An hour is a long time when you are five
Tips for supporting working parents of school-age children.
With speculation in the UK press about return dates for school children increasing, what is apparent is that no one quite knows what the next few weeks or months will bring. Even when schools open to more than keyworker and vulnerable children, they are unlikely to be fully open. Bubbles with part-time school; return for EYFS only; exam years only or outdoor school are all options flying around in the media and that is before we even look at how after school and breakfast club provision – a lifeline for many working parents has been decimated and is unlikely to return in any meaningful form this academic year.
With so much uncertainty, what is clear is that organisations need to continue to play a vital role in supporting the parents who work for them. So, what are a few practical things that can make a difference to parents juggling home learning and their career?
Roles do not operate in a vacuum.
A supportive manager who allows a working parent in their team to flex their day to include homeschooling is great but is of limited use if the rest of the organisation is not so understanding. If the demands from other stakeholders for things being done at a particular time don’t change, then it can lead to more, not less stress as the disconnect between what a working parent has agreed with their manager and other teams’ expectations grow. Organisations need to set the tone across the business for flexibility whilst giving managers the discretion to recognise everyone’s situation is different.
An hour is a long time when you are five.
The type of support that working parents need to successfully combine their role at work and their role as part-time educators, will vary depending upon the age of their children. But what most people can agree on is that primary aged children, particularly those in the younger years, cannot work independently for long periods of time. Hour-long meetings can present a logistical nightmare for the parent of a 5-year-old. Shorter focused meetings (even if there are more of them) would go a long way to help the working day fit with the rhythm of a school day and the concentration span of an average Year 1 child.
Don’t wait for dads to put their hands up for help.
Many articles have been written about how the burden of homeschooling (and the myriad of other domestic duties) have fallen disproportionately to women. The reasons for this are worthy of much consideration, but what is clear is that dads are not necessarily putting their hands up at work for support. Traditionally, flexible work has been considered a ‘mum’ thing and this depressing cultural barrier is proving difficult to break down, even in households with two working parents. Dads are worried to ask believing it will reflect badly on them at work; companies are assuming childcare magically happens elsewhere and meanwhile, mums are left alone to juggle the complexities of their career with teaching Year 3 multiplication.
So, what can organisations do? Assume that all working parents will need a degree of flexibility and don’t wait for dads to ask for help. Creating a culture where it is acceptable for all parents (and anyone else who needs it) to flex or fragment their working day will go a long way to supporting your employees through the next few months.
Understandably, it is tempting for organisations to not proactively add an additional tranche of people working fragmented hours. However, without a more gender-neutral approach to who is doing the childcare, years of gender parity progress in organisations risks being destroyed as women either opt-out or are disadvantaged because they simply cannot maintain the same pace at work as their unencumbered male colleagues.
Shall we go for another walk?
In all honesty, once the pandemic is over, there is every chance I may never willingly go for another walk again. Yet, right now, walking is pretty much all we have and offers an ideal way for parents to break up the screen time of homeschooling with the inevitable screen time of the post-school day. Giving working parents some time at the end of the school day to get out and exercise with their children will reward you with employees who feel far less guilt-ridden about relying on a couple of hours of babysitting by Minecraft’s Steve to complete their working day undisturbed.
For many parents, the working day has gone from being a single thing that starts and finishes to several mini days punctuated by fronted adverbials, maths lessons and helping reluctant six-year-olds log on to Zoom calls. The more organisations can do to flex to a ‘several mini days in one-day’ approach, the more working parents will cope.
There is no such thing as typical.
The above just touches on a few ways that organisations can help their employees ride out the challenge of combining homeschooling with career. What is critical is that organisations realise no family is the same and the variables that make the current situation manageable for one may not apply to another. Even with a lot of support, none of this is ideal (for organisations, working parents, or children) and we are largely talking about the group – home-based office workers with adequate resources – for whom the impact of the pandemic is overall perhaps the least challenging.
Yet, with an understanding organisation, parents of school-age children are much more able to create a new level of acceptable that will get them through until the very welcome and much anticipated day when we can finally confine knowledge of fronted adverbials or how to navigate Google Classroom to the history books.
Rachael Anderson (with help from Oscar, 8 and Dylan, 10).
Head of Marketing, How Do You Do It