You’re reading Working It Out, our series exploring the future of work and wellbeing after coronavirus – from office life to working from home.
As I sit down to write this very piece, one of my feet is being carefully stuck down to the floor with electrical tape. Not, as you might think, a strange, new socially distanced pedicure – but because my three-year-old son says he wants to help me “stay there to do work”.
He hasn’t given any explanation as to how playing a recorder very loudly into my right ear at the same time is helping me, or how his dad – ensconced in the other room, trying to do his own work – is meant to concentrate while being repeatedly beaten around the head with a toy crocodile.
My three-year-old also doesn’t have a very good excuse for interrupting his dad’s annual performance review with his boss on Zoom by opening the door and running full pelt towards him to give him a kiss. He was completely naked (my son, not his dad).
When I asked him why he did it, he just shrugged and said: “It was urgent.”
There are countless interruptions affecting those trying to work from home with young kids. Mine are three and eight and in the past 24 hours I’ve been asked to: help them put on costumes (an Iron Man outfit, a police uniform, a Princess Elsa dress); build a den on the sofa; talk about whether men can physically give birth (and if not, why not) and fetch 126 different snacks, approximately.
I’ve found myself leaving my computer to... help rescue a fly on the trampoline because “flies can’t bounce”; break up countless squabbles; follow the cat around to see if he’s speaking another language; and choreograph the dance moves to ‘You Got It (The Right Stuff)’ by New Kids on The Block (yes, the boy band from the late 1980s that my daughter has somehow just discovered).
I’ve also been called upon to... plug in a disco ball and host a kitchen disco; act like a waitress and take their lunch orders, then bring it to them on a tray; watch a puppet show; judge a gymnastics competition in the garden; tie a plastic slug to a piece of string; use the same string to allow myself to get tied up like I’m trapped in Spiderman’s web; and wipe noses and bottoms on demand.
All while trying to write to deadline.
This is what it’s really like for working parents, at the moment – and that’s not to say we’ve got it harder than anyone else, we all have different struggles.
Still, as we stare down the barrel of the long summer holidays – and as schools look increasingly unlikely to reopen for kids outside the key years – I can’t help wondering if I’ll make it through to September, unscathed.
There’s a more sobering tone to all of this, too: the difficulties of working from home while simultaneously wrangling children likely disproportionately affect women, who already make up 60% of unpaid domestic work at home.
And considering many businesses have eased into remote working via Zoom and Skype – with some major employers discussing it as a permanent transition – this may be the way we live for the foreseeable future.
My son is in one of the specified years returning to school. He’s at nursery, so he’ll be going back for a couple of hours each afternoon next week. But my daughter, who’s in Year 3, has no planned return to formal education – we don’t even know for certain if her school in east London will reopen to all years in September. She’s missing her friends, her teachers and the daily routine, badly.
I worry about the strain this puts on all of us – as parents, as women, as human beings – if this is to be our ‘new normal’. But I don’t know the solution. Not yet.
As for now? Well, I’ve got to go. I need to build a 3D campsite out of an old cereal packet and also make “realistic grass”, because tissue paper isn’t realistic enough, apparently. And it can’t wait – it’s “urgent”.
Working It Out is a series exploring the future of work and wellbeing after coronavirus – from office life to working from home.