I have been privileged since June 2020 to have hosted Russell-Cooke’s Working Parent and Carer’s Group meetings, which have gathered momentum and membership over the Covid-19 period and are now a monthly event. Our membership includes mothers and fathers caring for babies, toddlers, pre-school, primary and secondary school age children and also carers of relatives or family members who need support and care (and sometimes carers of both). During this period our group members have shared with one another the extraordinary challenges they have faced combining their busy working lives with their commitments to their families. What has really stood out for me from hosting these sessions is how much concern and care the members of the group have shown each other, both in terms of taking time to listen, to share their own experiences and to offer support and encouragement to those who need it.
In the first lockdown, our group was quite amazing, showing an incredible tenacity and dedication to their work despite the insurmountable challenge of having no childcare and school aged children at home and quite clearly being exhausted. The second lockdown was easier for those parents with pre-school children as childcare had become available, but for those parents with school age children requiring supervision, the inordinate challenge of having to home school whilst keeping on top of their work continued, and the group sigh of relief when the schools reopened was very apparent!
The mixed nature of the group has resulted in lots of different and interesting discussions.
We spoke about how the fathers sharing the child care/home schooling load were not receiving any, or little, recognition for their contribution to the family during the pandemic and that this was in part because the messaging in the media was that the responsibility of having children at home was falling mainly on a mother’s shoulders and in part because women share with one another and speak out more about the challenges they face than men do. Certainly, the fathers in our group had been playing an equal role in the child care and home schooling and had faced just the same challenges as the mothers in the group.
We recognised that as lawyers we tend to set ourselves very high targets both personally and professionally and for some members with school age children this had played out in the approach they took to helping their younger children with their remote learning. Some had been frustrated to learn when delivering their children back to school once they reopened that they and their children had achieved far more during the lockdown period than most of the other children had! We acknowledged that as lawyers, we tend to set ourselves very high standards and that we need to try to be a little easier on ourselves and less critical!
We have talked often about the importance of keeping boundaries between home life and work and the significant blurring of the two that has occurred during Covid. It has become just too easy to look at one’s laptop and mobile phone when not working, which encroaches on family life and down time. We have acknowledged that to keep these boundaries in place requires personal discipline. It is a bad habit which we should all try and avoid even though the pressure and stresses of the job mean that being able to access work during home time can sometimes reduce anxiety levels (although it can also increase them!).
I know from the feedback I have received that the group has been of great support to many, who have learnt that they are not alone in feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. This feeling is not just confined to periods of crisis, but something which many parents and carers will feel from time to time during those caring years whilst doing their busy jobs to the best of their ability, and at the same time meeting their responsibilities to their families.
Working in the legal profession has always been a demanding job and will continue to be going forward. I hope the increased awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the work place (for all and not just for parents and carers) will continue once things start to get back to normal and that we will see a more open, tolerant and flexible profession.