My son will be 19 in September, like all parents I’m wondering where the time went. Being in lockdown and hearing the challenges that parents are dealing with as work and home life collides has made me reflect and how I would have coped as a single parent working full time when he was younger.
My situation after having my darling boy was returning to work full time in a demanding job.
The first major hurdle was childcare as my original plan of a nanny-share fell through a week before I was due back to work. I was lucky to find a place at a great (although eye-watering expensive) nursery. I was fortunate that I had a good relationship with my son’s father and he did his bit but I as my family aren’t nearby I had a complicated and sometimes precarious matrix of support; I relied on breakfast club, after-school club and pick up from after-school club a couple of days a week. For emergencies, I had friends and extended family. I felt a constant pressure of what I would do if my son was ill and couldn’t go to nursery or school and I jumped through hoops to rearrange my diary to make sure I could be there for sports days, assemblies, school plays etc.
I recognise now that at that time I was definitely out to prove that I could manage everything, when I had my son I was the first working mum in my function and I felt a responsibility to deliver however challenging it was, I knew I had to leave on time every day so what couldn’t be done during office hours I’d do at home after putting him to bed.
Mercifully I had a cleaner, I did my food shopping online and the things that kept me sane were exercise, seeing my friends one night a week if possible and enjoying being with my son at weekends.
The Lockdown challenge
It would be impossible to manage that life in lockdown, just keeping work going alongside entertaining a toddler or homeschooling a primary school child single-handed doesn’t compute.
Adding housework, getting out of the house for some exercise, shopping for essentials, some sort of social interaction and the maths simply don’t work and of course, many single parents have more than one child to care for.
We’ve spoken to many parents in the last few weeks whose employers are expecting them to “make up the time” in evenings and weekends. I suspect for single parents who are able to share childcare with their ex the time they’re not with their children is spent catching up work and all the other things that need to be done, anything that comes under self-care just won’t happen.
What I would have done differently
There are definitely things that I would have done differently at work with the benefit of hindsight, there’s no one size fits all for parenting (thankfully) however often we’re our own harshest critics.
The support of your team is vital
- Be clear on when you’re available
- Focus on what you deliver for the team vs what can be delegated
- Empower them when you’re stretched
Set your boundaries
- When are you able to work?
- What help and support you need
- What’s not acceptable
Create your network.
- Friends and family
- Mums at work
- Mentors and supporters
My friends both those that had already had kids and those that didn’t provided practical advice, a sounding board and nights in and out. Building a network of other Mums both inside and outside of work gave perspective and getting mentoring and coaching helped me devise a clear career plan.
It’s a tough time to be a parent and particularly a single parent, organisations need to be aware of the challenges and think about what they can do differently to support their employees.
If you’re managing all of this on your own, here’s some tips that might help you:
- Aim for good enough vs perfect both for home-schooling and work.
- Speak to your child’s school and other parents and work out what your child actually needs and what you can manage.
- Be honest with your manager and agree what’s possible, focus on what you can contribute that others can’t.
- Find some time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.
- Talk to someone, family, friends and other parents.
If you know a single parent, check in on them and see how they’re doing, adult conversation is underrated sometimes!