Views from the sector: Balancing work and parenting during lockdown

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Lockdown has undoubtedly had its challenges, even as some of the restrictions start to ease. One of the most noticeable has been juggling childcare alongside work, as nurseries and schools closed across the country. For many working it has involved working strange hours to fit around home schooling or nap and/or feeding times, or trying to carve out a suitable workspace to avoid the inevitable situation of a child joining a conference call.

We asked people across the industry to share their experiences of how they have tackled the mammoth task.

Emma Duke, Head of Communications, Education Division, Oxford University Press

It was possibly the most intense time I’ve ever experienced. The comms needs at work skyrocketed, and both Isla (my eldest) and Ross (my husband) were getting to grips with learning / teaching from home. Add to that, a 1 year old learning to walk and extract things from every cupboard in the house? Let’s just say I drank a lot of gin when I wasn’t working / child-rearing / panicking about global doom.

We learned quickly that we had to be ready to forgive ourselves for not doing everything perfectly. As long as Isla was happy and doing some learning, that had to be fine. It took her school a while to set up daily Zoom classes (30 mins a day). That really helped as she was able to interact with her teacher and classmates – I think she’s found that the hardest.

I found it fascinating (and really frustrating) to watch the teacher try to engage the kids, get as many of them as possible to do the work, and manage the technology! I was navigating the world of education publishing while watching what Isla was using for school…add to that Ross being a teacher who helps develop other teachers and we were definitely ‘helicopter parents’

That said, we’ve both really enjoyed supporting her learning. Her vocabulary has come on leaps and bounds, partly due to us supporting her work, partly due to longer dinner time discussions!

Steph Bailey, Managing Director, Corporate & Senior Partner, FleishmannHillard Fishburn

I write this after just having rustled up an omelette. This is the reality of thinking of quick things to feed the kids. You see kids aren’t as flexible as adults when it comes to mealtimes. Whilst we can somehow endure 2 hour meetings between 12 and 2, that doesn’t wash with them. They are not going to sit there with their large doe eyes smiling beatifically as you run through your agenda items one by one.

It strikes me that this is no bad thing.

What they expect is sane and right. They expect to have meals at regular intervals, they expect to be helped when they get stuck, they expect to be able to get out at some point in the day and run around and stretch their legs.

When did we stop expecting these things? How many meetings have you sat through with a rumbling tummy?

Should we rethink our working situation and some of our entrenched behaviours?

 

Dave Rogers, PR Manager, Nottingham Trent University

For me, six words probably sum up the immediate aftermath of leaving the office and embarking on the new normal of working from home: ‘Daddy, will you play with me?’.

With two energetic boys who had only just turned two and five, trying to carry out a demanding and tight deadline-focused PR role at a particularly busy time work-wise was always going to be challenging.

Being removed from school, childminder, friends and relatives, the children craved and deserved attention at what was clearly an unsettling time for them too.

It was clear that some creative working patterns needed to be adopted so that me and my wife didn’t both have our heads in our laptops at the same time for too long.

Work was and continues to be incredibly supportive and I found the option of special leave – something I was encouraged to take advantage of – essential in helping to juggle the parenting and PR roles while ensuring I wasn’t dropping the ball on either.

Helen Breese, PR Manager, Nottingham Trent University

We tried lots of ways to structure our time at first, from lists of activities to pick from, to mapping out exactly how the day would go – or how we thought / hoped it would. It soon became clear that being flexible was the only way forward, as long as we got some fresh air and persuaded the 7-year old to do something more educational than watching Storybots on Netflix, we were winning. The biggest impact for me on working was not being able to concentrate fully on anything I was doing and feeling like I was drowning in unanswered emails while I was getting someone a snack. Now our toddler has gone back to nursery, and I’ve set up a proper desk and monitor in a quiet corner, I have much more clarity and a space I can walk away from and ‘switch off’ at the end of the day.

 

Christine Glover, Head of Communications, Nottingham Trent University

For the first three months my life was meeting / home school / prepare food while on a call / meeting in an endless loop. My partner and I staggered our day to try and make sure the kids didn’t go too long without any supervision but as lock down continued our workloads increased, and both kids are now absolute legends at Minecraft due to the amount of times we had to turn to the screen to babysit for us.

For me professionally the main challenge has been a lack of thinking time. Structuring your working day around meetings will only get you so far when you work in communications. You need time to consider the angle, what other projects are running in parallel and the sequencing of messaging for your audience.

That for me has been the hardest part, and it’s lead to a much longer day – being the first one up so I can have a solid hour without anyone telling my they’re bored, hungry, their ipad needs charge or they’ve been hit in the face with a Transformer; being militant at protecting my own exercise time again just so I can have a break from being asked for snacks, to build a den or an obstacle course and lots of long baths to give me time to think through audience segmentation and creative ways to bring HR policy to life.

 

Nicola Palin, Group Head of Brand, City & Guilds Group

As someone with a flexible working pattern, used to working from home regularly, when we first went into lockdown, I thought ‘OK, I’ve got this’. And at first – courtesy of my husband who was on furlough – I did. We even had home-schooling down! Ok, the house was a permanent toy explosion, and my boys (Ciaran 7, Bradley 3…. Danny 42) would often interrupt me. When I wasn’t trying to drown out sibling squabbles, I was regularly interrupted to break up fights, deal with tantrums and give my hubby a sanity break. But on the whole, it worked, and we all really enjoyed spending more time with the kids.

But as lockdown eased and hubby returned to work, I was left juggling my (almost) full-time role, home-schooling and parenting, on top of the household chores. That’s when the real juggle – no struggle – began. My ‘normal’ working pattern went out the window. I was working all hours to make up for the scrappy bits of time I was actually at my desk in the day – 30 mins here, 45 mins there – not conducive to giving anything proper thought or preparation. My guilt levels soared; guilt at not being able to give full focus to work; guilt at letting home-schooling slip, and a general feeling that I was letting my boys down. Then there were the zoom meetings, which I’d started to dread. On the plus-side many colleagues have now met my little angels, and perhaps know the off-duty Nicola a bit better. On the minus side – I’m still scarred from witnessing my youngest say ‘hello wee wee’ to one of our MDs, and nearly expose his naked bottom half to another, whilst trying to climb the back of my chair and sit on my head!

 

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