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Let’s talk about…. Working Parents

Let’s talk about…. Working Parents

ted Learning Theatre of Learning drama based training
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Amy Barnes ted Learning
Hot on the heels of the budget announcement regarding the extension of the 30-hours-a-week free childcare scheme, I had two ted gigs – one in Birmingham, one in Kidderminster.  Living in Surrey, this necessitated an overnight stay. An overnight stay! One night of freedom! From my two young daughters and all the jobs/chores/circus that comes with childcare! I was thrilled. It was the first night away I’ve had for work since my second daughter – now aged one – was born. As it happened, my night away wasn’t without its challenges.
Nursery rang on the first afternoon – my one-year-old had a temperature and wasn’t very happy. Could I come and get her? Err…no. I was miles away, shortly after – another call. My three-year-old was also unwell. Could I send someone to collect her, too? Fortunately, my husband was working from home and had to step in. If I had been around, I, of course, as both self-employed and the mother, would be – in our family set-up, at least – expected to step up.

This scenario got me thinking. I’ve been working throughout my so-called ‘maternity’ (which, let’s face it, doesn’t really exist for the self-employed), and grappling with this new role of ‘mummy’. How to be both? How to be all? Primary caregiver, bringer home of (vegetarian, in this house) bacon, CEO of domestic and childcare arrangements, head chef, an avid contributor to the social calendar, and still desirous to not look like the end of my dirty, frazzled and slightly startled mop after a bout of vigorous (admittedly infrequent) floor cleaning. This required some careful consideration. Usually circa 3 am, when the baby would invariably wake up for a two-hour screaming marathon (sleep training hasn’t gone so well with number two…)


Parents have a pretty rough deal. Perhaps – and maybe this is only my experience – mothers have an even rougher deal. We feminists, we want it all. But we don’t want to have to do it all. No, thank you. We would like a 50% slice of the domestic/childcare pie, please, as many of us, too, would also like to focus on our careers. I realise I am not speaking for everyone, every woman or primary caregiver, but the many, many women I speak to appear to begrudge taking on arguably more than their fair share of other duties outside of their careers whilst still being expected (and wanting) to deliver at work, pursue that promotion, whatever. Tricky.


My goal here, in writing this, isn’t to solve the problem. Or just to moan about it (although I am admittedly getting quite good at it, to anyone who will listen). Rather, I think what would help, perhaps, is a little more empathy, understanding, and support for working parents in the workplace, even (dare to dream) in society at large. During one of my ted jobs this week, a ‘Brave Conversations’ course, I was playing the ‘bad manager’ – an absolutely brilliant character, and a lot of fun to play, as you can imagine – having a difficult conversation with an employee that had been missing deadlines, meetings, and so on. Towards the end of the day, the delegates on the course have the opportunity to ‘redirect’ the scene – to help my character, Davina, to broach this brave conversation more empathetically, human to human. They had their work cut out for them. But their suggestions and direction ultimately led us to a place where my employee felt comfortable enough to reveal that he had been struggling since his wife had left him, leaving him as the sole parent of his young son. A new role, bringing with it new challenges, which not only left him reeling emotionally, but presented new obstacles. How to be both?


As I watched my colleague’s eyes fill with tears (we both trained at the Bristol Old Vic, so I would expect nothing less *drops mic, boom*), I reflected – this scenario was so relevant, so familiar. And yet how many colleagues, and employees feel comfortable enough to discuss this with their managers? Their family needs, their changing circumstances, their shift in priorities? Is it seen as a weakness to admit we are struggling? Or is it a sign of strength, a consequence of a truly compassionate workplace culture, where employees feel safe enough to ask for help, for support, without compromising their chances of future promotion, or of being (even subconsciously) judged or ostracised? With the introduction of flexible working arrangements, and the announcement of more help with childcare costs over the next few years, clearly helping parents back into the workplace is high on the political agenda. But alongside this top-down approach, I wonder if a more human-to-human, bottom-up approach still needs greater cultivation in the workplace, with safe spaces to talk about the challenges of caring for dependents (of any age). To blur the boundaries between work and home life, instead of keeping them segregated, for fear of the repercussions of admitting that we are struggling. To finally have that brave conversation that we’ve been putting off, or circling around.


I’m no expert, of course, and every organisation is different. But the ones I’ve worked for have all admitted that this might be something that most of their employees would welcome. This, and an overnight stay (for ‘work’) in a hotel room, in a different city, with no phone signal. One with a deep bath. And room service! And a minibar! And – and –


…Sigh. Back to reality. Best get cracking, eh. That floor won’t clean itself!

Amy Barnes

Amy is one of our ted Learning actors and supports the delivery of several of our theatre-based learning courses and has helped on several client presentations.