Voices

NABS working parents on how to support parents through the summer juggle

With summer holidays on the horizon, the NABS team share their experiences of the WFH juggle and offer their top tips for employers as to how to support staff through this challenging time.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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Remember when writing articles about ‘how to work from home’ didn’t mark you out as some kind of industry dinosaur? The beginning of lockdown where the industry emerged blinking into the world of flexible working. A world that many have been inhabiting for many years, or on the flipside have been locked out of work in the creative industries altogether because of the woeful lack of it.

Yet while these articles garnered a flurry of scorn on social media, navigating the workplace in the midst of a global pandemic is not necessarily automatically learned overnight. This is particularly true for working parents, for while every situation is unique, speak to most and they will tell you at some point in this pandemic they have hit a wall.

Whether exhaustion from cramming work into every available, child-sleeping, moment or the guilt of feeling like a subpar employee and an equally unavailable parent, this pandemic has bought a new meaning to the term parental guilt. With the summer holidays fast approaching and childcare provisions woeful, parents face replacing the pressure to be three things at once, parent/teacher/worker, with two, parent/worker. Yet, somewhat inexplicably the flurry of articles on the ‘return to the office’ make no mention of this lack of childcare.

Over three months ago we asked NABS working parents how they were dealing with life under lockdown. Their frank, honest responses brought the oxygen of truth into a discussion that risks being overlooked, despite the fact that for many working parents it is not getting any easier.

With this in mind and with summer holidays on the horizon we asked the team to share their experiences and their top tips for employers as to how to support staff through this challenging time:

If you’re a parent, be out and proud; share your challenges and top tips with your teams.

Louise Scodie

Louise Scodie, Senior PR & Communications Manager

one daughter, aged two

After a fairly positive start, lockdown with my daughter became frustrating and tiring for us both. My bosses were super understanding, but I still had work to do, often when Amber really wanted to play with me. Thank goodness for Disney’s canon of princess films, which gave us some daily respite.

I knew we’d reached a nadir when one day I yelled at Amber: “Hurry up on the loo, I’ve got a deadline!” Poor kid.

The day after that, after an empathetic consultation with my managers, I was furloughed.

Furlough gave us much-needed space and time together. We fumbled freely through each day with mixed results but without the added pressure of me needing to work. We enjoyed civilised breakfasts together over our iPads and then oscillated between calm and tantrums throughout the day. I followed Amber’s lead; she hated online toddler classes but enjoyed story time, the odd art activity, watching TV, chasing bubbles and wolfing down snacks.

Eight weeks later, Amber returned to nursery and I went back to work. We’re both happy to be back in our ‘new normal’ routine. We survived lockdown, and I’m stronger for it.

Top tip for parents: embrace your ‘good enough’. Screen time is not the devil. It has never been more helpful to pick your battles. Make time for yourself, your wellbeing depends on it; exercise was, and is, my happy place. All hail Sir Joe Wicks and Dame Jillian Michaels.

Top tip for employers: be flexible and understanding in these ever-changing and tricky times. Ask your working parent employees what you can do to help them during the summer break, when childcare options will be limited. If you’re a parent, be out and proud; share your challenges and top tips with your teams.

We need vulnerable leadership more than ever to help us create a working world in which everybody belongs.

Lorraine Jennings

Lorraine Jennings, Director of Wellbeing Services & Culture Change

one daughter aged 1

I’ve returned to work from my first maternity leave and overall, I feel optimistic about it. I don’t have the tensions I thought I would, such as commuting and not seeing my daughter as much, because the rules and structure of work have changed.

As a parent or caregiver, you learn that in the first year of a child’s life, they change so much that you have to constantly adjust and juggle. I’m applying these skills to now, where reality changes so quickly. I’m leading our wellbeing services team as they continue to respond to the impact of COVID across our industry and along with the NABS team and our trustees, thoughtfully and carefully planning NABS' role in tackling racism in our industry.

I’ve been conscious to walk the talk as a senior leader in NABS. There are times when my baby Sorcha has to be with me for Zoom meetings and it’s important for the team to see that. As an industry we talk a lot about ‘bringing your whole self to work’. What I’ve learned through this is that no one truly knew what that expression meant until now. They were just words. Now, it's ‘warts and all’. We need vulnerable leadership more than ever to help us create a working world in which everybody belongs.

Top tip for parents/care givers: Flexibility runs through your veins! Apply that flexibility to yourself to find a way where you can still look after yourself. I’ve had to give up my workouts with Instagram fit-fluencer Laura Biceps but I’m getting a running buggy instead so that I can more easily incorporate self-care into my day. Check out eBay in a couple of months if you fancy a ‘nearly new’ running buggy.

Top tip for employers: working parents and caregivers need empathetic management to make their lives work, especially over the summer when, in addition to schools being closed, lots of other types of childcare are likely to be limited due to COVID. Listen and speak to your employees so you can support them accordingly.

Keep up with virtual team social events and encourage everyone to join. These really helped us to all stay connected as a close-knit office.

Katrina Urban

Katrina Urban, Services Project Manager

one son, 12, and one daughter, one month

I began lockdown on 12th March at 27 weeks pregnant, home schooling a 12-year-old Joshua and working from home full-time. As much as I missed physically seeing my NABS family and getting to say goodbye to everyone before going off on mat leave, I definitely wasn't sad to not be getting on the central line daily towards the end of pregnancy!

Home schooling has become more challenging the longer it has gone on as the novelty has long since worn off. Finding ways to motivate Josh or myself hasn't always been easy with the resistance put up by him at times.

We've had to find more creative ways of using things he finds interesting, such as watching animal and technology documentaries then writing about them afterwards instead of some of the set topic work. School have been understanding and supportive, making regular contact with pupils, checking on their general wellbeing and not applying additional pressure to parents.

I'm now on mat leave so juggling work has been replaced with caring for Alice who joined us on 12th June. It's definitely a benefit having my partner working from home as he gets to spend more time with us rather than travelling to the office.

Again, Josh's school have been supportive knowing there would be more disruption for him as we all adjust to life with a small human. We’re definitely on the countdown to summer break!

Tip for parents: The six-week summer break isn't far away; plan some fun family activities and celebrate home schooling being over!

Tip for employers: Keep up with virtual team social events and encourage everyone to join. These really helped us to all stay connected as a close-knit office.

Steve Rowe, Lead Senior Support Advisor

one daughter, two and one son, two months

Steve is busy on paternity leave!