My husband and I have combined the raising of our children whilst both holding down near full-time jobs. I say ‘near’ because we don’t work full time in the traditional sense, sitting at our desks for a full 35 or 40 hours (or more) week, rather, our work and home life is an elegant blend of all that needs to get done to keep food on the table and the children occupied. Often that does result in 40+ hours of ‘work’, but other times it is more about the achievement of a goal or a project, irrespective of whether it can be done in 2 hours or 20. Time is not the factor but results. And they must work harmoniously with all other aspects of our lives too, including, and especially, the raising of our children, that most important job of all.
It is often easy to make the assumption that looking after children and working is an inherent trade off. And this is certainly something that our binary world likes to assume. But I have often found that the blending of work and family life creates an interplay between the two aspects of our lives that elegantly support each other also.
Most notably for me is the creative ‘pauses’, or breathing spaces, that a break from work can engender. I have often felt torn from my creative endeavours when the children wake up in the morning (and I haven’t yet got my full 2 hours of writing in before they do). Or distracted by the messages coming in to my phone as soon as the workday starts and it is my turn to be with the children. But my desire to be fully present for my children when I am not working often results in ‘breathing spaces’ when thoughts and ideas come bidden that serve my work too.
It is well-documented that creative ideas often come when occupied doing something entirely different than the problem at hand. In my single years, I would rise from my desk when faced with a problem, and perhaps go for a walk, or make a cup of tea. Later still in the day, when washing up, or taking a shower, the solution would come, crystal clear, unbidden, yet shining as the light of day. It seemed the problem needed me to ‘let go’ in order to gain clarity and take shape, and my focus on something else allowed the solution to emerge.
So, too, I have found that the way my day is broken up into bouts of work and childrearing creates those ‘pauses’ that enable me to stay open to solutions, whilst focusing entirely on the needs of the children. The time spent with them never needs to harm the work and often enriches it.
This is not to say either that childrearing is merely a useful ‘break’ from the business of work. Rather it is to say that ‘all things work together for good’ to ensure that everything that has to get done in the business of daily life are not in conflict with each other and can blend in a harmonious whole.
There has been much discussion of the impact that the lockdown is having on women’s professional lives, torn as they often are between the demands of domestic life and the professional sphere. There is a separate discussion here on the importance for men to take their equal share (something I write about in many of my other blogs and which is a core principle in my own partnership and, I believe, the solution to that particular problem). But I think the separation of work and all other aspects of life is yet another argument for the separation of self that we are so encouraged to embody in today’s world. The idea that our different spheres might support each other is scarcely encouraged but I have found it to be true. My professional life needs breaks to allow creative ideas to flow and the ‘nowness’ and the being in the moment that is so important for children allows those ‘thoughts unbidden’ to flow in a way I had never imagined. And remind me of the paramount importance of being present in our relationships in whatever sphere.
That is to say, also, that employers might find a way to be more open to the needs of the time as we are in now, and to recognise that time spent in a different way can be just as beneficial – dare I so, even more so – than sitting at our desk ‘producing’ all the time. It is too narrow to assume ‘work’ as a function of output, rather than the creation of ideas and strategies and focus on solutions. That ‘results’ can be achieved in many ways and that it rarely has much to do with the number of hours put in.
Just as it is important for our children to see and respect our work for their own development and maturity, so too, is work benefitted by those times with our children.
And those unstructured times parallel the learning our own children gain when life is freer, more open to discovery and with a focus on the moment, those times that you want to give to your children when not working. So much of the discussion has been about the ‘failure’ for children to follow their school ‘lessons’ during lockdown, rather than taking advantage of the richness of life learning that the Great Pause has given us. The chance to play more, to connect with siblings, to be forced to confront ‘togetherness’ without any opportunity for escape and to get heads out of books and into the real-life business of learning that school so often stifles has the potential to be a great gift to our children, and to ourselves and our relationship with them.
Those unstructured moments when we are not working or checking our phones, allow for the creative breathing spaces that allow fresh ideas to emerge. We owe it to ourselves, and our children too, to honour those times when life is lived now and in the moment, and to take the guidance that comes, the ideas that emerge, and the learning that is lived, into both our present and our futures for all of us.
Mum, stepmum and honorary foster mum. Passionate about fulfilling the potential of all the world's children - both big and little. Serial entrepreneur and life traveller now living in Paris. www.carolinewatson.org