Coming up with back-up plans

Sick Children


Part six in our summer series on parenting skills that transfer to the workplace…

An ability to think quickly and to come up with alternatives – not just Plan Bs, but Plan Zs – is a key parenting skill and one that could come in very handy in the workplace if everything doesn’t go as expected, which is likely in these days of general uncertainty. Life throws many spanners in the road of the working parent and they are adept at circumnavigating them, resetting the GPS and moving onwards because they are, like the cub scouts, prepared for anything. Here are just some of the areas for which back-up plans are essential:

1. Transport problems

Whether bus/train delays, flight delays or car breakdowns – transport problems cause the parental brain to go into contortion as they try to imagine a myriad of different ways to go to work/get home on time for pick-ups.  If you aren’t able to afford a back-up car or at least a scooter/skateboard, you will at the very least have a handy list of emergency numbers of reliable people who can pick up for you or stay with your child until you get there. You may even have reached gold level in back-up planning by having done a mechanics course so that car breakdowns rarely phase you. Be in no doubt: it will be a parent who comes up with the first real-life teleporting system.

2. Sickness

Your children’s, your childcare provider’s, etc, etc. While some parents will have a back-up list of relatives/friends they can call on in extremis or may have moved house in order to be near said relatives, others will not be so fortunate. Those parents who are good at strategising will have planned ahead and, if they are in a couple, will have discussed who will take time off on any given occasion. The problem with this approach is if one parent has to leave home before the kids wake up. This means that any illness will have to be on the radar the night before or it will inevitably be the one who does the morning drop-off who has to sort out a back-up plan. There will also be those finely judged situations where a child claims a sore tummy/headache etc but there is no visible proof of illness. Should you take the day off – in which case they will inevitably perk up less than an hour later –  or ply them with Calpol and hope for a swift recovery, risking the accusatory call from the school nurse? If you have taken time off work to look after sick children, it is likely that you too will succumb, but will not be able to afford any more time off. This means your back-up plan is likely to be to down some paracetamol, swig some Lemsip and soldier on in a sort of drugged out haze, unless it is absolutely impossible not to.

3. Road closures

These almost seem to crop up on purpose first thing in the morning just to give parents that extra mental workout. Parents will have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all local routes and the exact number of seconds it takes to go down each and every one of them.

4. Communication handicaps

This includes everything from phones that don’t work to wifi no-go areas. The former is where children come in very handy. Most have their own phones these days and seem to be born with an acute understanding of how they work and how to fix them in a way that is a total mystery to parents. The main back-up plan is therefore to delegate all technology-related tasks to their children. When it comes to wifi problems, parents will be adept at locating the nearest McDonald’s in the middle of a desert as they know what it’s like to face the combined force of bored teenagers and emergency work emails on holiday.

5. Computer/tv/gadget breakdowns

This is a very common scenario in the life of a parent as cups of water get knocked all over things willy nilly and toast gets stuck in the DVD player. While cold turkey from screens may teach said children a lesson [and don’t count on it], you may need the computer for work purposes. Youtube is a great source of ways around gadget-related problems. Unfortunately, if your computer is full of water you won’t be able to access it. Build a network of friends with spare computers or invest, if you can, in a secret back-up computer which you keep in a safe somewhere far away from children.

6. Parking/logistics problems and emergencies

There are many times in a parent’s life when things don’t go to plan and you are left literally holding the baby as well as several shopping bags while trying to control a stray toddler. Family spaces at supermarkets are great, but they are rare anywhere else. The best back-up plan is to anticipate any parking/logistics challenge in advance and to factor it into time calculations and to go into deep training to build up your bag-carrying muscles. Who needs a Davina McCall work-out programme?  And what about those emergency situations where people develop a sudden temperature/headache or are famished in the middle of an enormous traffic jam? Who is the person who can be relied upon to have prepared for any number of eventualities and to be carrying at the very least an extra pair of pants, a packet of wipes, an emergency biscuit and a sachet of Calpol in their bag? This is surely the kind of forward-thinking person every workplace needs.

7. Childcare disasters

The nursery closes, the school pipes burst, the childminder moves. The perfect back-up plan would, of course, be a cloning machine, but in the absence of this, you will have to resort to those tactics mentioned in point number 2. Childcare emergencies may last longer than a few days, though, if there are no alternative nurseries or childminders around. This is where you will need to patch together some sort of creative back-up plan, involving whatever childcare is available at the time, taking unpaid parental leave if you can afford it or throwing yourself on the mercy of your employers. Even if none of this works, it will mean that you are probably able to face almost any challenge that arises in the workplace with a kind of Zen-like calm.

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