Something happened to me a few days ago that honestly took a few precious hours from my own life expectancy.
So imagine the scene, I’m ready for work, I just need to pop my shoes on to head out the door, and “Aaaaaagh, what is THAT?” My heart leapt into my mouth, my stomach had a slightly nauseated sensation, whilst my mind raced wondering what the squelchy, slightly cool substance was that my foot had just slid into. Ideas ranged from jelly to a dead slug (I have a cat, worse has happened), as I pulled my foot out of the shoe, head turned slightly away in trepidation of what I had to deal with, I was confronted with… a mostly deflated, crinkled blue balloon. And herein lies one of the many daily challenges of being a working parent.
It never used to be this way, and any other person who is responsible for the care of a child will understand. It used to be that mornings involved dragging myself out of bed – especially if it followed a cheeky mid-week trip to the pub – spending peaceful time in the shower and applying make-up in one sitting. Now times have changed. Waking up can be any time from 5am, depending on whether my daughter is excited about something (and given that excitement can be derived from something as simple as it being chicken curry day at school, it’s an unpredictable event), and a shower is kept short thanks to the repeated interruptions of questions ranging from where socks are to “Muuuuum, do you know which My Little Pony has balloons as her cutie mark?” Basically serious stuff that cannot wait.
If you don’t have any dependants there is a simple way to have the ‘real life experience’ without the commitment. For one morning, just shout the same sentence over and over. I suggest something along the lines of ‘Brush your teeth’. You’ll know when you’ve said it enough times (and loudly enough) when you hear the neighbours shout “OK I’m brushing them, stop nagging”. This will just give you a glimpse into my world.
School runs are the other addition to the working parent’s schedule. Any woman who walks it will know that heels are a thing of the past, no more cute little heels or strappy stilettos, oh no, it’s practical flats ladies. And hair that resembles a scarecrow caused by doing your best Usain Bolt impression trying to keep up with a child on a scooter.
Once done, you can pop off to work to squeeze a full day’s workload into a few hours. When you fly out of the office in time for school pick up, you are looked at with envy by those full time workers. (Little do they know that the anxiety of not being able to stay longer or the guilt of not being able to get to your child’s play that the school kindly arranged in the middle of the day is a constant pressure on you.) You once again fly, often late, into the playground to get ‘that look’ from both child and teacher, and then get to enjoy a crazily busy evening of homework and making dinner, all the while trying to keep in touch with work, checking e-mails.
Please don’t get me wrong, my child is my world, but life as a working mum is hard. Balancing work and family life is tough and takes effort and a lot of energy. So why am I rambling on about this on an HR blog? Well because I am lucky, yes I do run around like a headless chicken and I give a lot to my company, but in return they give me something that is priceless to anybody with a dependant; they give me flexibility. I, where possible get to attend my daughter’s assembly, walk her to school and watch her nativity play. I have hours that fit around not just the business, but school too. I even get a gym membership, so when I have got some time, I can take her swimming and spend some quality time with her.
So if a member of your team asks for time off, whether it be an assembly, Easter bonnet parade or first day of school, think before you say no. It may have a cost to you as a business, but sometimes what you give will come back to you tenfold. A parent will never get that time back, these things happen often only once. Ask yourself, is that employee going to give more back because they appreciate what you did for them? Are they going to be more engaged? I know I’d think twice about leaving a company that allowed me those precious family moments.
And remember, flexible doesn’t have to mean time off. Working from home is more popular and feasible now than ever before, and we working parents have a lot of knowledge and experience to give. And just think, if you ever have a company pub quiz, and need to know that Pinkie Pie pony has 3 balloons as her cutie mark, we’re the ones you’ll want on your team.