What is the best part of your day? Mine is when my daughter snuggles into me after waking up and excitedly starts blabbering away about anything and everything she could think about.
The worst? About 20 minutes later when she repeatedly says, “Daddy, play” pointing at her toys, and me having to say that, like every morning, we have to start getting ready for nursery.
This daily, heart-breaking, routine at times overwhelms me. The guilt I get from having to leave her and go to work can be completely debilitating. My day is just waiting to see her again.
My colleagues are no doubt bored senseless of me mentioning every day that I’ll be in the office after the nursery run or that I need something filed promptly so my mad rush across London to try and get home to see my daughter isn’t totally in vain. But I won’t ever stop talking about it and wish more people would mention their childcare needs more openly.
My wife and I both work five days a week in demanding sectors, in a city where we have no childcare support. We are fortunate to be able to afford nursery (the cost of which is a national disgrace) but the juggling act is physically and emotionally exhausting.
A friend once told me when their children are off sick from nursery “the world ends”, which I took to be something of an exaggeration until I experienced it. Juggling work and young people is, as we know from the pandemic (and all of human history before that), a superhuman effort. (Although, obviously, being at work is nothing compared to looking after children all day.)
In many ways it is absurd how us working parents behave at times. Take when your child is indeed ill. Clearly that is all that should matter – but one can’t help worrying and stressing about work and trying to keep delivering, when really you should just down tools and look after the only thing that matters.
You feel guilty for not being able to work properly, and then feel enormously guilty for even thinking that. The same with stressing on nursery runs and then the awful empty, hollow feeling as you walk away from drop-off. The guilt never stops. It’s so very hard.
When we’re told our daughter has been “a little emotional” at nursery (translation: has been crying, probably a lot) the guilt hits me like a stream train. The idea of her being upset, the idea of her wanting Mummy and/or Daddy, and us not there to console her is so awful. And yet, to have careers, to pay the bills, to have somewhere to live – we have to work, and without family nearby, we have to rely on the extortionate childcare.
There has been a lot written about these struggles and how parents feeling guilty, how being at work has a negative impact on their work performance and how they behave towards their colleagues.
Hopefully my parental guilt does not manifest itself so clearly that it impacts how I interact in the office. I don’t think it does… but regardless, I truly believe if society spoke more openly about the challenges of juggling work and the emotional difficulties of being away from our children, (men in particular, actually – I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man say out loud how much they are struggling), it would better for everyone.
Obviously, one cannot be naïve to the demands of a business and what is needed from its employees, but damn – it is so hard being a working parent of young children. Let’s acknowledge that and see if we can’t make this whole work-life balance better for everyone and support people to have great careers and spend as much time as possible with their children.
I love my profession, but obviously love my daughter more. The guilt at having to be away from her, so I can go to work, is something that will never not be impossibly hard.
A simple solution is not necessarily obvious to me. Maybe the start, as mentioned, is just to start saying out loud more often how hard it is and for everyone to stop continuing to suffer in silence. Another solution might just to be to bring my daughter to work every day, so we’re never apart. She’s certainly got the energy for a newsroom.