Modern romance for working parents

Romance for working parents is not so much about the flowers and more about sharing the load, a recent Leaders Plus event heard.

Valentines Day

Valentines day card with red heart decoration on blue background

It’s Valentine’s Day and what could be more romantic than sharing the work life load with your partner? A recent Leaders Plus event addressed how dual couple careers work by talking to several couples who are sharing heavy workloads and bringing up the kids.

What came across clearly was the importance of communication and planning. One mum who is a principle technologist and director of Women who code said “rigorous schedule and prioritisation” was the order of the day. “The calendar is our Bible. It’s how we manage to be superorganised and to survive,” she said. 

Another mum who is a senior director at Citizens Advice and is just back from maternity leave joked that the diary was the third person in her relationship. “We have started trying to do Sunday night look aheads so we are not constantly on the back foot,” she said, adding that that makes them very aware that family tasks are shared fairly. Her partner added that one way of relieving stress is to accept that it cannot always be a 50/50 share and that sometimes the other partner’s career will take priority. Others agreed that this is important. One dad had taken a pay cut to ensure the school/childcare run rota is not too stressful. He works for a start-up and has more flexibility than his partner has, but less job stability. That balance works for the family.

An A & E consultant and forensic doctor who works on sexual assault cases and is sometimes deployed overseas said delegation and trust are the order of the day. She has learned to give her partner, also a medic, the space to parent as he wants to. In turn, he now feels more comfortable in his parenting and says he is very focused at work on what will help further his career in order to ensure he is not overcommitted and has more time to spend with his children. This was echoed by another dad who said he tries to use his time at work as efficiently as possible. He has also learned that his wife may not be home when she says she will be so he needs to budget for that.

Taking time for each other

The couples spoke about taking time for each other, even though they are incredibly busy. For instance, one couple takes a moment every day to sit together and hold hands and talk about their day and how much they appreciate each other. Another spoke of the value of Shared Parental Leave, in particular ensuring that the dad is in full control during that leave so he fully experiences the mental load of parenting. The point about sharing the mental load was another that was echoed by other couples.

Being upfront about the need for flexi hours and ‘parenting out loud’ are also important as is making time for regular relaxation with the family, such as days when ‘less is more’, rather than filling weekends with activities. One couple pick up their kids together one day a week. Others spoke about having occasional time off from the family too. 

What came across clearly was how much sharing the load is appreciated on all sides. One mum said if she was asked to nominate a male ally she would put her husband forward. “He has 100% championed me,” she said. “He has been instrumental in my career progression.” That extended during a very busy time for both to hiring a nanny temporarily. Another mum said her partner had turned down a job so that she didn’t have to take her foot off the accelerator. A dad said he threatened to leave after his work objected when he had to pick up his children when they were sick.

Asked what they would recommend to other couples, the couples spoke about the need to savour the time when their children are small, to be compassionate and to listen to your partner. One dad said: “Remember how brilliant your partner is.” And one mum remarked that the whole experience had taught her “how important it is to hitch your wagon to someone as committed as you.” It’s not roses and chocolates, but this is the stuff that true, lasting romance is made of.

* Leaders Plus runs a fellowship programme which helps leaders who have young children and are committed to progressing their career.  It is designed to enable parents to stay on the leadership pipeline whilst still enjoying their children; create a positive movement for change so no parent has to choose between career and family; and tackle a root cause of the gender pay gap by supporting parents to progress in their careers. The programme is now taking applications for its May  2024 Fellowship until the closing date of 20th March.

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