Parents have had a lot to contend with over the past year. We’ve been working from home whilst simultaneously homeschooling, or generally herding small people and pets around the house, in an effort to save their stagnating brains – all whilst maintaining some semblance of professionalism in our own careers. It has been… well, enough to drive a person to gin. Let’s be honest, it has been less than ideal for anyone, and this is before you’ve even acknowledged the looming spectre of a deadly pandemic and consequential efforts to shield our little ones from our own worries about their fragile, beloved grandparents, our own health and even our precious babies themselves. If you are lucky enough to be in a family that has one adult with a part-time or flexible role, then it’s never felt more of a good idea!
I chose to take time away from my career when my children were small, and now have the relative luxury of working a few hours a week, teaching part-time. I have felt the need to defend this position numerous times with my peers, putting on my thickest skin when well-meaning mums at the school gate ask “when are you going back to work?” … back to work? What, to the job I quit in 2012? Choosing to work very part-time hours within the school day has meant years of shaking off the guilt that I was somehow abandoning everything Feminism had worked hard to give me.
When Homeschooling raised its terrifying head - yes, even teachers find the thought of formally educating our own children pretty hideous – I found myself sharing experiences with my more career-minded friends in families where both parents worked full-time. In many cases their children might normally be in wraparound care from breakfast till dinner time, weekdays, but now the parents were suddenly trying to keep on working with one, two or even three children lurking at home. Some spoke of employers who had genuinely suggested that their offspring might reasonably be expected to watch TV quietly for 8 hours a day… I was so incredibly grateful not to have this monumental task of striving to reconcile a full-time professional image against meeting the (also full-time) needs of my family. These friends, I have to say, did it: they did it brilliantly. But I do know that I had an easier time. I taught remotely throughout the lockdowns; I had plenty to do and to worry about, but my children enjoyed being at home. My part-time hours meant that I could juggle work and homeschooling (albeit a rather loose and forest-school version of it!) and I was able to spend whole and half days grubbing around in nature with them. We learnt about new bugs (in a lot of eight-year-old detail), found new walks, dipped in the river, and enjoyed our pets. In some ways, it was a golden summer.
Part-time career options
Across the world, people are reporting that working from home is a part of their career that they want to keep hold of post-pandemic. I’m reading that high-powered jobs are now allowing part-time hours. Great news! Finally, perhaps the priceless benefits of being able to work part-time, or partly from the home environment, might be recognized. But I’m not seeing it at the jobs end. It is still the case that the majority of part-time or flexible new job posts are in the care, hospitality or housekeeping sector – the same place they have always traditionally been in. Where are the marketing roles, the finance roles, the third-sector roles that offer part-time, school-friendly hours or the option to work from home? As an educated, professional woman, I still have to choose between a ‘real’ career and being there to pick my kids up from school. Friends that have part-time roles feel trapped in their jobs – “I’d never get these hours if I started from scratch…”
Historically, the government has rewarded parents only for going back to work – tax credits for childcare, free childcare for two-year-olds even - but it has not provided the same support for those who opt to stay at home or work around their kids. If a pandemic hasn’t helped us see the benefit of working around our children’s school day, then I despair that we ever will. There is an army of women and men out there, with skills and expertise that could make a Jedi nervous, who would love to work 9-3. We’re an untapped resource! Why not give us a chance? You might be glad you did.