Google has 3,190,000,000 articles on 'work and family + coronavirus', but why does this still feel like not enough?!
Whilst I am interested in what Google and its billions of followers have to say I would still, if I am completely honest, prefer to have a natter with a mate and share the hardcore reality of the situation – which would be peppered with groans of despair – ‘oh god that’s me’ as well as that wonderfully giggly cathartic feeling as you hear that their work and family battles pretty much mirror your own. And the real bonus is when your friend gives you an ‘oh wow moment’, of, I hadn’t thought of that’ and you get a new brilliant top tip to throw into your arsenal of tricks. And for that brief and joyous moment you realise you aren’t alone; you aren’t losing your marbles and that what you are doing is more than OK, which is as good as it gets.
So, whilst this blog is going to add a +1 to Google the 2to3days team wanted to try and recreate that natter over a coffee and share with you how we are all muddling through.
The 2to3days family comprises six of us, five of whom are mothers. We have five husbands/partners who range from hands-on modern millennials to domesticated dinosaurs, and all of us are struggling as we all adapt to living and working in the ‘new normal’. Between us we have eight children: five girls and three boys, ranging in age from two to 15. So, apart from a baby we pretty much cover the spectrum of dependent children.
To enable me to write this blog I originally asked the team to send me an email, which they all duly did on how they were planning to juggle their own work and life challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown. When I sat down and read their emails all their plans and suggests the same themes were showing up which – not surprisingly – pretty much tallied with the ‘how to’ prescriptions found in the millions of articles on Google:
- Plan ahead
- Involve Family
- Me time
- Screen time
But what I can also see is that the practical lessons are only part of the story – and, not actually the most helpful part. What I really wanted was a glimpse into those vulnerable and revealing moments (which you get from the natter with your mate over a coffee) when things don’t go to plan, and all of us – with or without families – suddenly have to cope with the unexpected. While we adapt at breakneck speed to this new reality it’s worth remembering, as John Lennon sang in ‘Beautiful Boy’, that ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’.
So, whilst I could choose to share with you extracts from my colleagues' emails of their great intentions and plans, I don’t think that we would be adding much to what Google has already done so well. What really helps us is when we get to share the vulnerabilities of other people's lives, which you get to do in a ‘natter over coffee'. Sharing our vulnerabilities is a sign of great strength and through doing so new and wonderful opportunities, friendships and business collaborations appear that you hadn’t before imagined.
So, I emailed my team for a second time, this time asking them to be bold and brave and to share the conversations that they would be having this week, if they could, with a great mate over a cup of coffee. Over the following days we will share these stories. Starting with my natter with my mate. It therefore seems fitting to end this insight into our approach of supporting and inspiring our community through these testing times with our favourite saying by Mahatma Ghandi – ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
Juliet natters with Juliet – CEO and Founder of 2to3days, mother to a 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter, wife to a ‘domestic dinosaur’ (but fast improving)...
On Tuesday 17th March I watched the 10 0’Clock news and had my ‘oh f**k’ moment. I went incredibly quiet as the stark reality began to sink in that my business, the ‘third child’ that I’ve worked so hard to grow for the last five years, might not survive. Which companies would be looking to hire with the economy in lockdown and millions of jobs under threat?
My meltdown moment didn’t last long. For those of you who know me, I am a fighter, and I also look for the silver lining; how we can come out of this stronger than we went in. As a boss I had to have the gut-wrenching conversation with my team about pay, output and expectations. The first corona gift was the wonderful reminder that I am seriously blessed to have a group of awesome women working hard behind the scenes at 2to3days HQ.
Meanwhile my 15-year-old daughter was sent home from school a week early and started online lessons in the room next to my office. On day 1 she was getting cross with me as my voice carried through the wall. I have worked at home for 18 years and enjoyed the unadulterated freedom of doing what I like when I like. Not anymore! I had to be quiet, cook her lunch and work around her timetable. Two days later my husband, who for 30+ years has always worked long hours in an office (as well as long stints abroad), stayed at home and then my son’s school stopped too – argh we needed a plan!
Plan and Structure
We sat down over supper and gave the children the rousing Blitz spirit speech – ‘we’re in this together, we need a plan, share the chores, teamwork, exercise etc’, you get the picture. My husband and I naively assumed that this would signal a rapid switch to Walton Family-type behaviour. Not a bit of it. ‘We get it … but you have got to be kidding’ came the reply – ‘if you think we are going to have a rota stuck on the fridge!’ Oh god, I thought, and this is only day one! ‘I am going to dye my hair blue,’ came the cry from my daughter. ‘And I’ll dye mine red.’ said my son. And they have, and they look great!
I rapidly realised that for us as a family having a rota stuck on the fridge was not going to work. Instead my role as mum was to continue in the background to try and set the beat of the day and ask my children to do their bit with a steady stream of household jobs – vacuuming, ironing, washing up, making the odd meal. In the case of my husband (who left to his own devices is a ‘stab the bag’ kind of man) I sit on one side of our kitchen island and together with our son they learn to cook together with me giving ‘gentle’ direction. Their culinary accomplishments include roast chicken, sausages cooked ‘daddy’s style’, couscous salad and a curry. Team play works!
Screen time and expectations
My children are on screens a lot! I wish they weren’t but that’s how they interact with their friends and it would be family suicide if we behaved like the Gestapo. Believe me, we have tried, and failed, to put our foot down many times! Instead it is a constant negotiation. I hate and love the screens in equal measure. So how do we make it work?
My husband and I are early birds, so we get up and work whilst they sleep. Being teenagers, they surface around 10am to 12noon (having gone to bed very late!). They then want to ‘play with their mates’ – so I cook lunch. In the afternoon we get our hour’s exercise and a household chore gets done, perhaps with the occasional ‘special project’ such as spring cleaning their rooms or pressure-hosing the patio. They don’t do chores every day – some days are more productive than others – and I’m having to work hard to remember that that’s OK.
After my momentary meltdown I have been busier than ever. At its heart 2to3days is a community and we are pouring our attention and resource into nurturing the sisterhood. We want to you to feel connected, supported and inspired to take action so that you come out of the ‘corona zone’ even more prepared to find your ideal role. Flying by the seat of our pants, we launched our first webinar and in quick succession followed two more. Now an entire webinar calendar has been born and long may it continue. We are building some great new collaborations, we are hiring – we have some big news to announce very soon – and my aim is for 2to3days to emerge stronger and more energised.
Me time and curve balls
This is the bit that I am struggling with. As mums our ‘me time’ is often in finite supply. I can’t remember what I did yesterday or what day of the week it is as the days begin to blur together. On top of which my uncle died a week ago and with family members in isolation I am far more involved in the funeral arrangements than I imagined. It’s tough. But life has a habit of getting in the way despite the corona virus putting it ‘on hold’.
So next week I am forcing myself to go on a ‘Home Vacation.’ I love my business, but I need to take time out from it. I’m shattered. I want to grab the moments that my children will give me to play a game or two. I want to do my photo albums that have been on pause for years. I am a natural ‘hare’ – always racing onto the next thing – so next week’s Home Vacation is to make me more ‘Tortoise’ and to be in the moment, count my blessings and trust that it will all be OK.