We are Working Parents: From Family Friendly Measures… to Wanting to Unfriend Your Family?

09 May 2020

HR

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I am no stranger to working from home.  It has been part and parcel of my life ever since I re-entered the workforce after having had my two boys, Charlie and Michael now aged 10 and 9.  When I first joined GO, in fact, I must confess that one of the main incentives at the time for doing so and for leaving my previous employment, were its family-friendly measures.

Even before COVID-19 hijacked our lives, GO’s remote working options were inspiring and ahead of their time, allowing employees the space to cultivate a work-life balance. This is an issue which so many working parents generally struggle with.

Just hours after the first few cases in Malta were reported, those whose tasks allowed them to, were immediately asked and encouraged to work from home to avoid the spread. Now that most other businesses and national institutions have had to take similar steps, life looks very different for many of us.  Working from home has taken a completely different dimension now as rather than being a flexibility option, it has almost been imposed on us to stay in the ‘fortresses of our homes’.

While this pandemic may itself be taking its toll on us in ways we won’t yet be able to appreciate or understand, those of us who are not living alone are also having to each adjust to the close and constant proximity of our immediate family, while being physically isolated from grandparents, dear friends, extended family, and colleagues.  As for those of us who are also working parents, this has certainly added an extra dimension to the adjustments.  Like all changes, however, this too has both its positives and its negatives.

Our dear colleague, Christine Galea, GO’s Financial Controller and a mum of three children, had the following to say about this new lifestyle:

“It has dawned on me that in my lifetime as a mummy, I never had the opportunity to spend 24 hours nonstop with all my children for more than two weeks at a stretch.  Not even when my youngest child Karl was born did we get to spend so much time together, since Lisa my eldest had to go to school in the morning.  So this nasty virus managed to bring us all physically together for a long period of time with no interruptions.

Obviously we all have jobs or studying to do (some more than others).  It also does not mean we’re the perfect family all through the day – far from it!  There are periods when I’m trying to concentrate or having a Teams meeting and from the corner of my eye I see my youngest sneaking on to his PS4 or suddenly the boys start fighting under the table.  But when I sum up everything, despite all the stress, I want to say a big thank you to Corona (much nicer name than COVID-19) because maybe if we show it kindness it will reciprocate back.”

Speaking for myself, this surely had some benefits also.  For example, my daily commute to and from work and the school-runs have all been cut out and I can hear the constant sound of my children playing (or arguing or physically fighting!!) in the background while I’m working.  I always know where they are.  Then I can be home preparing healthy and varied meals for everyone rather than doling out chicken nuggets on the run, and now we make it a point to sit at table together for most meals.  It’s also easier to share the odd joke or news snippet with my husband in daylight hours when we’re both not yet feeling drained or, on occasion, to take a break by sitting in the garden quietly while listening to the birds cheerfully chirping in the trees and enjoying their freedom.

But the struggle of home schooling until now, the constant preparation of all meals, a kitchen-sink which is continuously surrounded by dirty dishes while the dishwasher is working on overdrive, with emails pouring in more than ever and the increased number of calls, Teams meetings, messages streaming in on all platforms possible, while also absorbing the gravity of the news updates, all without being able to find some release through physically available friends, family, social coffees, beers etc., has sometimes, admittedly, brought me to silent tears of exhaustion.

Hysteria might actually follow.  No, I lie. Hysteria did actually follow when, after we set about washing all the floors ourselves on a Saturday morning after a long week, the children let the dog out into the still wet garden and then they let her back into the house after she had padded her way through all the soil leaving a lovely trail of brown paw-prints behind her down the garden and corridor before proceeding to jump onto the just-vacuumed, spotless sofa.  Thank goodness for our sense of humour!  It turned out to be a good laugh, together.

Working-from-home dad, Christian Spiteri from the Digital Team writes: “Having a 3-year-old being home-schooled, whilst both parents work from home, surely isn’t easy, but one simply needs to adapt to the situation. I have always had a strong presence for my son and I’m used to working from home, so perhaps this simplified certain aspects of adaptation. However, considering his tender age, he still heavily depends on us to fill up his day and I do believe that we are making the best of the situation, by investing a lot of energy to keep him happy. In a way, we are blessed to have the pleasure to see him learn new aspects of life, whilst continuously providing learning through playtime. This fulfils us as parents and keeps us working in overdrive mode when sometimes it’s required. The way I am coping with my targets is by stretching my workday, but then investing the saved commute time back into my son. What I recommend is to understand the needs of your children and work around that as it helps to find a suitable routine. Ultimately, children feel more secure when their day works against a schedule and if they are happy then you are happy too”

Thankfully, modern technology offers us assistance and support. Most of us parents have now been left alone to handle our children’s care, education and daily routine together with our usual work-load and all domestic chores.  Stuck with no one but their parents, the only schooling or exercise they get is under our instruction or guidance.  It is down to us, to help provide some structure, excitement and variety to their days to avoid their current life just simply merging into one big blur of screen-time and restlessness. Imagine doing this twenty years ago when the technological developments we are so comfortable with and comforted by were still eons away!

My always-positive and resourceful colleague, Bernadette Abela Fiorentino, who is currently working from home with her husband and 5-year old Giacomo, offers some very practical and positive advice:

“We have created a schedule that replicates a normal working day, starting off by having breakfast together, and getting dressed as if going out. Then we plan the rest of the day according to our work requirements, any important meetings or urgent deadlines to be met, so that one of us keeps an eye on Giacomo at all times. We have created a safe zone for him to play in, where all of his toys are accessible without having to stop us whenever he wants us to get his toy truck which is too high up or carry the ‘heavy’ box of building blocks for him. We have also put a blackboard in the room, with a timetable for him to try and follow. I must admit that he is spending more time watching TV and playing on his tablet unfortunately, however we try to allocate defined slots for other activities, including crafts. He has in fact created a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for us which we hang on the door of our designated office space where we can have some undistracted quiet space when needed. At the end of our working day, we dedicate some time for home schooling amongst other quality time activities.”

In conclusion, whatever our status, we are all in this together in uncharted waters.  This is a war we are all fighting together, on the same side for once, united against a common enemy which we are sure to outwit and beat in the end.  Yes, it is a difficult time, perhaps not always helped by being in the constant proximity of our families while missing the company of others; or by the loneliness of not sharing your home with anyone at all.  We are, after all, social beings, used to interacting with a number of different people on a daily basis.  But we are not alone. Not really.  All thanks to the opportunities today’s world has to offer. And it is certainly not the time to be unfriending our families.  Rather, it is a time to be working around mending whatever bridges we can, supporting each other (and strangers too) however we can, and embracing all novel remote ways of appreciating and nurturing all our relationships.

#staysafe #stayconnected #proudtobeGO

Written by Bernadette Abela Fiorentino, Philippa Gingell Littlejohn, Christian Spiteri, and Christine Galea

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