Like the majority of parents, I’ve always had to juggle childcare and work. Some days I’m hurling cereal at the kids before racing to make the train; others I’m blocking out time in my schedule so I can make the school play. This is a challenge I chose and actually enjoyed, even with a high-pressure job. I told myself that my children would be ambassadors of diversity in the workforce, appreciate the value of money and the attributes of someone who worked hard but always prioritised them.
Nothing prepared me for the first lockdown. At work, COVID was something my business partner and I hadn’t anticipated. The crisis really shone a light on the loyal members of our workforce; those willing to go the extra mile. It still gives me a warm feeling to know that when things got tough our team stepped up. They really showed me why we hired them and how valuable they were.
Home schooling whilst working is another story entirely! School zoom calls scheduled at 8:30 clashing with a work conference call at 8, one child’s lunch break at a different time to the other’s. House a mess, lunch to make, the kitchen a bomb site and a client waiting on a report that must be with them by mid-day.
Meanwhile, my husband transformed from being my best pal to the third dependant, asking questions like “Where is the butter?” while I was on a deadline. “Find it yourself,” I suggested (not quite so politely).
I felt envy for the stay-at-home mums who could guide and support their children without trying to juggle impossible requirements. I also thought about how the divide between the rich and poor would widen. On one hand there were mums going spare stuck in the house; at the other end of the spectrum were people visiting food banks, putting themselves at risk of the virus to support their families and sharing one electronic device between a family of four.
The inequality between men and women has also been starkly highlighted. Women provided two-thirds more childcare than men during the first lockdown, according to this article, and more than half of women believed that those childcare responsibilities had negatively affected their career or would in future.
I’m lucky that my husband and I do try to split care equally, even if he does drive me mad with questions about where to find things, but some days are still a struggle. Having learned from the last lockdown, I’ve developed some ways of coping with the madness which I’ve shared below.
Above all, I’d say to working mothers – we need to be honest and not pretend everything is a breeze. These are seriously challenging times and Superwoman is a myth. Whatever you’re doing to get by, be proud of yourself and when we come out the other side, we’ll have done our best to change the perceptions of the next generation.
Now take a breath and remember, you’ve got this!
Prioritise. What tasks are most important to you? In my house, work comes first and home schooling works around it, starting or finishing later than school hours or sometimes catching up over the weekend. Your kids aren’t going to fall behind if they miss one zoom call or spend an afternoon watching a film while you meet an urgent deadline. Do what you need to and don’t feel guilty.
Trust your staff. This is crunch time, when the effort you have put in to hiring the right people and training them well will pay you back in gold. If you trust your staff you can delegate effectively and they will make you proud. Even our trainees have all surpassed my expectations in lockdown and believe me these are high!
Let your staff know that their working day can adjust to suit them. If they need to take a longer lunch, start later or finish earlier that is fine as long as the work gets done. I trust my staff to know what they need.
Make sure staff know they are valued. Do group activities that people can dip in and out of and once or twice a week all come together. Rotate the group leader so they don’t become stale, and keep the team bonded with regular reminders of the brand values and culture.
Check in on your staff’s mental health too and let them know they can ask for help. Pass on your own positive mindset.
Ensure your IT and telephony systems are up to date!
Your mind is more powerful than you can ever imagine and you can find ways to stay positive in these tough times. Set a goal, remind yourself of the last time you did something well and how you felt. Play happy music – lockdown is not the time for Radiohead (well not in our house anyway!). When you do get down, give yourself two minutes to wallow, weep, punch a pillow and then step out of it. Remind yourself of all the things you have to be grateful for.
Remember many people are in the same boat. If your smart shirt and blazer have become a sweater, and one of your kids is sitting on your lap and waving during your teams call, it’s all okay.
Friends are so important right now. Surround yourself with the right support team, not the negative mood hoovers that will sap any energy you have left.
Get out at least once a day. A few times I have been at my desk from 08:30 – 23:00 whilst juggling home schooling and this is not healthy. I make it a priority to escape the house whenever we can.
Shower every day! You’ll feel better when you do.
This won’t be forever but something we will talk about for years to come. Good luck to you all, we’ve got this
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