Having recently returned to work from maternity leave, Heather McKendrick, our Head of Careers & Outreach, offers her personal experience of juggling work and childcare during lockdown, and why speaking to other parents and carers is such a help.
Like many of us, I was very much aware of Covid-19 at the beginning of the year. It was headline news each day, telling us about the lockdown in Wuhan, hospitals being built in a matter of days and the troubles onboard the Diamond Cruiseliner. But I confess that I'm still shocked at the severity of the situation we're in now and the speed at which life changed for every one of us.
At the start of March, I was enjoying the last few weeks of maternity leave. I had been off work for a year with my second child and was having that familiar ‘back to school’ feeling – knowing it would be fine once I’d settled back in, but concerned about getting my son used to a new routine and getting back up to speed at work.
At this point, despite Covid-19 being ubiquitous in the news, I still could not have envisaged that by the end of the month we would be in lockdown – schools cancelled, nursery cancelled, everyone working from home and no contact with family outwith the household. Even as I type this, it still seems strange, yet that’s been the reality for the last 10 weeks.
In the end, I had a mere four days in the office before we started working from home. Four days of hot cups of tea and the opportunity to focus on something for more than the length of an episode of the Octonauts. Coupled with a mix of confusion, worry and guilt that inevitably comes with leaving your children for the first time, of course.
Suddenly working from home and with the clear message that grandparents should not be in close contact, my husband and I began to worry about childcare. The nurseries were still open, but would surely close soon, which of course they did. My sister and I discussed mutual babysitting services – then lockdown was announced.
We had run out of options.
We somehow had to find a way of both working, while looking after a one-year-old crawler and a very (read: excessively) talkative four-year-old and keeping on top of domestic arrangements (this is no joke – it involves 84 meals a week, plus around 1,000 snacks).
We are now several weeks into this new arrangement and we know that we are far luckier than most.
I work part-time and, just before I went back to my work, my husband also reduced his hours to help with the childcare. I think this makes a massive difference, but it’s still really hard. The children are not really of an age where they can entertain themselves. The older one might watch a programme or draw a picture, but whenever that happens I feel guilty that she’s watching too much TV or being left to her own devices for too long.
We have experimented with different working hours – early mornings; later nights; baton passing during the day. These are good in theory, but have their downsides. Both of us have to speak to people / attend meetings during the working day – often at the same time. Plus, it's exhausting not to have any downtime in the evening or at weekends. Every night, we discuss diary clashes, baby nap times, when we might take the children out for some fresh air. My manager has been supportive and accommodating, but most of the time it still feels like getting a square peg in a round hole.
Yet, there have been some great upsides too. Extra time with the children at a lovely age; fab weather; no rushing out of the door in the morning; eating together. I treasure it - while at the same time looking forward to the time it’s over.
As the oft discussed ‘new normal’ becomes clearer, it is obvious there’s no immediate end to this juggling act.
When schools return, it will be part-time and even that isn’t for another two months. All sports activities and holidays clubs will not be on this year, so the reality is we will be tasked with fitting in 20-hour days into 12 for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes this thought leaves me panicking, but when I speak to people in the same boat, I do feel better.
It's easy, when you are at home in your bubble, to imagine it's just you figuring this all out. Other parents are somehow baking banana bread and creating papier mache sculptures, while miraculously squeezing in nine billable hours per day - all seemingly effortlessly. It’s a relief when you realise people are going through many of the same practical problems and highs and lows as you.
That’s why we have decided to run virtual roundtables aimed at parents/carers working in the legal profession.
We want to start having conversations about the challenges and realities of being a working parent/carer during lockdown, and share advice and offer practical solutions to the profession.
In addition, these sessions will help inform our flexible working guidance, which we will issue later in the year.
The virtual roundtables will take place on:
- Thursday, 11 June at 1.30pm - FULLY SUBSCRIBED
- Friday, 12 June at 11.30am - PLACES STILL AVAILABLE
To register, please email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join us for the sessions – we would love to hear from you.
We are also planning to hold a separate session for line managers focusing on supporting employees. Again, please email me email@example.com, if this is of interest.