Caroline's blog: Being real

This morning we enjoyed some glimmers of normality (and a quiet house) as our second child was welcomed back to his primary school. Lockdown with two parents working from home, two extrovert primary school kids and a lively cocker spaniel has been, frankly, grim. The pendulum has swung between two extremes – firstly the gratitude that we are basically doing ok – but secondly the relentless 24/7 pressure of managing the day jobs whilst multi-tasking as teachers and childminders, then moonlighting as housekeepers and cleaners. 

One evening we managed to distil the essence of our collective lockdown experiences into the form of a well-known Christmas carol that you may be able to relate to:

Twelve Strava challenges

Eleven days without broadband

Ten thriving house plants

Nine zoom birthday parties

Eight pm Thursday night claps

Seven chalked up rainbows

Six trays of seedlings

A fifth canine family member

Four deliveries to the foodbank

Three months of back ache

Too many weeks without football

And a 25kg sack of bread flour.

Let’s face it though – despite the kaleidoscope of lockdown – I’m not sure that anyone has had an easy time of it.  I think there’s been a general shift in individual boundaries in response to social distancing. At present, battle scars and personal victories seem to be shared far more openly than usual – from family struggles to the absolute pinnacle of success in the form of a supermarket home delivery slot. The usual “how are you” seems to get a more honest answer.

I found myself pondering this sense of being real recently, whilst listening in on my 7 year old’s Friday afternoon zoom class catch up. It had been a tough week. When it was my son’s turn to share, he started by saying, “My Mummy.....” and then paused. I found myself feeling uneasy, thinking that he was going to share that his mum had just had a cry over lunch. However, he then went on to say: “my Mummy was brilliant – yesterday she gave me some Lego challenges, and I’ve been trying to make a Lego boat that floats on water.” I was hit by an uneasy relief. On the one hand, I was relieved he hadn’t mentioned my wobble or suggested that finding an engaging activity for him had been anything other than a last-ditch fluke on my part. On the other hand, I felt uncomfortable that those listening got a skewed picture, and would probably have related far better to a more honest description of how we were actually doing that week.

This need for connection also plays out in the workplace, where we’ve been fortunate in terms of opportunities to connect. I’ve got to know some of my colleagues far better than previously, and I’ve happily ended the longstanding divide between my personal and work phones by joining several workplace WhatsApp groups. We’ve shared banter, tips, solutions to year 4 maths problems, and have each singularly failed at the challenge of keeping a sourdough starter alive long enough to put to any use. Team socials have become more accessible as they are no longer scheduled for evenings after childcare commitments have beckoned. There has also been a fairly universal acceptance of house-bound kids making cameo appearances and contributions on calls, and in response I have found my kids have become far more accepting of me sitting down to work if they have first sussed out who I am talking to. As a working parent I have often felt that I’m living two different existences, oscillating between work and family life. In many ways, despite the intensity, life as a working parent now feels a lot more real, rather than compartmentalised, as the work, home and family divide has blurred.

Whilst some boundaries have been decimated, the lack of control over individual circumstances means that many personal boundaries and flexibilities are respected more than ever. I’ve found myself defaulting to a 6 day working week, to take advantage of my husband’s weekend availability for childcare. This has proved a good solution in the intensity of lockdown to free up more time to block out and spend with the kids during the week. However, it does mean that I’ve had to make a conscious effort to schedule in downtime, family time, relaxation and exercise to look after my own wellbeing, or I could see a real risk of letting my own needs fall to the bottom of the pile.

As lockdown progresses into the so-called “new normal”, and with the expected increase in ongoing home-based working, I’m interested to see how the boundaries between home, family and work evolve generally to protect, but also to empower. But for now - it feels a real luxury to say it - I’m going to enjoy the school day re-creating a boundary between work and family life for the few remaining weeks of term.

Caroline is the proud mum of an 8 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. She is also a senior associate in the pensions team at a magic circle law firm where she tries to balance work and family life by mixing office and home-based working for four days over five days each week.

 

Category: A Citymother's Diary

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