There can’t be a working parent across the country who hasn’t experienced a seismic shift in life demands as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The immediate loss of all types of childcare support – education, childminders, nannies, grandparents – at the same time as having to respond to the most extraordinary changing demands of work have impacted even the hardiest, most resilient working parent.
It, as you well know, is a relentless task of juggling, negotiating, compromising and cajoling two opposing and competing full-time roles.
The impossible juggle of the working parent
For some of us…
- We are battling this single-handedly and alone
- We have children of varying age groups with significantly different parenting needs
- Our families are all on top of each other working in spaces where there is absolutely no room to escape – the office is now the bedroom and the shared living space is now a school
- Our partners have unhelpfully barricaded themselves in a room during working hours emerging only at the end of the working day
New research from Lean In, the women’s organisation founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has found that women with full-time jobs, a partner and children report spending a combined 71 hours a week on childcare, elder care and household chores — compared with 51 hours for men.
In addition, women are more likely to lose their job as a result of this pandemic as more women work in the sectors hardest hit by the lockdown. This has led to exceptionally high levels of anxiety and fear about what the future holds – for everyone.
The expectation that we can both work and educate our children feels like an unending day in, day out battle of resilience and determination to make it to the ‘end’. It’s no surprise that we feel exhausted and near our wits’ end.
The positives of lockdown for working parents
Despite these significant negative impacts, there have been some impactful wins and insights, which we are hopeful will lead to positive and beneficial change.
Before lockdown, life for many parents was unbearably frenetic and action packed. Parents desire for their children to experience and access a multitude of extracurricular activities led to the busiest of weekly schedules.
A combination of long working days and lengthy commutes, in addition to getting kids back and forth to their hobbies and interests, arguably negatively impacted the overall quality of family life.
How many parents are mourning or missing this way of life? Life has slowed down and, at last, found a pace that we can keep up with.
The endless piles of dirty sports kits to wash have disappeared, as have the constant negotiation and juggling over which parent is doing which activity and when, and the pressure to be in a specific place at a certain time. These are events that all currently belong to another world.
Lockdown has given families a sense of connection that had been lost. Card playing, joint Joe Wicks PE classes, family baking and camping in gardens, to name just a few, have all brought families closer together.
The gift of being able to ‘be’ with each other rather than ‘do’ activities is something we will remember from this lockdown period.
While it’s not all been a bed of roses (sibling rivalry, general bickering and an underlying irritation with each other at times), it has been so refreshing to turn to the simpler things in life and to spend quality time together.
The new normal for working parents
In terms of working, a significant highlight for working families has to be the increasing normalisation of seeing colleagues’ and stakeholders’ families on video conferences. Having a conversation with someone whose toddler is sitting on their knee has genuinely made the team at Equal Talent smile over the past few months.
The lockdown has given us all the opportunity to get to know each other so much better, offering insights into other people’s lives outside of work. This has led to relationships being deepened and strengthened as we share our true authentic selves with each other.
We have heard some wonderful stories of dads who could not work from home, or chose not to, having had ‘a-ha’ moments as a result of being with their children and realising just how little they see or get involved in their kids lives ordinarily because of work.
Those dads who have always wanted access to flexible working have been given the opportunity to try it.
We suspect there are a great many parents who are rethinking priorities in line with the family as a result of the enforced lockdown and what it has given back to the family as a whole.
Hopes for the future for working parents
Our hope is that the overall impact of the imposed lockdown is one of positive change. The genie is out of the bottle for flexible working and men have had a true taste of life at home with the children.
After being more involved and more present in family life, hopefully both dads and employers will see the benefits and organisations will actively encourage parental leave and flexible working.
So while we all battle on until schools are back and we can reinstate our reliable childcare support and get back to the ‘office’ without interruption, let’s try not to lose the insights we’ve gained.
We’ve had enough time to create new habits and behaviours that benefit our families and our relationships with one another. What could be better than that?
What are you going to take forward from lockdown? What are the gifts that it has given you and your immediate family?
If you would like further support in asking your employer to consider flexible working arrangements going forward, or if you’re an employer who wants to continue this new normal for the benefit of your people and their families, get in touch with us today.