A fine balance

Being a working parent is tough. I don’t need to explain that to anyone with kids.

Being a single working parent. Well, it takes tough to a new level.

My experience of the last week has shown me just how tough that is. I’m lucky, my wife is in hospital and this is only temporary. I’m lucky that my job allows me a level of flexibility. I’m also lucky that I have an incredibly supportive and understanding employer. I’m not so sure, that many employers are.

“Dad, I’ve lost my tie”

“We really need to prioritize this search, I’m uncomfortable with how we’re progressing”

“Someone has stolen my PE kit. I need a new one or I’ll get detention”

“Can you give me your views on this document? By tomorrow am”

“Dad, we’re making scones tomorrow. We do have the ingredients don’t we?”

“We’ve just received a grievance. How do you want to play it?”

“Can you help out at scouts tomorrow night? We’re short on leaders”

“I need you to dial into a conference call at midday”

“Dad….have you fed the guinea pigs?”

We have guinea pigs?????

The conflicting pulls and demands, the geographical disparity of events. The constant feeling of being behind. The guilt that comes from feeling that you are achieving everything, but none of it properly. The fatigue.

The moment you look in the fridge and realise there is nothing to eat.

So I know that people who live in circumstances like this have a better chance of setting up support systems to help them. I also know that if I was doing this permanently, I’d have to choose to make certain sacrifices to ensure balance.

But that is the point. As organisations, when we talk about being family friendly, we know what we mean, but do we know what people actually need? If I had a pound for every manager that over the length of my career had talked about “intermittent absence” or “loss of concentration” related to family concerns.

If organisations are focussed on output rather than input. If they are truly about finding and nurturing the best talent. If we genuinely see people as our greatest asset. Then some of them are going to be in family situations that make work hard.

That doesn’t mean they’re slacking, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to work, it doesn’t mean that they don’t value or respect you as an employer. It just means that they are constantly balancing and weighing up conflicting commitments.

Lets put it this way, if you had the choice between completing that “important” report or making sure that your kids were picked up on time and not left standing in front of the school, what would you choose?

Most of us, if we could, would choose both.


  1. Johanna Ratcliffe · May 31, 2012

    I can relate to this Neil. Yesterday I got a text at work from a (very kind) school mum saying she’d gone home to get my son a t-shirt (one of her son’s) as mine had come to school forgetting there was a school trip and they were supposed to be wearing ‘mufti’. His embarrassment was spared and she also did me a big favour! Yes the trip was on my calendar but I just plain forgot that morning and by the time I’d commuted up to work it was too late. It’s hard to be good at everything, we’re all ust trying to do our best aren’t we 😉

    The morale of the story for me though is the importance of making the effort to maintain relationships both at home, school and work! If you try to be friendly and interested in people when you do get the chance they are are much more likely to help out. What goes around comes around!

    • Neil · June 13, 2012

      Totally agree about the relationships……networks whether at work or at home are essential.

  2. Steff Lever · May 31, 2012

    I can’t relate to this, but I definitely chuckled at the guinea pigs part. I had no idea you were a blogger. Keep it up!

    • Neil · June 13, 2012

      Apparently we have two…..not sure what they’re called though…..

  3. Meg Peppin · May 31, 2012

    I was with you until the last paragraph – I’m not sure there could ever be a choice between a child’s well being and the submitting of a report.

    Single parent, child of elderly parent, single person with health issues, mother or father of children of all ages, childless people with sick partners – life outside work is full of heartaches, challenges and others needs for all of us at time which creates a difficult balance. Grief doesn’t follow a predictable trajectory, nor does acute or chronic illness, childhood illnesses or other life issues.

    If you give, you get back. Simple fact for employers. Flexible working is something that all of us will need at times in our lives. Men and women are always going to be bringing children into the world (I hope), and that creates some interruption, disruption and eruptions into life. It’s inevitable. I’m baffled that this is a problem for employers. It’s a fact of life. Employers need to factor it in and get over it.

    PS, I wish your wife a speedy recovery.

    • Neil · June 13, 2012

      I clearly didn’t mean for a long period of time, but we’ve all had that “just five more minutes” moment! And thanks for the wishes!

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