Before the pandemic hit, I combined working from home Monday to Friday as a freelance writer and looking after our two children, six and seven. My husband, an insurance broker, commuted to London full-time. The March 2020 lockdown forced him to work from home, and we began to share childcare more equally. This sense of shared daily parenting has brought many benefits not just to me but also to our family. And as much as I struggle to admit this because I know many people have suffered more than me during lockdown, I’m dreading it when he goes back to work, and the majority of parenting responsibilities return to me.
I understand that returning to the office will be a massive shock for my husband and many others. It’s an adaption that will take time, and it’s unlikely that workers will be returning to the workplace environment that they once knew. However, significant change is also coming for the partners of returners, as family life and roles created over the past year will be shaken up.
There are many reasons why I’m dreading my husband’s return to London, and I know I’m not the only parent who will be hesitant about the loosening of lockdown. With two of us at home, I can be more independent, and there’s a comfort in knowing I have help if I need it. We now share the school runs, which makes a big difference to my working day. I’ve had some recent medical appointments, and it’s been easier to arrange them knowing he could do a school pick-up.
But it’s not just about the time-saving factors or the school run logistics; it’s about the feeling the more collaborated parenting approach provides. And this is where I risk sounding like a spoilt brat, but the current situation feels equal; more like a partnership where we both share the day-to-day. All the responsibilities of being a parent to young children are for both of us to bear. There’s a sense of being in it together and an awareness and appreciation for the roles we are carrying out as working parents.
And he sees what it’s like. I mean, really sees it. He hears the moaning about doing homework or the need to nag several times for a child to put their shoes on for school. In the past, many of the emotional challenges have been on me.
The pandemic and the remote working model has benefited us as a family. I enjoy having my husband around for company, and sometimes we co-work, although admittedly, I won’t miss the insurance chat. Our children love their dad taking them to school, and it’s built a closeness between them that wasn’t there when he wasn’t at home a lot.
I’m bored of the sound of my own voice with regards to his anticipated return. I regularly ask when he will be back in the office (sometime in May is the expectation) and whether this will be every day, set days, odd days and whatever else I ask to sound mildly neurotic. The truth is, he doesn’t know. It looks likely there will be an initial part-time pattern of office work, but the future is cloudy, and I need to accept that.
There are other benefits to working from home. A recent study, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, found that worker productivity increased during lockdown, and businesses should consider hybrid working (a mix of workplace and remote working) as lockdown eases. In addition, my husband seems less stressed and tired due to the lack of commuting, and he recognises that he doesn’t necessarily need to be in the office full-time. It’s a mindset change that I never imagined he’d adopt.
I understand that lockdown is easing, and of course, I’m happy about it, but I want to, and want my family to, hold onto some of the benefits. If possible, I hope we have a compromise where my husband adopts a hybrid working role. I’m not saying parents shouldn’t return to the office, but I think the hybrid pattern will benefit many parents, children and businesses. Ideally, I want my boys to continue to benefit from us both being around a lot and for my husband to attend a sports day without rushing for the next available train because there’s an expectation that he must be in the office.
For all the trauma and upheaval Covid-19 has delivered, I hope long term it helps to allow families more flexibility when it comes to work. A continued remote or hybrid work pattern can bring a sense of unified parenting and solidarity that wasn’t possible for many of us pre-Covid.
And, yes, I admit, I’d really like to keep sharing the school runs.