Category: Flexible Working, Family Friendly Working, Family Friendly Solutions, Flexible, Family, Avanade, Childcare, COVID-19, families, flexibility, covid, Family friendly policies
As March 2020 approached – we all began to experience a human crisis beyond most of our scariest dreams as coronavirus spreading exponentially.
The fragility of healthcare systems across the globe became a reality, something we all came to terms with like never before. It was then, as a working parent myself, that my thoughts went to my brother. My brother and his wife are both doctors with the NHS in Rugby, and parents to two daughters aged 7 and 13, one of whom has special needs. I wondered how they would cope with school closures and no childcare support. Like many healthcare workers, my brother and sister-in-law were suddenly forced to make difficult decisions.
As doctors now expected to work around the clock on minimum 12-16-hour shifts, they faced a crisis causing a disruption and complete breakdown in the family's usual pattern of functioning with no option other than to send the girls to places outside the home. Whether that was school or other friends, they worried about exposing their daughters to infection at this time. And whilst we all stayed safe indoors, they felt vulnerable, anxious and overwhelmed with the thought of having to expose their own children to infection.
With little thought on how I would single-handedly look after three kids, given my rusty childminding skills, along with continuing to work full time from home, it took less than 24 hours for me to make a decision. Soon, I found myself travelling up to Rugby from London with my 11-year-old daughter.
This was a decision I made purely by following my heart and as I sit and pen this down today – I can truly say it has been one of the most fulfilling decisions and experiences of my life, irrespective of the chaos and clutter I am surrounded by – which will have to wait for the weekend for me to clear up!
I have to admit that my ability to even think about something like this was only a testament to the type of employer Avanade is – one where empowering its employees isn’t just a phrase used in articles but one practiced and engrained in the ethos of the organization. Where boundaries are clearly defined, allowing employees to make their own decisions, and in doing so, giving them the freedom to act. Hence, all I needed to do was inform my manager of my situation and without any questions being asked, I was told to go ahead and take care of my family.
The last four weeks for us here at home have been transformational on fronts I thought I was too rigid to ever change. While for many, the prospect of working from home seems idyllic, the reality of having to juggle work commitments and three kids simultaneously was extremely daunting.
With the world feeling awfully strange right now already, I was suddenly exposed to the fact that the biggest things can always change, at any minute. This simple truth, both destabilizing and liberating, is easy to forget. We are not watching a movie: We’re writing one, together, until the end.
A few days into my first week as the only adult in the home with three kids, and the master planner in me gave up very soon. I immediately switched to setting small specific goals and anything extra I do on top of that can be a massive win! I learned to accept the smallest of help from the kids between their home schooling lessons as we all work towards being patient and understanding of ourselves, and also accepting that it’s OK if a certain routine is not working.
Contrary to my usual quiet home working space in London, majority of the time I find myself sitting in the kitchen dining area, it being the central point with maximum noise in the house, allowing me to keep an eye on the kids, the food cooking, and calls all at once. Before the first week was completed, I was slowly getting used to this new pattern (if we had any at all) and somehow enjoying it. Certainly, seeing two happy NHS doctors come home at odd hours peeking into the bedrooms to see their kids fast asleep and safe, makes it all worth the effort. The biggest satisfaction comes from allowing them to continue their fantastic work uninterrupted and worry free (on the home front at the least). This is all followed by clapping for them most Thursdays in ways we have never clapped before!
As a family, we all learned that mental health was more important than screen time, and the garden was quickly transformed into a little park made up of things found in the garage and a batched Amazon delivery comprising of garden games. Soon lunchtime picnics became the new norm for us. As an extra-curricular activity over the Easter break, we made slips to help the neighborhood delivery network that had sprung up to bring groceries to people who couldn’t get out, and offer to organize more symbolic interventions, such as playing music on an older neighbor’s porch.
As time passed, each day was approached like airplane flights with small children: Whatever it takes to get through it, do it, so long as they’re safe and not hurting anyone. Rules were stretched – as I type, the youngest is watching a cartoon of fractions, and the oldest is engrossed in a video of a vlogger talking about her pet bird, with the third is trying to create a comic book. It’s fine. “They’ll be fine,” has become my newfound motto!
One lesson I learned during the coronavirus crisis has been the power of shared emotion, which has helped make possible radical action to slow the pandemic. I’m not talking about people giving each other medical expertise, I’m talking about me calling my friends and family as often as I am able to, only to ask – “How are you doing? Are you scared? I’m scared. I want you to be OK.”