Going back to work after having a kid isn’t easy. Neither is navigating work hours while your child suffers illness after illness as they begin childcare. Then comes the coordinating efforts of an Olympic rhythmic gymnast required to work and have a child at school. Let’s face it, being a working parent isn’t easy. It’s for all these reasons and more that I decided to initiate a parents’ group at my work.
Today was the very first meeting. I was recommended a person to work with, and had my first conversation with them about what the company’s parent group might look like. There are so many considerations: Are we going to rock the boat? Are people going to look at this initiative as a platform to vent their frustrations? How can we create a “safe” space? How can we make this enjoyable?
Related: Why I’m not judging working mums
I started this venture wanting to create an environment for people to share their experiences, and for parents to get to know each other, to have others they could talk to about kids the same age as their own. A place for both men and for women.
Today I realised what my biggest sticking point is going to be: parents aren’t like-minded. Now, I know this of course. Negative comments on my blogs are evidence of that. However, I was surprised to realise my “partner” in this venture approached the working parent thing in an entirely different way. Now, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We are all individuals. And I am a firm believer that successful ventures often come from people with different opinions – who wants to work with people who agree with you all the time? That’s not challenging. The idea is that we create a space to have conversations, not to tell people how things should be done. Nevertheless, I wanted to share the things that struck me today. I think it’s worth acknowledging our differences of opinion and examining them, attempt to understand them, and support each other as parents.
Flexible work looks different for everyone
So, for me, flexible work means condensing my full-time role into four days. It means I’m constantly busy and things are tricky. My greatest attribute is my organisational abilities. So … I condense my 37.5-hour week into 30 hours, quite strictly leaving work at 5.00 on the dot unless mitigating circumstances prevent it. I refuse to be contacted out of office hours. In fact, my boss even tells me not to check my emails on my day off. I stick to this 99.9 per cent of the time, and it works well. I am intent on building boundaries to ensure I give myself the time to switch off.
For my counterpart, the working week is similar – a four-day week, one of those days from home. However, they check emails on their day off, checking in countless times a day and returning calls, occasionally working on weekends. While I am rigid in my hours, they feel the flexibility afforded to them is a gift. They argued that checking in on their day off is the least they could do given that the employer is kind enough to give them the flexibility they so desire. I thought that was a really loyal, lovely thing to say. I did, however, have to resist the urge to point out that they are still paid 20 per cent less for that “flexibility”.
Gender equality isn’t easy for all
You’ve probably read my views on gender equality. I’ve always felt fortunate and quite pleased about the fact that my husband and I have equal footing on the parenting ladder. We both work four-day weeks, and we equally share the parenting load – cooking, childcare drop-offs, story time, bed time, the lot.
For my counterpart, equal flexibility was not an option. While they share the childcare and school drop-off load, I got the impression that a flexible work week was not an option her partner felt he could not explore, working in a very masculine environment. She understood this. In fact, she felt that gender equality in the workplace when it comes to parenting was not something in our immediate future, arguing that it was something that would not be resolved in our generation. Now, while I don’t agree with that – I believe that we can decide to make a difference – I feel it would be out of line to argue the point. It is her opinion after all.
Everyone has different priorities
We all choose what we’re going to put first. For some of us, it may be career advancement, for others it could be money. Some of us are willing to sacrifice financial security to stay at home; others are determined to financially provide for their family. Some of us choose to stay at home; others realise they’re better parents for working. And – let’s get controversial – some of us choose to breastfeed, some of us bottle feed; some of us vaccinate, some of us don’t; some of us co-sleep, some of us don’t allow night-time visitors. The list is endless.
The trouble with organising an inclusive group across a diverse organisation is that we will likely encounter each and every one of these differences. Where do you start? This is the first step in my journey, and I will keep you informed. If it’s a success, maybe you can steal from me. If it’s a failure, hopefully you can commiserate – but feel free to laugh at my ridiculous ambition! All I’m really aiming for is creating a group of people who can share together, laugh together and help each other through the next 18-plus years of challenges ahead.
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