Attempting to find "balance" in the midst of a global pandemic is a fundamentally flawed pursuit for working parents.
Last week, I went downstairs after back-to-back video conferencing to find my four-year-old eating a slab of butter. So please, sit back, relax: this is not another article on how to achieve the perfect work-life balance, while also effortlessly home-schooling or looking after young children. That is simply an impossible and thankless pursuit. No amount of timetables or meticulous planning can split a person in two.
While I don’t have a silver-bullet answer to how to best survive the juggle, I have been lucky enough to have had editors who recognized that I had a baby, not a lobotomy, empowering me to weave work into both of my maternity leaves. This has given me some insight into the emotional and logistical challenges of working from home with children. I share them with gratitude as one of the lucky ones working from home and the implicit understanding that everyone’s situation is different.
1. Stop seeking balance in a world where we have none
Balance is a concept that has historically been used as a stick with which to beat working women, presumably for the crime of doing what men have been doing for decades: attempting to work while also being a parent. The notion that any life will be in a state of complete balance is a concept which, regardless of gender, sets us all up to fail. No human being, regardless of gender, can "have it all" at the same time. The very concept is a pernicious and toxic myth designed to make us all feel we are falling short.
So, in the midst of a global pandemic, perhaps we should finally put an end to the thankless pursuit of balance and instead step up as companies and individuals to support and recognise the innate imperfection and emotional challenges of the juggle. Now more than ever, done is more important than perfect.
2. We are all in it together
Sounds trite, I know, but it is nonetheless true. Leaning on communities, companies and support networks during this crisis is vital. Advertising is a highly competitive industry but when it comes to navigating the juggle we need open-sourced and collaborative creative solutions. From #PEWithJoe to Gravity Road Jr, a resource of ideas and support for industry parents, now is the time to learn to share the best bits, and be open and supportive about the challenges we all face.
3. Don’t compare and despair
Fear of the judgement of others is energy that we simply cannot afford to waste right now. Let’s be clear, we are in the midst of a crisis that is beyond our control. If you have been furloughed, you have not failed. If you have volunteered for furlough because you have caring responsibilities, you have not failed. Compassion is everything and that starts with compassion and kindness towards ourselves. Sheer willpower alone does not make an impossible situation possible.
4. Stop apologizing
From my six-year-old streaking through a conference call to the aforementioned butter incident, these past weeks have not been without their challenges and chaos. That is before I even get into the shortcomings of home-schooling technology. Yet I find myself on new ground. Having spent so much of my working life since having children apologizing for their very existence, now it is impossible not to bring my "whole self" -- and much of my family -- to work. As we are all collectively in the room, virtual though that may be, it’s on all of us to accept each other as we are.
5. Embrace extreme flexibility
Like many people with family members on the front line of this crisis, I’m struggling at times to find the silver lining. Yet it is difficult not to be buoyed by the creativity and flexibility so many companies across the creative industries have shown, successfully cutting a swathe through the outdated myths about why flexible working cannot work.
We also need to recognise there are a finite number of hours in the day. It is on all of us to ensure we don’t sacrifice sanity savers such as exercise and giving uninterrupted attention to those we love for every given deadline.
During a crisis, it is all too easy for work to become frenetic. Treating everything as if it is urgent is an equal parts unsustainable and productive way of working. For working parents, now more than ever flexible working requires more boundaries and the courage to call out what isn’t urgent. To recognize the need to intersperse back-to-back Zoom calls with lessons and life. Yes, it is a challenge, but it is difficult to underestimate the positive impact of this new normal on our long-term working habits.
6. It’s OK not to be OK
Then, of course, the most important bit: It is more than just a social media meme to say that it is OK to not be your most productive during a global pandemic. Let’s recognize the white noise of anxiety we face collectively and the loss and grief many have experienced as individuals. Trying our best and showing up with kindness and compassion is more than enough. If that means showing up with an energetic six-year old and four-year-old in the background, I for one am okay with not apologizing for that. The question is, are you?
Nicola Kemp is managing editor of Bite at Creativebrief and a former editor at Haymarket Media.
Picture: Getty Images