Christmas work life balance overdrive

It’s December, the time of year when working parents’ lives go into overdrive with a huge list of extras to attend to amid ongoing Covid uncertainty.


This time of year is when life goes into overdrive for working parents. Not only is there all the stuff to arrange for schools, but work seems to get busier and if there are office events you have to factor any time off into workload issues. Plus, of course, there is Covid uncertainty to contend with. Is the office event taking place? If so, do you go and risk getting infected or being next to someone who is infected with Omicron so you have to isolate or miss spending Christmas with relatives, particularly older or more vulnerable ones?

I got an email the other day which was sent by someone with children at primary school. It listed all the home-related stuff that lands on parents – and in the main it is still women – from the end of November onwards. Christmas cards for the class and teachers, Christmas presents for the teachers, Nativity play costumes, Christmas fayre attendance, carol concerts and so on. I remember it well.

At secondary school the pressure is a bit less intense because classes are so big generally that it is impossible to send cards to everyone. Teachers are more distant so there is no pressure to buy presents. The kids are more in control of who they give cards and presents to, though, in my experience, it pays to have a stockpile just in case of a last-minute surprise card or gift.

There are Christmas fayres and plays, but, in our house, teenagers don’t generally want to spend one minute extra in school if they can avoid it, even though they have missed it dreadfully in the past year. Pre-teens are another matter. Year sevens are not yet quite as worried about looking cool and the school play seems a step up from primary school productions. So I found myself with only son at Moana last week. I thought there were really only two people in it plus the chicken, but it turns out there is a cast of thousands. Only son really enjoyed it and, having hated drama and anything which puts him in the spotlight while he was at primary school, he is up for being in the next production [in the background, of course]. The best thing was to see how much the kids taking part enjoyed it. They came back for an encore and didn’t seem to want to leave. After all that has happened in the last 18 months and how much it has affected young people the joy of being together and doing something fun was infectious – and much more important than catch-up lessons.

On the homefront, the pressure seems to have increased, however. Aside from decorations and food preparations, there is a lot of picking people up to be done and organising of everyone else’s present lists. My brother wants to know what people would like. Extracting said information from teenagers is nigh on impossible, although they seem to spend vast parts of their day scrolling Depop. I also have to remind them about presents for each other. Really I should leave this to them, but I know that I will pay come 24th when they suddenly remember they haven’t got anything, all the shelves have been cleared by people preparing for more restrictions and I have to drive them miles to locate a bottle of Radox for me.

Nevertheless, I see that daughter two, the master of beautiful home-made gifts, has bought two balls of yellow wool so something is afoot. Only son is also getting into creative action and is making cards for close relatives which are way better than anything from the shops, although he always signs them very formally – “Sincerely etc”.

And then, of course, for those who are grieving, there is managing this time of year, taking each day as it comes and not looking too far ahead, creating a place of safety where everyone can grieve at their own pace and in their own way, where they can talk or cry if they want to, but where they can also watch family films and distract themselves as much as humanly possible and get through to another year on the other side of love – which is what grief is. I look at the diary that I write every day to my daughter and, aside from talking to her about what has been going on, its main aim is to send out into every corner of whatever this reality is a daily message of love to her in the hope that somehow she can feel it.

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