Why being a working parent may feel extra tough right now
In lockdown, school-shutdown may have felt like it went on for forever, but employers were generally very supportive and for many it was nice to spend a bit more time with our little cherubs.
Then schools and nurseries reopened. And reality resumed. Or so we hoped and expected.
So why almost a term in does it still not feel “normal”? And why does the new normal feel so much harder?
Well the world isn’t back to normal is it? It isn't for anyone. But, for working parents, I believe the return to school deluded us all into a sense of anticipated normality which it simply couldn’t deliver.
Because here is the truth:
School is different (teachers in masks, "bubbles", Victorian style classroom layouts, no lunch in the hall, no assemblies, no singing!). For children, especially young ones, that is a lot to contend with and they may well be acting out of character and needing more support/demanding more attention than usual - which requires your time and energy.
Wrap around care is different. A lot of breakfast/after school/holiday clubs are either not running or have reduced numbers/hours, making them harder to get into and making the logistics of working parenthood harder than normal. Also many informal support networks, such as grandparents, can't be used because of restrictions or shielding. That can be stressful and exhausting.
Your kids got used to having you around. With many parents working from home, furloughed or unable to work during lockdown, parents and children were together more. That might not always have been a smooth ride, but for your child it probably felt like a good thing. So suddenly they miss you (in a way they may never have done before if they were used to you working since they were tiny) - and maybe that manifests in them being clingier or more resentful of time you can’t spent with them. But they might not say it (or realise it themselves). You might just experience it in more difficult behaviour.
Your work is different. With many of us still (or back to) working from home, it can be hard to create clear boundaries between home and work. And harder for your kids too. It’s easy for them to understand that mummy or daddy are going to work and can’t see them/play with them/take or pick them up from school when you physically are not there. But when you are just in the other room? That feels more like a personal rejection.
So mums and dads if you are finding it hard still. If fitting in the hours, creating effective boundaries and/or achieving a satisfactory w/l balance is proving elusive right now, that’s ok. You are not alone.
Here are some tips to get you through:
Be realistic. It isn't possible to do everything 100%: you simply cannot fit in a 40 hour week, whilst also doing all the school runs and after school care yourself (as well as looking after the house, trying to get some exercise, keeping up with all the life admin etc etc) without burning yourself out. Think about how you can prioritise and what can wait for now.
Ask for and accept help. Be that from your employer/manager re work or friends/family re childcare. Don’t try to battle it alone.
Talk about it. If your child is struggling - talk to their school. If you are struggling - talk to a friend or your manager. Have a good cry or a rant if you need to. Don’t bottle it up. A problem shared... as they say.
Be open to something new. If your old routine isn’t possible don’t just try to limp on as best you can. Think about what practical changes you can make; is reducing your work hours possible (think seriously about the financial implications but it could take some pressure off)? Could you switch childcare providers - maybe after school club worked before but now you need a child minder? Don’t just wait for things to get better - sadly that might take some time.
Be kind to yourself. This is tough. It is different. And it is going on longer than we expected. Try to ditch the guilt. And don't make self-care the thing that gets bumped off the list altogether.