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Civil Service

Supporting Parents: Wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic

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Jonathan Jones, Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion hears from parents balancing personal and professional circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic.

Colleagues across the Civil Service are dealing with incredibly challenging personal and professional circumstances in impressive ways to support the government and maintain corporate and public services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those are many working parents.  I am not a parent myself and I wanted to understand more about the experiences parents with children at home have faced during this period. So I invited a GLD colleague, Jane Hill, DfE legal director, to offer her perspective. Jane’s five children have all been at home during lockdown and her post has been very busy. In turn she shared with me a collection of reflections from herself and her colleagues. I found these very insightful and moving. I am grateful to all those who generously shared their experiences and am impressed by the dedication that shines through them all.

These parents have said what a difference it has made to have a supportive and caring line manager and employer. I am really proud of that as it’s critically important that everyone feels empowered to get the support and flexibility they need to look after their health and wellbeing while juggling work and personal responsibilities. We need to recognise different needs, ensure that workloads are manageable and reach out to help those who may be struggling.  And our efforts over the past three years in breaking down the mental health stigma have helped create a more open culture where we can have conversations about the emotional impact of the pandemic, speak about any difficulties we are facing, and support one another, whatever our personal circumstances.

Jonathan Jones, Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion

Jane Hill, DfE Legal Director

The challenges for parents have been huge.  One colleague with a severely disabled child described to me how for three weeks she found herself without her usual full-time carer for her daughter, sick with COVID herself, with two other children to care for and a husband caught up in a busy hospital environment working all hours to fight the disease.  I know how strong and resilient this colleague is at work but can only imagine how hard those weeks were.

Another colleague reflects on the isolation many have experienced: “as a single parent of a five year old it’s a tough gig working from home, looking after her whilst juggling domestic chores, worrying about food shopping with her in tow and managing my own COVID-19 fears. And I’m not just a single parent, I’m also what’s known as a lone parent, and that’s how I feel in all this – very alone.”

Another single mum writes movingly “Everyone else seemed to be managing. Why was it not working for us? We were told that these were unprecedented times and we should not to be hard on ourselves, but I think that is human nature.  How were other colleagues managing?  Why was I not being as productive?  It was stressful, tiring and demotivating.”

And very young children bring their own challenges….one dad comments: “As a father of two small ones (two and a half and five months), lockdown has certainly been a challenge.  The sleepless nights of a new baby, coupled with a toddler bouncing off the (same four) walls has meant finding the headspace to do the day job pretty difficult. We have lost the help of nursery and shielding grandparents.”

It is sobering to listen to the massive challenges these colleagues have faced and met and I have great respect and admiration for their determination and courage.

My own five children are older now, the youngest aged 13, and the oldest 22, all at home for lockdown, and schooling has been a big challenge.  One of my children is a deaf child who has really fought hard to keep up with her peers at school and it has been heart-breaking to see her struggling on alone, working as hard as she can but getting behind and anxious about her work without the specialist unit support she normally has. While at the other end of the scale my 17 year old boy has managed to slip all the nets parents and teachers have set for him and is far too relaxed about being way behind with his A-levels.  Like many I feel guilty I have been unable to do as much for Harry and Grace and my other children during lockdown as I should have done, but we have been incredibly busy at work and my job share partner and I have also been putting a lot of energy into leading our team as best as we can. Like so many I have been pulled very hard in different directions.

But amidst the gritty toughness of all of that, there are also real moments of light and joy and inspiration in the reflections my colleagues shared.

For example, one Mum comments: “That aside, the pace of home-life slowed dramatically. I realised how stressful it had been juggling…..There were heartfelt moments where I caught my children buried in a book or sharing secrets with each other. I realised that our needs were simpler than I had thought”.

We have all struggled through and found our own ways of coping somehow through the lockdown and the support of colleagues has been invaluable.  There has been lots of excellent practical advice circulating including the importance of really trying to take care of ourselves (as well as the work and the children…) and also about asking for help and accepting it. But I still end most days feeling exhausted and dissatisfied with what I have managed to achieve, so I was encouraged by the wise words of one dad who wrote in his contribution:

"Getting through the day/week, with everyone fed and watered, is an achievement. Be aware of Instagram vs reality, and try to ignore those who may have had more spare time than you to make sourdough or learn the ukulele.  Everyone’s lockdown circumstances/experience has been different so there’s no point in comparing yourself with others!"

A wide range of staff networks, information and guidance are available to civil servants to support their health and wellbeing, including specific assistance and advice for during the coronavirus pandemic.

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  1. Comment by C posted on

    I also think it is helpful to remember colleagues who have been working round the clock to support their colleagues with children, who are understandably under a lot of extra pressure. Some of these supportive colleagues may not be so lucky as to have children themselves and are going through really challenging and painful fertility journeys. All put on hold during COVID. So a huge thank you to all of them.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Jonathan for your continued support as the CS Health and Wellbeing Champion.

    Within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have been fortunate to have a Parents Support Network and Carers Network who have proactive in making sure that colleagues feel connected and can talk to someone when the need arises.

    I have got to say that I have been encouraged with a the way in which colleagues have look to offer advice and support to others. Such simple acts of kindness have made such a positive impact.

  3. Comment by Shuhab Hamid posted on

    An interesting and thought provoking article by our CS parents:

    Parents well being has been so challenging and often overlooked during Covid-19. I have witness family members struggle. However, once they opened up it became easier to prioritise and make small simple changes for the better and for the whole families overall well-being and functionality.

    I have made simple and effective changes to be able to manage more efficiently and #team work & #understanding has been key as I have got the whole family engaged in our well-being. Support from LM and work has also been great and helped in finding the new work/life balance .

  4. Comment by Cara Oladeji posted on

    Great article! I have 4 at home, similar in ages to Jane. My heart goes out to those with younger children and those with disabilities, it must be really tough. My 12 year old has done hardly any school work but she has been cooking, baking, drawing, sewing and painting. My 16 year old has been baking and improving his Spanish on Duolingo. My daughter needs to get back to school for her friends and the structure, she's getting on her brothers nerves with her Tik Tok dancing. Counting down the days!

  5. Comment by Flint posted on

    I'm very pleased this has been posted. With a 7 year old and a 14 year old, the challenge to manage them and work was hard. Hopefully the school summer holidays will allow us to return to some form of normality (after some annual leave).
    Thanks again for posting this article 🙂

  6. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Jonathan Jones for your continued support as the Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion and to Jane Hill for sharing with us your personal reflections.

    I am sure that there are a number of parents both within and outside of the Civil Service who have had to juggle their day job with being a Home Teacher / Carer / Parent. I am very much aware from my discussions with several colleagues and friends of the challenges they had faced at the start and during the lockdown and the positive and negative outcomes they had experienced.

    Certainly within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Wellbeing Network, Parents Support Network and Carers Network had looked to work in a collaborative manner to ensure that all Staff felt supported and to did their best to make certain that no-one was at risk of suffering in silence.

    I was extremely encouraged in the way that colleagues looked to offer advice, guidance and support to others. We saw some fantastic examples where colleagues were creative in their thinking or offered to share their skills and talents. Even I learnt how to make a set of bagpipes from a plastic bag and a couple of recorders 🙂 

    The FCO Carers Network looked to promote Carers Week 08th – 14th June 2020 with the aim in making Caring more visible and to increase awareness and understanding. It provided a great opportunity of those with caring responsibilities, especially with children to discuss their challenges and share advice.

    The FCO Parents Support Network also arranged regular online sessions where parents were able to connect with others and again share from their experience.

  7. Comment by Amanda posted on

    In MOJ, we have a parents network which I stumbled upon whilst working from home. Just knowing that others are in similar positions with juggling work, lock down and children made me feel a little bit more "normal"