joy to see a little one start learning in the environment I had created and it gave me the confidence to push forward. Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength and it’s only gotten busier with every month.

I’ve never doubted that I made the right choice. And my partner, son, and friends can see how much happier and fulfilled I am as a result. But there have been surprised and perplexed reactions along the way. And this all stems from a lack of respect and regard given to the caring roles in our society. 

While jobs in finance, law, or insurance are seen as ‘respectable’ and remunerated accordingly, the roles which involve helping people – social work, childcare, adult social care – are far too often seen as unskilled or one-dimensional. 

We don’t see them as aspirational – and this perspective could not be more wrong. Caring careers are deeply rewarding, and you genuinely feel as if you’re making a difference.

Switching careers obviously came with financial implications initially as I had to build my business from the ground up. But it’s a long-term investment and I’m making more money each month as the business grows. 

But too many people can’t see past stereotypes of what aspirational careers should be. I’m proud to be challenging that stereotype and hopefully encouraging others to embrace caring careers.

Since I retrained, I’ve met former dentists, HR leaders, even a diamond dealer, who have all decided to take on childminding instead.

We need to spotlight and celebrate these stories if caring jobs are to receive the parity of esteem they deserve. 

People working on the frontlines of health, education, or care rarely get the respect, remuneration and genuine recognition such roles really warrant. People like me and my fellow childminders show that ambition, intelligence, aptitude and work ethic are more than mutually inclusive with careers that aren’t seen as traditionally ‘high-flying’.

My transition from finance to childcare was a step up in more ways than one. It’s time everyone else saw that too.

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