If you’re a parent, or you know a parent, or you have a parent… read this. A wonderful blog from an inspirational parent on the juggling act of parenting and work. Is it possible to ‘have it all’?

I was on a Microsoft Teams call with a colleague the other day. We were both struggling to sort out a systems glitch that had eaten a job application. We could both see it was there, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t. It was frustrating and required my colleague’s full attention and focus to solve the issue. Focus and attention that was suddenly diverted to their small child who began screaming for food or a cuddle or a toy and wasn’t taking no for an answer.

The pandemic has thrown up many such curveballs. We have all watched viral videos showing news correspondents reporting from their offices as their other halves retrieved toddlers from the background, or lawyers attended court hearings with their faces stuck in cat filters set by their children on an earlier call.

Being a working parent has always been a struggle, balancing priorities between home and the workplace. Many businesses had an expectation that you didn’t bring your personal life into the workplace – for many the home is now our workplace.

Childcare was always a constant battle for working parents with childminders falling ill, or nurseries not accepting your child when they are sick, to long six-week school holidays when your annual leave entitlement is only four weeks long. Parents had to count on grandparents, family, friends and summer camps, breakfast and after-school clubs.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, women talked about ‘having it all’ and demanded that employers brought in flexible working arrangements to help balance their work-life balance. In response, companies brought in flexible working policies, nine-day fortnights and job shares. Part-time working increased and the working environment changed for ever.

This century has given us the ‘gig economy’, zero-hour contracts and digital nomads. The pandemic truly tested these ideas of flexible working. Technology enabled many of us to work from home, but for parents of pre and school-age children the problems of childcare came home to roost with a bump.

Nurseries and schools closed. Childminders shut their books, and grandparents and other usual sources of support were quarantined. In theory, technology enabled us all to work from home, unless we were front-line essential workers, but childcare realities hit working parents hard.

As someone who was a parent during the ‘having it all’ era, two things struck me about the current situation. First, how many of my colleagues were struggling and being forced to work late into the evening and at weekends to catch up on time spent home-schooling etc. and how that affected their mental health. But second, how understanding everyone was of their predicament. Times have certainly changed… for the better.

When I was a young mother, managers’ eyes would roll if I arrived five minutes late because one of my darling off-spring had refused to put on their shoes that morning, thus making me late for the bus and the nursery and… I remember vividly a conversation with one boss who refused my annual leave request, because I had mentioned that I was going to be there to meet my youngest at the school gates on her first day, citing that that wasn’t a good enough reason for a day off!

I resigned the next day.

As a working parent, you face challenges daily. You often feel that you are serving multiple masters and failing them all spectacularly. People question your decisions as an employee and as a parent. You are permanently exhausted and often feel you can’t win.

But you are winning. You are teaching your children by example and you are earning the respect and praise of your co-workers who increasingly understand how hard it is to juggle both jobs.

Do what you can to make this easier for yourself. Talk to your HR department and know your rights. Ask for flexible working. Share household chores or ditch them altogether, make sure you have time for yourself to relax and recharge. Maybe, over the past fifty years, from the first equal rights acts of the mid-70s, we have realised that we can’t ‘have it all’, but by being kind to ourselves and to others, we can have it better.

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