It’s Inclusion week 2020. It is a time for organisations to renew their commitment toward the principles of creating a world of opportunity and success for all.
We all know that this has been a year of challenge and reinvention in the workplace. The way our world has been able to adapt and accommodate in a crisis has been inspiring. We have found ways to make the workplace accessible, we have found assistive technology to boost productivity. We have made sure that everyone gets what they need in order to be successful. Without realizing it, we have developed a new muscle for inclusion.
As we get used to “the new normal”, it is important that we use these lessons we have learned before they get filed away with old exam papers and math formulas. Like any muscle, the more we work it, the stronger it will be. Below are my top three ways we can build momentum
People Adapt at Different Speeds, But They Adapt
When online meeting platforms became the new office space, there were some learning curves. Some curves were steeper than others. Whilst digital natives were able to click and go, others (many of whom were in leadership positions) needed extra time, extra support and a lot of patience to become fluent. Did these extra needs mean that suddenly they were no longer valuable in their organisation? Of course not. When they were given the space and support they needed, they thrived. Also, many were able to show hidden talents that were beyond the remit of their job. Tech department members also became teachers. Many people became quasi-therapists when helping colleagues cope with overwhelm and frustration. Newly discovered skills were an incredible asset to organisations everywhere. This is inclusion in its purest form. Individuals are valued for who they are and supported with what they need.
Everyone Has a World Away from Work…Some Look Very Similar
Dogs barking, toddlers needing cuddles, partners in bathrobes and more wallpaper than you ever knew existed…this is the new meeting aesthetic. Workers have had a new level of work life balance. They have had to literally merge the spaces, priorities and responsibilities of both worlds. Employee networks have provided a space for togetherness and support in wonderful ways. Parent and Carer Networks have offered everyone from Jr members of staff to Line Managers a place to come together to learn how to educate their children whilst working. BAME networks have offered support in coping with the feelings that come with tragedies and politics of the now that are a manifestation of the undercurrent of racism that has been a very real part of many people’s lives. Inclusion networks are not a box ticking exercise. They are a living space that grows and adapts to the needs of its members. Having them ready and available means that when a crisis hits, the unique needs and perspectives of its population are assessed and addressed quickly and effectively. Thank you, Diversity and Inclusion Departments!
Opportunities for Learning and Support are Needed and Valued
When everything changed so quickly, two departments took the lead to make sure the transition could be as smooth as possible. The first was the IT department. The second, was Diversity and Inclusion. Parents and Carers, older employees, Neuro-diverse individuals, people with disabilities and those from diverse communities who needed help and support leaned heavily on the infrastructure that was already there for some and quickly and effectively formed in others. As Diversity and Inclusion professionals, we at Educating Matters have been honoured to be providing webinars, videos, coaching, clinics and resources to help meet the needs of many organisations for almost 20 years. In the past 6 months, we have had so many requests for new and innovative topics including: Allyship, Working Parents and Coronavirus, Mental Health in Lockdown and many more. Inclusion professionals were able to source the support needed by accessing their networks and utilising their skills.
More than ever, it has become apparent that the future is uncertain. The geo-political climate and even the general health of the world has proven that we are fragile in ways that even a year ago we never imagined. More than ever, we must value those individuals who are able to recognise the support that is needed for tomorrow’s workplace and those who rely on it for livelihood. Diversity and Inclusion departments have proven, once again, that they are not only valuable but vital to enable organisations to move through the next decade.
As much as I love my children, it does feel good to have them back in school after 6 months and have just a bit more time to myself and a feeling of some ‘normality’. Of course there is still immense uncertainty and coronavirus infection rates are rising in the UK, so who knows how long they will actually stay there! Some of the year group bubbles are huge and for my 17 year old, her bubble is made up of the entire 6th form, who could potentially all be sent home.
In the run up to school starting, Educating Matters delivered many sessions for parents on easing the transition back to school. Teachers and parents I have spoken to last week, actually found coming back was smoother than they anticipated and many children have settled in well. Of course there are also children who find it extremely challenging to be back and there are vast differences in academic progress made since March, with differing family circumstances.
Bear in mind that if your child is at one of the key transition points like starting Reception, Year 7, Year 12 or University, we would reasonably expect that settling in process to take more time. I remember it taking me at least a year to settle into secondary school, without there being a global pandemic.
It is hard to gauge the full impact that lockdown has had on children and young people’s mental health, wellbeing and education. They will all have experienced some sense of ‘loss’.
In our transition webinars, there were four main areas that parents wanted to address:
Socialising is a fundamental part of growing up and peer groups are an important source of support. Over a lengthy period of social distancing, friendships many have become strained or deteriorated. Teens may have communicated with friends over social media, whilst others will have had little contact with their peers. An extended break from school meant children may have lost that sense of belonging to the school community and connection with others. Particularly for younger children, who may not interact well over zoom, facetime or phone calls.
Getting children back into socialising and building connection will be the first priority of schools. Students need to feel comfortable and happy, to be well placed to learn again. If you have a younger child who is struggling to make friends or re-connect, it can be helpful to role play familiar situations. For example, what to do in the playground if you have no one to play with. Act out walking up to a group of children and practice what to say to them. With older children, openly talk about strategies you use to stay connected with friends and work colleagues. Although be careful not to put too much pressure, by asking them every day as soon as they come home from school questions like “Who did you play with?”
Parents I speak to seem to be most concerned about their children’s emotional wellbeing. Start by noticing your own feelings about your child’s return to school. Mirror neurons in the brain mean we mirror the emotions of those closest to us and any emotion like fear or anxiety is infectious and will rub off on your child.
How your child may be feeling will vary on a daily, even hourly basis. Some children will be excited and happy to see their friends and teachers again. Others are nervous or anxious. Some children could be frustrated and annoyed: they may have enjoyed learning in the home environment and do not want to return to school. Perhaps they have become used to being with their parents and don’t want to go back to the old way.
All behaviour is a form of communication and be aware that children’s emotions may come out through regression or changes in behaviour. Typical examples of this are: changes to sleeping or eating habits; being quieter or more withdrawn; clingy more fidgety and restless; seeming irritable and acting out, possibly refusing to attend school; physical complaints such as an upset stomach or headaches; excessively asking questions or seeking reassurance.
The most important thing is that you show your child it is safe to share their feelings by being accepting and holding a non-judgemental attitude. Validate and normalise their feelings and experiences. Don’t try to talk them out of how they are feeling, as this is dismissive and they won’t open up next time, if they feel you aren’t really listening. This is a crucial time to work on your emotion coaching/ reflective listening skills and there is more guidance to be found on this topic here.
At the beginning and end of the day, allow a few minutes of 121 time, just to be there and help them feel your unconditional love and acceptance.
A good tip for any age is to share your ‘rose and thorn’. I always begin by sharing my own ‘rose’ for the day. Something I am really happy about, proud of, or grateful for. The ‘thorn’ is perhaps something that didn’t go so well or a worry I might have. Model this first for your child and they then share theirs.
As much as we desperately want our children to catch up academically, they will not be in a positon to learn at school if their social and emotional wellbeing is not taken care of first. This needs to be the priority over the next few weeks and possibly months.
Most schools, irrespective of the year group, will have been conducting some form of baseline assessment to determine where the students currently are. As a former teacher, I know that one of the greatest challenges (even in ordinary times) is managing the sometimes vast range of needs and abilities within a class. Many parents are understandably concerned about their child’s education regressing during such an extended time away from school. Many of us during lockdown, were unable to spend as much time as we would like supporting our children’s learning. That includes me!!! Even though I am a teacher and in theory know what I should be doing, the reality is that running my own business during the busiest period Educating Matters has ever experienced, I didn’t have the time available that I would have liked to devote to my children’s education.
The one good thing is that this is an issue affecting children around the world, so you don’t need to feel that just your child is disadvantaged. Not all children will feel ready to jump straight back into learning. There will be a gradual phasing in of lessons, balancing more academic lessons with creative and vocational ones. I have also noticed that children are a lot more tired than they used to be after a whole day at school.
It is extremely helpful once kids have settled in, to share with the school any observations you made about your children and how they learn, during their extended period at home. If you feels it’s necessary, speak to school about reducing or eliminating homework until your child has settled back into a routine.
During lockdown I emphasised repeatedly that children have been learning so many more valuable lessons and life skills than what is within the confines of the national curriculum or exam board syllabus. For a reminder watch this short vlog.
We all created new routines to fit around lockdown life: waking up later, going to bed later, increased screen time. In fact our whole relationship with time changed and for many there was no need to be somewhere at a specific time.
It is very important to get our children back into familiar morning, bedtime and homework routines. If this is an area you are struggling with, the trick is to involve your child, whatever their age, in creating the rules, routines and boundaries. Discuss and agree them together, then write them down or for younger children create a visual reminder. This provides clarity, consistency and avoids the need for constant nagging, repeating and reminding.
What other challenges or issues are you facing now that most children are back in school? Would love to hear from you – please share your thoughts or questions.
The transition to university is a major and sometimes challenging experience for student s and their parents. My eldest child is starting later this month.
This year, parents play a more important role than ever before, since schools have not been able to provide the usual guidance and preparation. There are a host of considerations such as: social and emotional wellbeing, logistics, independent living, managing finances, safety etc.
Many parents and schools have a tendency to hover and micro-manage, so that despite reaching adulthood, students are not necessarily self-reliant, independent thinkers and learners. Schools may be great at teaching content but ineffective study skills can be a real barrier to educational success.
I believe what sets students up to reach their full potential at university is ‘learning how to learn’.
I have always been fascinated by how children learn and read an immense amount on study skills, revision and memory techniques. Last year, I discovered the leading gurus on this topic: Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin, authors of ‘The Student Mindset’.
Educating Matters have recently teamed up with Steve and Martin to deliver talks on student mindset to parents at work. Between them they have over 40 years of teaching experience and interviewed thousands of students to identify the key traits and behaviours shared by the most successful. They discovered that the non-cognitive habits, systems and behaviour are what leads to real growth.
What is so amazing about their books is not only do they define these traits and nail them down to: Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude (VESPA). They also have tangible, practical strategies and exercises to help students actually understand these non-cognitive skills. This is equally applicable to school age children.
I highly recommend you get your hands on the book but here is a brief rundown of VESPA:
Determined and successful students, know their purpose, set clear objectives and stick to the plan which pulls them forward. These need to be their goals and targets, not their parents!!!
We all know that hard work is important but what counts is the right type of effort and knowing the difference between passive completion of directed tasks and active independent study.
Successful students really know how to organise their time and resources. They also understand how to prioritise according to need and impact and meet deadlines. These are of course vital life skills in the workplace.
High practice students don’t devote the majority of their time to simply memorising information. They complete extra work to hand in, practice under timed conditions and pay very close attention to feedback. Many students spend too long learning the material and not actually practising what is required in exams.
High attitude students have a broader and more robust range of tactics when times are tough and stressful. They are confident, emotionally intelligent and have a growth mindset. They understand that failure is an important part of success and learning can be a series of sharp inclines, plateaus and setbacks.
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.
For a full week of FREE EXPERT TALKS on all things ADHD Parenting, follow this link. 24 of the world’s leading ADHD Parenting Experts are here to gift you their expertise for 1 week, JULY 27- AUGUST 1
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.