Reflections on the past year as a working parent

By Claire Barratt

Yesterday was the second Mother’s Day celebrated in lockdown, and as we celebrated at home again, I reflected on what a year it has been to be a mother (or father in fact).

Obviously, the past year has been universally tough no matter your circumstance. As a working parent, taking on the monumental task of home schooling alongside continuing to work has been an exercise in expert time management, extraordinary patience and for those of us lucky enough to be able to, pushing the limits of what flexible working can achieve (although the past year has been less of a masterclass and more of a crash course in parenting whilst at work).

It will come as no surprise that research has shown women have borne the brunt of the lockdowns, with the Office for National Statistics last week reporting that women’s well-being was more negatively affected than men’s during the first year of the pandemic – and research after research has highlighted that women, and mothers, have picked up the lion’s share of unpaid labour in the household, such as the home schooling, cooking and more of the housework.

While I hope that this is only a temporary adjustment, I also think we should take the time to think about what positives have come from the past year that we can take with us to improve things for working parents.

Firstly, the obvious is the wider availability of flexible working for all. A lack of flexibility has, and still is, driving a lot of women out of the workplace and campaigns like Flex Appeal have long explained the benefits of, and fought for, allowing workers more flexibility in their hours and where they work. After a year of enforced home working, it appears that this trend is set to stay, with even the Governor of the Bank of England today (15 March) saying that he expects hybrid working to become the norm. Companies insisting on going back to how things were might soon find themselves out of step with their workforce.

Another real benefit has been the opening of our homes and home experiences to our work colleagues. While some may have found this tough, and I can’t say my daughter introducing her entire beanie boo collection in one of our team meetings was a high point of my professional career, having a greater understanding of everyone’s pressures outside of work means we have more consideration for it within work.

For me personally, the past year has also taught me just how much I can do, but also what my limit is. No one needs to be superwoman and learning to ask for help when I needed it and accepting what I can and can’t do has been a really important lesson I will take with me.

And finally, what has my daughter learnt about the world of work – well she mostly now thinks work is sitting on a series of zoom calls. But what has been surprising is that she has taken a particular interest in how teams work together and likes to understand who does what.  

There have also been amusing moments where my work and hers have collided in unexpected ways. For example, during the US election, with the news on constantly in the background, Trump made it into one of her creative writing tasks in a way that had the whole staff room entertained and even earned her a certificate of achievement.

While I am not sure I have managed to get my daughter to fully understand what I do for my work, I am glad to have exposed her more to the working world and I am grateful that I have had more of an insight into her school day and what inspires her. That said, I am most definitely looking forward to seeing my colleagues in the office again, without fear of uninvited guests, and all the more happier knowing that I will no longer be one of the exceptions, combining home-working with office life. Here’s to the new normal world of working.