In praise of everyday flex

It’s National Work Life Week. Time to celebrate the everyday flex needed to get to the weekend – the stuff that doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet.

a woman sleeps at her computer with post-it notes covering her eyes


This is National Work Life Week and it’s clear that flexible working, where the benefits are mutual, is a great enabler of, if not balance, then just, well, life in general.

Logistics are the core of working parenthood, but sometimes – often if you have several children – even with the best of plans in place things don’t go smoothly, which means a bit of extra flex is necessary. It’s not the big stuff that it is difficult. If something really bad happens people are generally understanding. It’s the more mundane demands that can grind you down, that often come out of nowhere and mean you are always on a disaster planning foot, never taking your full leave entitlement, just in case…

Spreadsheets, for instance, do not take stuff like norovirus, nits, sudden inset days, early closing, unexpected trips [generally because no-one gave you the note from the teacher] and other events into account. Neither do they in any way address the fact that children tend to throw a spanner in the works on any given occasion. They are, for instance, not the best at planning ahead. They tend to leave it until around 10pm or even, in many cases, 7.32am to announce that they need some unlikely ingredients for a food tech session that day, none of which you have in the cupboard. This means a whatsapp emergency appeal or squeezing in an early dash to the nearest supermarket, causing you to start the day even more frazzled than usual.

They get detention for infractions of the dress code and other misdemeanours, meaning you have to pick them up late. On any number of occasions they forget their PE kit, glasses, homework, musical instruments, calculators, etc, etc.These items are always crucial, meaning if they turn up without them they will get a further detention, incurring another late pick-up and more time to make up in the evening.

They get strange medical problems which require urgent appointments in your busiest working weeks, necessitating inverting day and night so you can make it to Saturday.

They fall out with their best friends, meaning there is no-one you can call on in an emergency to pick them up after school if you are running late. They are totally unaware of the delicate network of contacts you have built up as back-up if you get stuck in traffic, have meetings that run late, a tractor blocks your path, the local water company shuts all the roads to your school, all signals on your railway fail, etc, etc. “Can’t you just pretend to like X until the end of term?” you plead. Don’t they understand the back-up back-up plan system you have set up relies entirely on them playing their part?

Then there are work contacts. Why does everyone want to do urgent calls at 3pm? 3pm is NOT a good time for people who are working from home who have kids. Ever. Similarly, 8.30am is reserved purely for yelling “we’re going to be laaaaaaate” in ever-rising levels of shrill. Every single day. Outside these times, any other time of day or night may be entirely feasible.

Here are a few tips then for National Work Life Week:

For teachers: ban food tech or issue parents with a list of ingredients at least two months ahead of schedule. Never, ever, entrust said list – or any important letter – to children, particularly those in secondary school who have much more important relationship-related issues on their minds…and, crucially, their phones. Try to select recipes that use basic ingredients and not stuff like aubergines. It is very difficult to find an aubergine at 7.45am.

For colleagues of homeworking parents: 3pm is not a good time for a conference call. Even 3am is much better.

For children: learn the art of diplomacy. Sometimes, even though you used to love Johnny and now every word he utters makes your skin crawl, it is just a good idea to swallow your pride and let his parents pick you up. Call it taking one for the team.

Happy Work Life Week!

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