Over the past three months, many of us have had to embrace working from home. For some it has meant taking on the challenge of working remotely while still being an active team member (or leader) and juggling the pressures of childcare (potentially including homeschooling, too). For many fathers, COVID-19 has thrown them in at the deep end to experience those pressures and challenges in an unprecedented way. This has also given them the unexpected opportunity to empathise with women who have been experiencing and talking about these types of challenges and pressures for a long time.
To mark Father’s Day on 21 June, this is the first of two blogs giving an insight into the lives of civil servant fathers and their experiences of working at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brian Stanislas, Co-Chair, Cross Government Flexible Working Network
Being a parent is never an easy job, but at the moment it is especially difficult for a lot of people, me included.
When my daughter Ezri was born on 5 November 2017, I was immediately able to take two weeks paternity leave and three weeks annual leave. This, combined with taking three months’ Shared Parental Leave, while my wife returned to work, meant I was able to spend time settling into the most important job I will ever have.
Ever since my wife and I returned to work full time on compressed hours, Ezri has been in nursery three days a week. With no family nearby to help with childcare, the flexible working offered by the Civil Service has been essential in our efforts to obtain a work/life balance. However, COVID-19 has had a massive impact on our lives. Since mid-March, my wife and I have been working from home. Nursery closed shortly after, and we have tried our best to keep our two-year-old entertained while trying to do our jobs with no family support.
My working pattern has to be continually flexible to manage childcare and work, and my team and manager have been immensely supportive. Although we have tried to break the day up into specific times for work and childcare, there have been many occasions when Ezri has introduced herself on meetings, or when we have had to distract her in some way when we both need to dial in to a call. I’ve seen Peppa Pig so many times I know the lines, and we’ve started to tell Ezri that the programme won’t play! You may say this is bad parenting, but my mental health just couldn’t take that theme tune one more time!
While the last three months have been difficult and the days long, the ability to work flexibly from home to manage my work and family life has been essential for helping us through this pandemic. Without that flexibility, I am not sure what we would have done.
I have always tried to be a hands-on dad, and to share caring responsibilities for my 6-year-old son Joseph with my wife Cathy. Working in the Government Equalities Office, this is close to my heart both personally and professionally.
But COVID-19 took things to another level. Like many working couples, we used to draw heavily on grandparents to help with childcare. My mum has been shielding since March, and losing their help was almost as big an adjustment as losing school - taken together this has dramatically increased the time that we get to spend with Joseph.
I changed my working pattern to split shifts with Cathy. I would get up, sort breakfast, get Joseph dressed (some days, pyjamas stayed on!) and do the first stint of home-schooling, then handover to Cathy, before finishing mid- afternoon, to resume childcare duty and cook tea.
I feel hugely grateful to work for an organisation with the understanding and flexibility to allow me to change my working pattern. I know not all fathers were so lucky.
This period has definitely had its challenges. There were several weeks where it was hard to escape the feeling that we were trying to do two jobs at once, and not doing either as well as we'd have liked. But I gradually got comfortable with ‘good enough’ - not expecting too much, and just being grateful for getting through each day.
Joseph and I have had some brilliant experiences together in the past three months. We've found a shared love of drawing - in particular, these excellent introductions to drawing cartoons from the fantastic Sheffield artist Pete McKee. And, once we were allowed, we've been walking in the Peak District, jumping over rocks, chatting, and searching for 'treasure'.
I've also taken the time to actively practise parenting. Seeing it as a skill to hone in the way I would with a sport has been helpful and prompted me to try new techniques (I took a lot from The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read). I've got better at listening to Joseph, asking him questions, and understanding how he's feeling, and why.
So, there have been ups and downs, but I am definitely closer to Joseph than I was before, and I am convinced that I'm a better dad for this period of intensive time together. That is precious.
If you would like to hear more about what CGFWN does, or to get involved in network activities, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow CGFWN on Twitter at @CrossGovFlexWkNetwork.
You can find Flexible Working and Working From Home / Remote Working resources by visiting the Civil Service Job Share Finder Resource Library.
You can also learn more about what it’s like to work in the Civil Service by visiting the Civil Service Careers website.