Do parents need more support or does work need to fit our lives better?

There’s a lot of talk about employers being supportive of parents or not, but does that make parents out to be charity cases in need of extra help rather than work needing to adapt to fit today’s workforce?

Parents smiling with baby


A survey out this week from REC Parenting had some unsurprising findings. A huge 93 per cent of working parents feel having employers that are supportive to parents is important or very important when they consider a new role. What’s more mums felt this was more important than dads.

Support is a word that gets used a lot when it comes to working parents. It’s an interesting word because I recall back in the day talking about how to get dads to click on advice articles. Apparently, putting the word support on them was not the way to do that. Even with all the social changes that we have seen in the last decades, dads don’t want to be seen needing support. ‘Information’ works better, we were told. Something neutral and less needy.

Sometimes I think that using the word supportive for mums is not necessarily doing us any favours. We do need certain things to be able to work if we are the main carer of children, as many of us still are, but we are not a charity case. We are living at a time of backlash – against flexible working and against diversity and inclusion. These are already part of the ‘culture wars’ and we can only expect them to be more of a target as we go into the election run-up, despite all the myriad other pressing issues facing people in their everyday lives. Already Nigel Farage is popping up on the TV once again, intent on making the election campaign all about immigration, a replay of the last several years which have seen very little progress when it comes to basic infrastructure in the UK.

What mums – and dads – need is work that actually works for how we live today, not how we lived decades and decades ago. What we also need is a better relationship between employers and employees, where the power relationship is not so much tilted in the favour of the employers. We’ve seen what happens when the relationship of trust between institution and worker breaks down in the case of the Post Office. Trust is a much bandied about word these days – like support – but it is also something that is very much missing when it comes to many of our institutions as scandal after scandal has engulfed them.

Trust develops from genuine efforts at understanding and communication and when the power dynamic is more equal. Trust, when lost, is very hard to rebuild and so it is in everyone’s interests to work hard to build and maintain it. From trust and understanding come better ways of working for everyone, built not on a feeling that an employer is doing someone a favour by offering ‘support’, but by genuine collaboration and a recognition that certain ways of doing things just don’t work for many people these days.

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