This could be a moment of change: two views on juggling parenting and work during the pandemic

During the lockdown, parents working in the PR industry have been forced to add a new act to their panoply of circus skills. Forget plate-spinning; combining work with home-schooling is the new juggling act.

Working parents in the industry have learned a whole new juggling act (Photo: Getty Images)
Working parents in the industry have learned a whole new juggling act (Photo: Getty Images)

From bringing your whole ‘shelf’ to work through to discovering new empathy with colleagues and clients, two industry professionals share their views on how they are coping with the competing demands of children and their job.

I used to feel ‘othered’ in this industry, but now we’re all in the same boat

Ben Books-Dutton and son Jackson
Ben Books-Dutton and son Jackson

When it comes to parenting through crisis, I thought I’d done it all.

I’ve been raising my son, Jackson, alone since his mum died when he was two.

Nearly eight years down the line, I suppose I thought I’d got the working parent thing down to a fine art.

And then a new crisis struck.

"How are you coping?" people kept asking. I thought I was absolutely fine.

Obviously, like all of us, I was worried about the business impact of coronavirus, but on a personal level, I wasn’t particularly concerned.

I took a lot of time out of my career to raise a very young child, and you don’t tend to get out that much in those circumstances.

I usually work slightly reduced hours a couple of days a week so I can do the school run, and on the days when I do have help, I’m still home by 6.30pm.

My son and I have been living through self-isolation of sorts for years.

The reality of lockdown, however, has been very different to any phase of parenting I’ve been through so far.

Right now, I don’t just feel the weight of responsibility for raising a child, but for protecting a business too.

There’s one key difference, though: this time everyone is connected in crisis.

Whereas I once felt ‘othered’ in this industry, I now feel a palpable sense of empathy and understanding for working parents from all quarters.

I believe that is because we have had to open up our homes and lives to colleagues and clients alike.

We’ve not just brought our whole self to work, we’ve brought our whole shelf too. Everything has been on display.

The constant nightmare of home-schooling aside, I think this crisis can lead to a positive outcome for working parents.

We’ve proved that not only can we work from home, but that we can take another unpaid job on as well.

But I’ve tried to make sure I’m not the only one taking on extra work during lockdown.

Just the other day, I made my son write and host a quiz with clients on Zoom to help prove how much we could learn from kids about youth culture.

I’m not exactly sure how that sits with industry best practice but, if you’ve been paying as much attention to the news as I have lately, you’ve probably heard more than once that we are living through unprecedented times.

Ben Brooks-Dutton is a partner at The Unmistakables

Lockdown demonstrates that working parents are one of the industry’s best assets

Corinna Field
Corinna Field

Back in the noughties, when I made my start in PR agency life, it was different.

Not just because bikini-clad beauties in photocalls still made the nationals, nor because the way to make media besties was still getting them hammered while chain-smoking Marlboro Lights.

During this time, I didn’t hear much about ‘parents in PR’.

Of course they were there, powering through on no sleep for different reasons than I – and doing a far better job, no doubt.

But at that time, the way to win kudos was to be seen to be continuing just as before: long hours, late nights. No nappy talk.

In the midst of lockdown, parenting and running a business myself, there is no hiding.

Our children have joined Zoom calls. We’re pitching at unusual times to accommodate schooling schedules. The secret is out: PRs are human. Shock, horror.

The crisis has brought the way we work to the forefront.

We’ve been losing good people (let’s be honest – good women) for years, as they’ve regretfully turned their backs on agency life, simply because the culture wouldn’t accommodate the flexibility they needed.

If lockdown has demonstrated anything, it’s that this is madness.

We can do both. We just need to do it in a way that works for everyone. And when parenthood enhances, not dilutes, our skillset, we should be facilitating that.

It can make you more efficient.

We maximise our time because we have to. More often than not, we’re back online after the kids are in bed, which is surprisingly more conducive to gaining perspective than chaining yourself to the desk until 9pm.

It can increase empathy.

Parenting and lockdown has given me more understanding of other people’s ‘stuff’. A client may have an off-day, but the window into their lives via good old Zoom has revealed that they, too, have stuff going on at home. We all do.

You consume more news. At odd times.

The hours spent awake at night feeding in those early days can be a great time for devouring the media. Now 'house arrest' is doing the same. Whether or not you remember what you’ve read when daylight dawns is another thing, but the consumption is there.

You step outside your PR bubble.

Having a baby led to me meeting people outside my PR circle, giving me more understanding of the consumers I was trying to reach. Revelation of the decade – our consumers aren’t all single, twenty-something PR people in London. We need to step outside a little.

Parenthood can bring with it a host of PR skills.

If we can juggle both on lockdown, surely a little more flexibility beyond this time is not going to bring the industry to its knees?

It’s time we – as PR agencies - revisited our attitude.

Yes, parents may need to work different hours, and there will be times that our children need us.

But you can guarantee we will be making up that time, because our careers are important to us.

Believe me, we wouldn’t be battling away on two hours’ sleep if they weren’t.

Corinna Field is joint managing director of Red Lion PR

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