Working Parents often struggle with filling the summer holidays and making them memorable for their children. This year there are the added complications of cancelled holiday clubs, postponed trips abroad and 4 months of already living in each other’s pockets. Many parents and carers thought that removing school from the equation would make life easier. However, they are learning that there is a big school shaped hole in the day that their children are needing filled.
Over the past few days, parent after parent has come to Educating Matters sharing in this experience of guilt and overwhelm and frustration and worry and bewilderment and and and … For many of these parents, it comes down to one critical point. They don’t know how to navigate “The New Normal” when it includes a summer holiday without the typical support systems they are used to relying on. Here is a lifeline to get you going to help calm the chaos in your home and in your mind.
Start Where You Are
Simmering in a pool of guilt and regret does not serve you. Processing this is important. However, it can be an enemy of progress. Move from a place of forgiveness and understanding for yourself. Whether it is the first or the 3rd week of summer holidays, opportunities to have fun and do better are there. Take a day to plan. Then, implement that plan. Remember that done is better than perfect. We are looking for a way to make the time you have left less stressful and good enough for your family.
Set a Budget (Daily and Monthly)
I cannot stress this enough. Many people are under the impression that not going abroad will save you money exponentially. Whilst this can be true, it is also true that staying at home can make the pounds fly out of your bank at a slow and steady pace. Several days out in London can quickly add up without you realising. Also, you may be buying toys, games, crafts and other items to fill the hours at home.
In your budget, include the obvious things like food and ticket prices. Also, include things like art supplies, souvenirs, travel expenses and a snack budget big enough to keep hungry kids at bay. Pad it out for extra splurging and impulse buys as well. This way, you aren’t having to dip into the Christmas budget to pay off summer.
Use Tech Wisely Without Guilt
With access to peers and clubs restricted, kids are going to be on tech more. There is no point feeling guilty about that. How we use tech can be a great benefit for us and for them. Got a meeting that you are leading? Time for their favourite movie. Need the kids to take a break from each other to get some space? Allow access to individual tech. Need you children to pick up a book? Earn minutes by reading pages. Tech is an amazing tool that can be utilised for the benefit of everyone in the family. Having structured access, rather than unlimited, is a great way to break up the day and allow you to get work done.
Schedule Time for Self-Care
Self-care is the first thing parents throw out the window when schedules feel tight. However, during an extended time like summer holidays, burn out can come quickly and everyone in the family suffers. Find creative ways to take a break. This could be as simple as scheduling in 8-10 pm to sit on the couch and watch a movie with your feet on your partner’s lap or reading a full chapter of a book or dancing around to music. Find what recharges your soul and do that. You are the most valuable resource in your family. Take care of yourself.
Educating Matters is offering our Staycation Matters webinar to help families get through the holidays.
Over the past 19 years since founding Educating Matters, I have spent a lot of time checking out products, resources, reading books and testing parenting strategies. I never recommend anything that hasn’t been tried and tested on my own 4 children.
In January, my fourth child will be sitting the selective 11+ exams and thankfully it’s the last time I will have to support a child through this process! It felt like such a big deal first time round but now that my older two have been through GCSEs, A levels and University applications, it doesn’t hold quite the same gravitas. I have always been in favour of a non- pressurised approach and firmly believe that with solid foundations and parental support, children will end up where they need to be. It is no good preparing a child with multiple tutors and endless practice papers to pass the entrance exam to a highly academic school but then that child struggling and feeling unhappy once they are there.
Nevertheless selective exams aside, parents may be understandably feeling some anxiety about their child’s education regressing due to the many months of face to face teaching they have been missed. A close friend of mine recommended using Atom Learning with my 10 year old daughter, so we did a trial and I was so impressed and intrigued that I called them up directly to find out more.
Whilst many of you and your children will be absolutely sick of ‘homeschooling’ and want to back off from any formal learning during the summer holidays, I just thought I would share my great new discovery. It will be useful for any of you with a child aged 7 to 11. Whether you simply want to reinforce their learning for Key Stage 2 or prepare them for SATs or a selective exam for independent or grammar schools.
Atom Learning was founded in 2018 and is a Key Stage 2 online and fully adaptive teaching and learning platform covering English, Maths and Reasoning (Science will be released in September). The platform helps children consolidate Key Stage 2 knowledge and prepare for SATs, any senior school entry and School-Specific Assessments.
There is a free platform for schools and a home platform called ‘Atom Nucleus’ which can provide a personalised, engaging and motivating experience.
Here is a summary (in no specific order) of what I like about it:
It uses AI to pitch the questions at an appropriate level for your child, so it genuinely adapts to find that fine balance of stretching a child but not to the extent that they feel frustrated.
It helps to build confidence.
There is a really simple, intuitive section for parents where you can see detailed performance analytics and determine your child’s strengths and any gaps. You can then use this information to set more work accordingly.
All the content has been handwritten by professional teachers rather than being automated by a computer.
There are hundreds of video tutorials led by teachers and an option when a child sees a tricky question to click ‘I’m not sure’ and have a teacher share a brief video explaining how to reach the answer.
When a student gets a question wrong, they can immediately see an explanation of the correct answer.
It is genuinely fun and engaging, my daughter is much more enthusiastic and motivated to use this over the usual 11+ workbooks.
It covers English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning all in one place and from September, they are adding science.
During the summer they are offering free, online, intensive summer courses across all subjects.
It has unlimited, adaptive mock tests.
It is a viable alternative to expensive 1:1 tutoring.
When I was asked to take part in ADHD PARENT’S PALOOZA I was elated. Then, I felt overwhelm. I was asked to speak on anything in regards to parenting and ADHD. That narrowed it down…. Should I talk about homework? Should I talk about diet? Then, it hit me. I am a relationship therapist. I should talk about how to use the relationship between parent and child to stop meltdowns before they happen.
We often over medicalise the neuro-divergence behind ADHD. Whether it be the child, parent or both with the diagnosis, we make it about the “traits”. In an attempt to help our child navigate a neuro-typical world, we forget the most important thing. We have a relationship with our child that is beyond intellect, beyond social skills and beyond what is quantifiable with scientific research.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a total geek for the Science. I am a firm believer in proven interventions that can be utilized for success for both ourselves and our children. However, it is critical that we not turn our children into a problem that needs to be solved. We lose so much of what makes them unique.
I took my moment in ADHD Palooza to talk about “Preemptive Parenting: Managing Meltdowns Before They Happen”. I remind parents to bring it back before the basics. Parents need to remember that there are 2 people involved in a relationship. Parents can learn to rely on their intuition to see what is happening in themselves to notice what is happening in their child. Then, we can curiously question what is going on in them.
Does this mean meltdowns are a thing of the past? Of course not. Meltdowns serve a purpose and need to happen from time to time for our children to have a factory reset. However, we can begin to take advantage of the opportunities our intuition gives to intervene before the meltdown happens and manage the emotions before they become overwhelming.
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Like ageing pop stars, we jostled with top billing and soundbites. Early attendees were treated to the sort of behind the scenes banter and rubbish jokes that you would expect from 4 white middle class dads (mostly in their 40s!)
Joking aside, the webinar was such a success we broke the internet – well Zoom had a technical issue that unexpectedly and annoyingly capped live attendees at 100. Lockdown maybe easing but technology shenanigans are still waiting to catch people out.
Contributors were Brian Ballantyne, Dan Reed, James Millar and myself, Ian Dinwiddy
Links to our work in the footnotes.
Quotes throughout were taken anonymously from the chat box.
Positives of Lockdown
James talked about time with his family, while recognising that isn’t a positive for everyone – depending on relationship tensions and available space, but for him real quality time without any fear of missing out and being able to eat flavoured crisps without their air pollution hampering face to face meetings!
Brian appreciated the chance to decompress, relishing the lack of a stressful commute.
Dan reflected on the unprecedented chance to spend time with his daughter, just turned 1, experiencing her milestones and being there for bedtime. In broader terms he made a great point about the democratisation of individual voices, with face to face opportunities likely to remain limited, location is no longer seen a disadvantage.
For me it was about the opportunity to invest in family time – weekend walks, movie night and eating together every day. We were all grateful and understanding of the privilege to have space inside to work and outside space to play.
Poll: What is the biggest challenge for working fathers?
A culture of presenteeism was the ‘winner’ with 42%, ahead of options
choice of flexible working denied,
fear of job loss and
obstructive line manager.
Here is selection of other challenges identified in the live chat
“Fear of cultural stereotype and social judgement”
“Sexism, managers, male and female, assuming that it should be a woman looking after children”
“Fear of Job Loss – if you’re not available then it’s not viewed upon ‘favourably’ “
“I think working Dad’s themselves are part of the problem in recognising their own journey, its challenges and being willing to reach out for help”
Challenges of Lockdown
Moving onto a discussion on the challenges of lockdown, James found it hard to find time to yourself and your own thoughts – despite the benefits of being together as a family there was a recognition from all of us that your own physical and emotional space really matters.
In contrast to Brian, Dan had found himself missing the commute – his time to listen to a podcast, play on the Switch or read. Instead replaced by zero commute time and a flip from “family mode” to “work mode” at 08:59 without so much as 15 minutes of mindfulness.
Brian’s comment about a “Maslow reset” (Hierarchy of Needs) resonated in the comments with worries about basic needs such as health, food (and toilet paper) having taken priority in the psyche.
We had all found it tricky to set and maintain barriers between work and home life, while at the same time accepting that one of the key ways for everyone to survive the process was to accept a degree of blend between work and family life, no matter how messy that could get.
What are the implications of the experience of working flexibly and remotely during lockdown for dads in future?
What key lessons can we take from this experience?
After these initial thoughts Rachel took us into bigger topics around flexible and remote working for dads, as Dan noted, many men see formal flexible working as “for mums.”
You can see why when last year Daddilife’s “Millennial Dad At Work” survey found that 63% of men surveyed had requested some form of flexibility, but of those who requested working from home (1-2 days a week), less than 1 in 5 of those were successful in their request (19%).
This isn’t flexible working
Early in lockdown James wrote an article pointing out that this version of remote working was not working from home and Dan echoed that point.
There’s nothing flexible about being forced to work from home in a space you share with your family and with school, formal childcare and informal family babysitting being taken away in one fell swoop.
My own experience of coaching and mentoring dads during Lockdown tells me that despite the practical and emotional challenges of lockdown, dads have also seen the benefits of being much more active and involved parents. They don’t want to return to the working structures of 2019, they want to design something that fits around their family life.
I think that that says a lot for just how broken the system has been, when, despite everything, a man in a 2 bed flat with a young baby tells you he wants to work from home regularly in the future.
I think that despite the chaos, stress, and tension of this surreal version of remote working, we’re learning something what single dads have always known – that breadwinner and carer are not separate roles.
“My current bug-bear is the preponderance of equality advocates who are too eager to classify bread-winning as somehow separate to care giving rather than a vital part of it which has allowed employers to be wilfully blind to parental responsibilities”
This messy, though ultimately rewarding, blend of work and life maybe be flawed but we want more of it.
Assumptions have flipped
Brian mused that the default has flipped. For office-based workers the default was office, with possibly some home / coffee shop / remote location and now we’ve gone the other way.
Yes there are consequences, as LinkedIn Change Maker John Adams pointed out this week, while major city / town centres and public transport firms will struggle in a new world of remote working, it does create an opportunity to rebalance the economy away from tax efficient corporate entities and into the hands of the local cafes and restaurants for instance.
Ultimately it needs to be about choice. Giving dads some sort of choice as to where to work to meet business and family objectives.
As James said recently, this is the route to “help fathers thrive and companies succeed.”
Not everyone wants to be in the office all the time, not everyone wants to be at home all the time, my wife (lawyer) is case in point. As part of writing this, I asked her what her ideal would be – 3 days in the London office, 2 days at home. But currently the 35-minute train journey isn’t very appealing…
At this point another poll Rachel ran showed – 82% planned to work more flexibility than pre-covid.
What guidance would you give to companies looking to support working dads and improve their experience at work, so they are able to be great employees and great dads
Ditch the assumptions
My response was stop assuming that working dads don’t have caring responsibilities or desires to be more involved in their children’s lives.
It’s so important to dig deep and have proper time-consuming human to human conversations to understand what sort of support each employee needs. The pressure and tension a dad might be facing as he tries to juggle his responsibilities may not be obvious, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Men have become adept at concealing the pressure they face, presenting a face of devotion to their business.
Companies need to treat everyone as individuals and understand that caring responsibilities aren’t just for mums. That sort of lazy thinking creates a 2-tier system that does nothing for gender equality, mental health or productivity.
From the chat box:
“Managers are key here. They should understand the individual’s needs and encourage them to flex in the way they need to. Plus, role model themselves.”
This comment from the chat illustrates how the mental health pressures that dads face collides with ethnicity:
“Sadly, I was signed off because of the extreme pressure and now there is another dad (a good friend) with 2 small children, he’s been signed off for 4 weeks (I was signed off for 2 weeks). Being the only black man in the office, I feel all your pressure plus…”
Understand the effect of school holidays – especially in 2020
It’s especially important at the moment – school summer holidays have started, and the vast majority of childcare settings are shut, plus large numbers of grandparents will still be shielding until at least 1st August.
Now is the time for business to understand the childcare responsibilities and support needs for all of their staff.
Tap into empathy
James talked about companies being both mindful of the return work challenges of returning from furlough AND also seeing it as an opportunity to improve empathy towards maternity returners amongst others.
“I’ve been on shared pat leave it is obviously great but a real eye opener for the bump back to work post maternity leave”
Identify and celebrate senior male role models
Working dads take their signals on behaviour from their male leadership.
Brian talked about changing to a more authentic version of himself, becoming a role model for active and involved fatherhood – blogging about fatherhood. His view was that if you can’t be yourself, consider if your company is the right place for you anyway.
But Dads do need to ask…
Lockdown has improved the awareness of personal circumstances and an element of everyone being in a similar boat. Communication has been enhanced, through the lens of Zoom it’s become more personal. Now more than ever is the time to future proof your life.
To ask for the long-term flexible working patterns you and your family need. If you’re a working dad with a working partner, what happens if you don’t push back?
Who picks up the pieces? Who looks after the children?
The good news is that good businesses will want to help.
So, if not now, then when?
Dads face risk
“The difficulty with asking for flexibility is that you worry that if the answer is no, then there will be further consequences in terms of career opportunities in future… I’m ashamed to say that I’ve put this (Zoom) in my calendar as a “private” meeting so my team can’t see what I’m doing at the moment.”
But we need to keep shouting about the benefits of flexible working.
Not just shouting because as James said on our podcast, it’s harder to be heard with a face mask on…
Mental Health Benefits for the whole family
Achievement benefits for our children
Improved relationships with partners = happier employees
Saving money on commuting
Saving money on office space
Don’t feel guilty about being a dad. Speak up, because it might be easier than you think.
“Sometimes things you think others would find difficult are actually OK, but we are worried what others would think”
“Yes, if we didn’t worry about what people thought, we would just ask for it.”
Enhanced Parental Leave is so important.
Shared Parental Leave suffers because families can’t afford to use it and it is dependent on a transfer of rights (usually from a woman to man)
James talked about the benefits Aviva found with 6-month full paid gender neutral parental leave – giving others the opportunity to step up and improving the skjills and capability of the business.
Gender neutral leave is also really important for same sex relationships:
“I’m a mother in a same sex relationship and because I wasn’t the pregnant one, I was also only entitled to two weeks paid time off (despite breastfeeding!) The policy documents that applied to me were named “paternity” policies.”
This comment hit the nail on the head:
“Puppies aren’t just for Christmas and dads aren’t just for parental leave – both have ongoing needs and responsibilities. Too many organisations are patting themselves on the back after providing a shared parental leave policy and then frowning when dad requests to attend school sports day, lipstick on a pig”
Finally, in one-word what would like to see happen in the workplace for dads.
“Working Dad stoicism – this forum is shattering that antiquated, defuncted belief system. It’s wonderful to hear that Dad’s no longer need to suppress their emotions or fear reprisals or shame for doing so. This is so refreshing, revitalising, and becalming”
Flexible working is a key tool to help working dads achieve improved work / life balance and be the involved, active and present father that surveys tell us that they want to be.
Helping dads to communicate their needs and desires about work life balance is vital to move the conversation about flexible and part time working away from just being a female ‘issue’ to becoming a people issue.
When society and the workplace see flexible working and caring responsibilities as not just something that men want, but as something that men are supported to fulfil then this will drive benefits for everyone.
No longer will the only way to get ‘ahead’ be to be ‘all in’, fully committed to your job to the detriment of all else. When we take the time and effort to communicate with men, to give them a safe space to share what they really want we can to start to design work to fit modern society.
“Benefits” of Covid-19
Covid -19 and the associated lockdown measures have become, for many men, a massive experiment in remote and flexible working. One that has been embraced by many.
“I’ve loved being able to work from home full time…we have a six month old now so I get to see him during the day a bit, feed him lunch, always have bath time at 5.30pm… it’s been a positive in an otherwise pretty weird / horrid time.
As workplaces start to open up, parents everywhere are under pressure to juggle potentially competing demands of work and family but without the school and childcare facilities they depend upon opening at the same rate.
We are at an incredibly tense time for gender equality. Despite reports showing that men have doubled their involvement in childcare, the burden still falls unequally and we face a real danger that in many families, men will be back “at work” and women will be left juggling everything else.
What can business do?
Businesses can help by not just assuming that only women have caring responsibilities and by being aware that in spite of the benefits of lockdown working life, men may fear the career implications of pushing back and trying to maintain access to the significant benefits of flexible or remote working.
Encouraging men to return to the workplace while supporting women to work from home does nothing for equality and mental health and potentially drives a wedge between couples.
Research by Pregnant Then Screwed found that “75% of working mums have struggled to manage childcare and their paid work during the pandemic while 57% of believe it has damaged their career prospects.”
It’s incredibly important for working dads to continue to strive for the type of flexible working that has worked during lockdown and driven equality.
Here’s a helpful reminder of the type of benefits…
1. Spend More Time With Your Family.
Commuters are now facing an average 58-minute daily journey – the equivalent of 27 working days a year… Londoners take the longest to get to and from work: 1 hour and 21 minutes each day.
Leaving home early and returning early evening means if you have young children it’s likely you’ll hardly see them during the week. A work / life balance fail…
Through flexible working you can use the time you normally waste travelling to the office and spend more with your family. Maybe you want to do some school pick ups and drop offs. Flexible working is the key to unlock that allowing you to be there for the times that matter.
2. Less Stress
Crammed into trains (mask on), crawling through traffic, blood pressure rising, it’s no wonder commuting is one of the most stressful events in people’s lives.
Yes, some stress can be good for you, but nobody ever said that about the stress of commuting. Working from home can play a big part in reducing your overall stress levels simply by removing your daily commute.
‘Not only are long commutes bad for our health, but they can affect our ability to concentrate at work. That’s bad for productivity, resulting in a lose/lose situation for employers, employees and the whole economy.’
Work / family balance was the #1 challenge facing working parents.
Women in particular also identified the ‘culture of inflexible work’.
Flexible working was seen by both men and women as the #1 solution to these challenges.
4. Supportive “Power Couple” Relationships
Real men not only want to spend more time with their families, they understand and help with the mental load.
It’s not just about your quality time with your children – life is a partnership and your presence has to be more than getting home on time and making great memories at the weekend.
Your role doesn’t begin and end with money in the bank and feeling good about yourself because your kids love you and you get to work from home once a week.
It has to be about taking on the “burden” of life.
It’s about pulling your weight, not waiting to be asked, about managing at home as well as at work.
Get that wrong and you’ll be staring down the barrel of divorce
“I think it’s time you had a chat about this situation. Ffs we do not live in the 18th century! Seriously if you have to go out to work, then the balance within the home needs to be altered too. Atm my oh is ironing whilst I am doing other jobs. If he did not help out with the kids/ housework etc I would just down tools.”
He says children whose dads actively engage with them will be smarter and more balanced.
“First of all, a hands-on father bolsters [a child], it inoculates them against the many much less fortunate role models that there are in society, which influences their development in terms of how they view themselves, the relationships they will form with other people and as parents in their own right.”
“Children were more likely to show behavioral problems if their fathers were overly involved psychologically in their careers… A father (who is) noticeably absent when he is on his digital device — was also linked with children having emotional and behavioral problems “
There you go, 5 great reasons why flexible working needs to stay. It’s up to everyone to create a new normal, but for men my message is simple – guys you’ve seen the benefits, now it’s time to celebrate father’s day by holding on to your flex and continuing to demonstrate “how to be a great dad AND have a great career.”
A week before the UK went into lockdown, my family and I were already in self-isolation. Both the kids had a temperature, and I’d had strange fever-like symptoms. I’d been in London the week before delivering a talk on why dads matter in the workplace, and I remember Coronavirus being discussed more and more.
Then, lockdown happened. And to be honest, it felt like a bit of an adventure. The four of us against the world. Working from home for a couple of weeks (maybe a month, tops)… what’s not to like? I was a pro at working from home. Heck, I gave talks to companies about why flexible working was so important.
But what at first seemed like an exciting adventure for a small period of time quickly turned into an unwavering nightmare that had – and has – no end date. I’ve gone through the whole range of emotions associated with grief (several times, in fact). I’ve read the advice for parents trying to work and home school. I’ve joined Zoom calls to catch up with friends. I’ve hosted LinkedIn Live virtual coffee chats.
And – as I write this going into the middle of June – I’m conscious of two competing thoughts: Lockdown has been great in allowing me to spend more time with my family, particularly my 11 month old daughter. Lockdown has also been incredibly difficult for me to take ‘me time’.
Starting with the positive, I have had more time with my baby daughter than I ever thought possible without sacrificing my career. I’ve seen her first crawl, first clap, and first independent stand. She also accepts me more than my son ever did at that age, too. I can actually settle her to sleep (I don’t know how big an issue that is in your household, but in mine it’s huge). I’m incredibly grateful for that.
But I can’t overlook the negative. My wife is up throughout the night, so I take both kids at around 6.30am and try to let my wife sleep for as long as possible. In the week, that’s usually until just before 9. I then transform from ‘dad mode’ at 8:59 to ‘work mode’ at 9:00. Personally, I’m finding that incredibly difficult. People say to me, ‘Dan, you must love not having a commute anymore’. On the contrary: that was two hours of ‘me’ time. I crave it. I’m really missing it.
I’ve had some advice on how I can meditate before work, or go for a quick walk. Maybe I can. But there’s no way I’m going to put that onto my wife if it means she has to wake up earlier so I can have me time. So I’ll find another way.
The million dollar question is: I can’t have one without the other… so would I change anything? Would I be prepared to miss this quality time and these milestones if it meant I, and others, could have some sense of normality. If I’m honest with myself, I think I would. Does that make me a bad father? I don’t think so. I think it just means I’m honest about how difficult the situation is… and the grass is always greener.
However, we are where we are. It’s been incredibly tough. But at least I can always remember the time I did have with my family – particularly my daughter. It has definitely given me food for thought.
By Dan Reed
For further great articles by Dan and his podcast, see his website.
If you want some entertainment, his daily video diaries of life during lockdown with kids are a lot of fun.
I’ve given presentations inspired by my book Dads Don’t Babysit at government departments, universities and City institutions. I always start by introducing myself as a journalist, author, editor, podcaster and then, inevitably, I add, “Oh, and I’m a dad.”
Why is my most important and fundamental role an afterthought? Partly because I take it for granted, partly because like so many parents it doesn’t seem natural to blend personal and professional life.
Lockdown’s changed all that for me and many other fathers.
Pre-lockdown, even as I spent my days editing workingdads.co.uk and writing about why men should get more involved in family life my offspring were out at school. Now we’re all sat around the kitchen table. Family life has moved off the page and unfolds in front of my face.
It’s not been that way for everyone. I’ve heard countless tales from mums of partners who spend the day holed up in a makeshift office while the woman juggles work, homeschool, squabbling siblings and the not inconsiderable new burden of feeding the whole family three times a day. I feel sorry for those women. I feel sorry for those men too.
They’ve missed out on a unique opportunity to sample a new way of living that rebalances that work-life equation.
Working from home is not for everyone. Engaged fatherhood does not bring benefits if it is enforced. Just ask the generations of women forced into the domestic sphere by social and economic pressures they could not challenge.
But at the heart of Dads Don’t Babysit is a quest for genuine choice.
Partly that means changing the law so men can have more paternity leave if they want it and have a proper shot at parenting. A fortnight with a newborn and a partner recovering from childbirth is not a good guide to the next 18 years of bringing up a child. And when it comes to engendering genuine choice extra paternity leave, whether it be standalone or as part of the Shared Parental Leave scheme, must be properly funded. Currently a man looking to take some leave later in his child’s first year will likely face a significant drop in income from his salary to the statutory parental pay rate of around £150 per week.
But making a genuine choice doesn’t just mean having the options laid out in front of you.
I could choose to spend 20p on a tomato or a lemon. If I don’t know the difference between them I could end up with a sharp surprise.
So it goes with fatherhood. Parents ought to be able to try before they buy. Currently mother is funnelled by society and economy into taking on more domestic work, and that can leave a bitter taste. While father is sent back to work after a couple of weeks and his experience of family life is limited to bedtime and weekends, not enough time to practise parenting and gain the necessary confidence.
At this point in the blog writing process my son is marching round the garden loudly telling me about jellybeans that taste of dog food and ranking ice lollies by flavour. This is lockdown work and parenting. It’s frustrating. It’s not like normal working from home. But it’s a chance like many dads have never had to immerse themselves in family life. Children talk about jelly beans. They test your patience. But I’d far rather look up from my computer to see him swinging from a tree in the garden and eating an ice lolly than my usual view of next door’s cat strutting across the lawn.
And there’s encouraging signs that men are doing more around the house during lockdown, and enjoying it. You can take your pick of the statistics. They all show women still doing more than their fair share. But it is a positive that men are engaging. Boxfresh research for the daddilife website found respondents all reported more playtime, cooking and homeschooling. (The latter two are more important to achieving gender equality than the first.) But the crucial bit is that the men are keen to change. A third pledged to build more quality family time into their lives in future. Nearly half are seeking more flexible or remote working from their employers.
As lockdown eases more change is inevitable. But if the pandemic robbed us of agency, easing restrictions puts it back in our own hands.
If you want to carry on working from home, ask for it. Employers can no longer claim it can’t be done. Business as usual will be the path of least resistance for bosses but it won’t be the right route for many who want to rebalance work with life. We’ve let work into our homes this spring, employers must now allow us to shape work to fit our domestic responsibilities.
And if men take those steps everyone benefits. Fathers who are more engaged enjoy better mental health and longer life expectancy. Women are freed from the weight of the domestic load and have the opportunity to forge more fulfilling and/or lucrative careers. Kids with more engaged dads turn out smarter and happier. Society is richer, both in terms of GDP and diversity.
There’s been much talk of a new normal post Covid. A kinder community. We can achieve that if men take the opportunity to cement the changes in working practices and family life that have been forced upon us all this spring.
Enjoy a relaxing Father’s Day and make the most of it. Because to forge a better life for everyone after the pandemic we dads have work to do.
‘I never thought of you as someone who does DIY,’ was my Dad’s reaction to the news that I’d managed to fix our washing machine. Inspired by the YouTube videos of eSpares.co.uk, I successfully replaced the carbon brushes in our Bosch washer; I keep the worn-out coils in a souvenir box like baby’s first kiss-curls. My Dad was right, I’d never imagined myself that I would be able to repair any kind of domestic appliance, but unable to get a professional round during the Covid crisis, it was time to roll up my sleeves and have a crack at it.
My sleeves were already rolled up from a few weeks of handwashing laundry in our bathtub; at one point I even considered investing in a mangle to squeeze more water out of the dripping wet clothes and towels. Covid lockdown was becoming a stark reality-check on the basics of living together as a family. From laundry and cleaning, constant cooking and washing up, to face-masked grocery shopping, all while trying to keep the kids on track with school, and the ball rolling with work. And I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that I can do from home … on the eye-tiring screen of my laptop, and with a WiFi connection that regularly crashes.
Instability has been a theme for me during Covid, not just for the internet, but psychologically in terms of mental strain, and physically for the health and safety of my family. Before the start of lockdown I was terrified that one of my children was going to catch the virus, and I lay awake at 3am thinking through how I could nurse him, while avoiding contaminating the whole family. The next day, once the children were finally off school, I fed them oranges in the hope of boosting their immune systems, to stand more of a chance of fighting Corona if they got it. As a loving father, I have always tried to shield my children from danger.
Setting boundaries is an important part of parenting, and kids can feel more secure when they have a boundary to kick against. During Covid I also set boundaries for myself, on when I am going to be online with work, when I am present with the family, and frankly when I need time to disconnect on my own. When everyone is on top of each other and going stir crazy, it’s inevitable that tensions will flare up, so communication has been vital, trying to recognise and express our needs to each other. If I have video calls for work, I chalk the times on the IKEA blackboard in our kitchen, alongside our “Family Member of the Day” award (we vote on a winner, and they get a song from Alexa and choose what we watch on Netflix).
A major part of my mental perseveration during Covid, beyond social media distancing, has been walking in our local Luxembourg forests. Taking time each morning to get outdoors, in amazing weather, has been an effective way to clear my head and keep things in balance. It is definitely something that I will try to keep as we emerge into a new normal. There are many things about flexible working and engaging with my family that I’d like to continue, although working from home is certainly going to be less stressful once the kids are back at school. I have mixed feelings about going back to the office, top of mind is booking a holiday! For this Father’s Day, I will be content with the simple pleasure of an empty laundry basket.
As an American expat living in the UK, I am looking at my country right now and feeling a myriad of emotions. I am angry that a man’s life was taken so callously. I feel fear for my family and friends living in the larger cities in the USA. I feel frustrated with those privileged people that are blindsided by the response from people who are fed up with trying to protest peacefully only to be ignored. I feel sympathy for a younger generation of adults who believe you have to break the system in order to fix it. I feel a visceral disappointment and betrayal by the lack of good leadership from the White House. Most importantly, I feel a responsibility to educate my children.
As a cis-gendered white woman, I acknowledge my privilege. I know the power of my tears. When I am emotive, it is respected, endearing and often a tool to get what I want or get my point across. I have the privilege to emote. Growing up in Mississippi as the daughter of a civil right’s activist gave me the most unique perspective. I saw how much harder it was for my black friends to get credit, how much harder they had to work to be seen as competitive. My father was always sure we were aware of our privilege so that we could use it to do our best to balance the scales rather than stack them against others. I have the privilege of being raised by educated and socially aware parents. From an early age, I knew that my privilege allowed me to have a voice to speak up against injustice. I understood diversity was something to be acknowledged and celebrated. I learned that it was a responsibility, it was a value to be an ally to ally.
As I sit with my children watching the news and answering questions, I realise that passing this value on to the next generation cannot be passive. It is mindful and active. It involves checking their own privilege so that they can try to understand what it is to walk around in someone else’s skin, even though they will never truly be able to understand. It involves teaching them that their story line is valuable, but it is also unique to them and their experience. I realise that there are rules to living a life as an ally with integrity, do what you know is right regardless of popular opinion or social pressure. So, here is the beginning of a list that has permission to grow and develop.
An Ally Is Consistent
Keyboard warriors are great for soundbites. You choose your words carefully so that you can put your best face forward. For me, writing is the face I wear with my hair done and my make-up on. The face that really matters is what happens when I close the laptop. What happens when I am in a room and someone makes an ignorant comment? What jokes am I willing to laugh at despite being made to feel uncomfortable? What does my face look like when the makeup comes off and my words and choices flow freely without a filter?
Children need to learn to be firm in their convictions, even in the face of poor leadership. If an adult, older child or influential group member is doing or saying something that feels discriminatory, a child needs to know that they do not have to cosign this. Parents must teach children to respectfully, appropriately and confidently challenge people in charge who are either blindly or blatantly using discriminatory words and practices.
An Ally Acknowledges Their Privilege
I have never been followed at a grocery store. I have never been afraid of a police officer. I am able and willing to ask for help from strangers. If I see a lost child, I am comfortable walking up to him to help him find his mother. I feel safe and comfortable when I need to challenge authority. I have a long history that I am able to trace within my ancestry, none of which involves being a slave. I can hold my partner’s hand in public without fear of attack. I can stand as an ally to those oppressed without having experienced that same oppression. All of this is a manifestation of my privilege.
Many people of privilege are challenged when their privilege is pointed out. They feel that they are being asked to feel guilty or that the work that they put in is somehow invalidated. “I work hard for what I have!” is a common response. Noone is challenging the work ethic of privileged people. However, privileged people need to ask themselves why they were able to be in a position to work that hard. People have been passed over for jobs because they “just weren’t the right fit”. Was this code for the unconscious bias of not being white enough or male enough or wealthy enough? This is not true of every time. It may be true at any time.
Privilege can be used or abused. My privilege as a heterosexual woman has allowed me the opportunity to stand up for LGBTQA+ rights in a way that does not threaten my employment, my place in my family or my physical safety. I can use my privilege as someone who is not dismissed or hated to stand up for those that are. I can also abuse my privilege by stepping on other people to find my way up. I can dismiss another’s experience because it makes me feel bad. I can expect the rules to not apply to me in the same way. Children need to be taught that their privilege exists. They also need to be taught that with that privilege comes the responsibility of checking it and correcting the harm it may have directly or indirectly caused others.
An Ally Learns to Be Comfortable in Discomfort
As a white woman, I have, to no one’s surprise, often found myself in a room without any racial diversity. It is in this space, amongst friends, family and colleagues, this is the space where an ally is challenged. Are you willing to tell your aunt or mother in law that she is being offensive? Are you willing to tell your friends that you don’t want to hear those jokes or those descriptive slang terms? When people get called out, there is a feeling of discomfort that is palpable. As an ally, a child needs to learn to sit in this discomfort and stand their ground. They need to learn that the discomfort comes from the process of having unconscious bias challenged and not from standing up for what is right.
I’ll never forget the first time I was able to bear witness to my child challenging authority. He was doing home education in a live streamed setting and the PSHE subject was Autism. He is an Autistic person and has learned to advocate for his place as a neuro-divergent individual. The teacher was talking about the list of Autistic traits and then made the comment, “It sounds like we are all a little autistic!” It was a throw away comment made to make autism feel more relatable to neuro-typical children. Drake raised his hand and said, “Miss, I know that you didn’t intend to offend, but you did. You are making Autism sound like a character flaw. My divergence is not a flaw. It is how I am made and see the world. It is not a weakness. It is not an over sensitivity. It is a way of being.” I was so proud on so many levels. He did not shout, hate or call names. He did not accuse her of intended harm. He simply checked her bias. There was an audible and very present pause. It felt uncomfortable. Then, the teacher apologised and thanked him for his feedback. Now, will it always look like a learning moment? No. However, it will always be a learning moment.
An Ally Checks Their Bias…Constantly
Understanding bias requires a growth mindset. As such, my learning and checking have become a mindful, intentional process. There was a time in the 80’s when the word “retard” was thrown around as a common insult amongst children. Then, a time came when society realised that this was insensitive and offensive. We had 2 choices: become defensive whilst standing our ground and defiantly continue using the word or apologise and change. Most chose the latter. This was not the first nor the last time society evolved in favour of inclusion and holding itself to a higher standard. Think of other terms and phrases that are starting to become unacceptable: calling a sexually active woman a slut, using gay as a derogatory adjective, the n word, the f word, many other racially or sexually charged slang terms.
There are television shows and music and movies from my past that look different with the eyes of a person from 2020. Why is this? Because we are becoming aware of our unconscious bias. Children need to learn that it is a part of life to have an unconscious bias. Are we bad people for consuming this media in our pasts? No. The trick is to acknowledge it when it becomes conscious. To be able to review our choices and preferences without judgement or guilt, to understand why we think what we think, to know why we make friends with some and not others, to see if we are putting value on anything other than the content of a person’s character. Then, a true ally takes the most important step to make a change.
An Ally Accepts Responsibility For Their Education
This is a hard one for many to understand and a hard one for me to explain. I’ve seen and heard people of privilege in many circumstances ask people of diverse backgrounds (race, gender, nationality, neuro, sexual, religious etc) to explain their perspective. There is a fine line between having a discussion and asking a person to act as an educator and ambassador for an entire group of people. It is an abuse of privilege to assume that every black person who is angry about what is going on has some sort of responsibility to the people who are benefitting from their oppression to educate them.
An ally is a consumer of information and perspective. In order to stand with and speak to the needs of someone, you need to understand what feeds the issues. Why is the American CIvil War, a war that happened 150 years ago still an influence on politics today? How does the 400 year history of slavery and oppression feed the narative of today. Why is The Stonewall Inn a significant place? Why do people appear to be angry with me when I haven’t done anything? What does my culture represent to someone else?
Children can be taught from an early age to try to appreciate the diversity of our world. Books, food and celebrations are a great place to start. An ally knows that it is also important to look at the ugly bits. To acknowledge history’s influence on today is what gives power to make the history of tomorrow different.
An Ally Sees Colour and Difference
To say, “I don’t see colour. We are all the same.” whilst often well intended, is at best naive and condescending. Colour signifies so much. My colour is my history, my family, my culture, my experience. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu said on Good Morning Britain, “If you don’t see colour, you don’t see me.”. You do not know exactly what it means to that particular person, but you have an understanding of the way society has treated them. As a white woman, I do not fear police. I do not feel my children should fear police. I have the privilege of telling my son that if he is in danger, he can run to any police officer for help. If I had a black son, there would be a different narrative.
The key that an ally understands is that seeing colour, noticing and naming difference does not come with a qualification. It just is. It is neither to be weaponized or fetishised. It is simply a piece of information, a descriptor or an existence. Children get this a lot easier than many adults. People are people. Their history, family, culture are simply part of what feeds their experience of life. Children can take this further when they begin to understand that their history defines their level of privilege in this world.
An Ally Does Not Seek Credit or Validation
An ally does not need those they are standing up for to give them credit for being a good person. You stand up for equality because it is the right thing to do. This is a faux pas I see many people make. “I’m not one of those people. Look what I have done to help you.” Noone needs your CV unless you are applying for a job. An ally does not act as an ally so that others can know they are a good person. Other people may or may not notice what you have done or are doing. Whilst it may feel nice to be acknowledged, this is in no way a driving force in standing up for equality for all humans.
Our children need to understand that they do not have to prove to anyone that they are being good people. Likewise, the people that they are standing beside and standing up for owe them nothing. Being an ally is a life choice, a state of being. It is a personal value. The only credit or validation the need to seek for it is internal in knowing they are being true to themselves and their beliefs.
An Ally Knows When the Real Change Happens
Right now, diversity is all over the news. It’s the hot button, in your face topic of the moment due to riots and protests. A giant spotlight is being shined on a gaping wound in society. This is true even outside of the current political climate. Think of how many rainbow posts you see in Pride month. Think of how the troops are valued on VE day. Think of all the puzzle pieces you see during Autism Awareness month. These are wonderful expressions of solidarity during the time the light is bright on a subject.
Children need to learn that real change happens when it’s not in your face, when the light is shining somewhere else, when nobody is really noticing. Change in society happens when the majority of people within it collectively decide to make a change. Do racism and sexism and every other ism still exist? Absolutely. The change did not happen when a law was signed or a speech was made. An ally knows that this is simply the beginning of a constant and consistent process. The change happens in the words we use every day, in the conversations we have at the dinner table, in the car or at the pub. It happens when we stand our ground and don’t let the little things slide. The change does not happen in the moment. Change happens in the ripples that come from the moment. Change happens when we do what is right even when we think no one’s looking. An ally knows that the most important part of all is that change happens.
Some children may be anxious about the prospect of returning to school. Here’s how you can talk about it:
After a period of several weeks in lockdown where many families have been living, working and schooling together all under one roof with limited exposure to the outside world, it’s understandable that we might all now be feeling anxious at the prospect of transitioning back to the new “normal” when lockdown is eventually lifted.
Many children, including infants and toddlers, will be feeling a heightened sense of awareness, or even anxiety, at the prospect of being separated from their parents when nurseries and schools reopen.
Despite the global crisis and all the change it has brought to our daily lives, one thing has been constant for children throughout, and that’s the presence and support of their parents; their physical presence, rituals and routines, their nurture, love and comfort.
For this reason, it is natural for them to perhaps have become more clingy than normal, more reliant on your support and more used to your constant presence. The prospect of suddenly being taken out of this safe bubble at home can therefore be quite a shock for both children and parents.
For parents of toddlers going back to nursery, it is important to tell yourself that your child will be ok. When babies develop a sense of object permanence, they know that parents still exist when they are out of sight and this can cause separation anxiety. It is developmental, but it does not make it any easier for parents to say goodbye at the door.
Just as adults, children are innately social beings. Remind yourself they will enjoy the interaction of other children and engaging creatively with staff at nursery. Recognise that your worry will naturally be increased due to lockdown and acknowledge that your sense of worry will often be mirrored by your child’s behaviour and responses.
For children who are old enough to understand, talk about the changes that are going to happen through storytelling. Discuss with your children how they might feel going back to school or nursery.
Try to name their feelings so you can validate their thoughts and emotions, recognise they will move and change. Acknowledge that they may feel worried about saying goodbye at the nursery door. Talk about what you do when you feel worried as this too is a supportive strategy. Notice how challenging and courageous they are being.
Always be consistent in your promises about returning, even if it means agreeing to bring the exact snack that was requested when you pick them up later. It helps with emotional containment and a sense they feel listened to.
Most importantly, notice your responses to their anxiety and what it awakens in you. Children are incredibly intuitive and, if you can, model supportive strategies so they will know it is ok to say “see you later”.
Finally, for children and adolescents, the sense of being parted from their friends, which makes up such an important part of their lives, is tremendously challenging. While they may feel angst about returning to school, they will also be grappling with the sense of urgency to be among their friends and peers.
The united individual experiences of lockdown and loss will have impacted hugely on adolescents and, therefore, their need to tell their story will be so important. Parents can rest assured that schools will be aware of the very great emotional needs of their pupils and will no doubt be offering additional support at this time.
Hannah Abrahams is an educational and child psychologistand a valuable member of the Educating Matters speaking team