Flexible working has changed my life, and now there’s a chance to help bring it into law
When Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves, as well as the realities of life as a single parent in Ireland
“This is the way Grandad used to drive to his office when I was young,” I say to my daughter on our way to a friend’s house one weekend morning.
“Oh yes,” she replies, “before he started working from his office at home. So he could spend more time with me.”
Technically, this is not why her grandfather moved his office, but luckily for us, it has been one of the major side benefits of his working from home.
I know it’s tantamount to seriously bad manners to talk about Christmas this far into January, so painful is it to remember a time, so near, and yet seemingly so far away when life was all about celebrating and having a break, but just before the big day my daughter caught THAT BUG and was sick for two weeks.
We were lucky, hers was just the high temperatures and general lethargy, not the (shudder) vomiting element some friends experienced (six days in a row of vomiting in the case of one friend’s children).
And again, I am lucky, because I work from home. It’s not quite flexible working as we now refer to it, a cause whose most impressive spokeswoman is British broadcaster and journalist Anna Whitehouse (@motherpukka), and which generally refers to a staff job which allows for some flexibility in when/where you do your work.
I’m freelance, self-employed.
And while the downside of that is the anxiety caused by your work lacking any kind of security, one of the upsides is flexibility. So when my daughter got sick, and then stayed sick for the best part of two weeks, it meant that my life was not thrown into complete disarray.
I could sit at the dining room table working, less than 10 feet from where she lay on the couch watching cartoons. And if she lifted her head and said, “Mommy,” I could go straight in for a cuddle. If needed, I could sit beside her on the couch, laptop on my knees. If I had to go out, it was for an hour or so (obviously complete cabin fever set in, but easier than the stress of trying to patch together childcare if I had had to go to an office all day).
How do people who do not work from home and whose children are in creches do it? I kept asking friends. Answers included having to lie to bosses about who was actually sick, pretending instead it was they themselves who were ill, because several days into a child’s sickness, childcare options ran out, but so did employers’ tolerance for a parent having to be at home.
For anyone who is labouring under the assumption that working flexibly is all a doddle, let me disabuse you of that notion.
In order to juggle between time spent working and time spent with my daughter, I have worked from five in the morning in the bed while she sleeps beside me; worked on one memorable occasion until three in the middle of the night; taken my laptop on every holiday bar one weekend over the last five years since she was born (flexible working meant I’ve probably taken a few more holidays than I might have otherwise); worked at the fringes of dance classes, soft play areas, tennis lessons, and during playdates.
None of this is to complain. I count myself VERY lucky to be able to do this.
It is merely to point out that flexible working isn’t necessarily the ‘all easiness’ option. But it is the difference between, if you want to (and to stress, if you would rather be in an office the entire time, that too is your prerogative, this is about a choice for everyone) be around more during the day and not.
Of course, there are other reasons flexible working should be a right when a job allows it.
In the aftermath of a separation, when you feel like so much of your world is flying off into the ether, having flexibility to cut corners on the school run (i.e. wear your pyjamas underneath your coat), to be around in the afternoon on occasion, to try to establish the stability you worry has now been shot to pieces, to do the work at the times that suit me best, for me was the difference between things being manageable and miserable.
It gave me the ability to slow things down at times when the pace caused by doing so much on your own feels at times nonstop, to create little gaps in the constant chasing of one’s own tail.
To watch a movie together on a Monday afternoon when you’re both exhausted. Occasionally give them breakfast in bed on a school day. Go sit in my best friend’s kitchen and chat for hours in the afternoon while the children play around us. It made things more easy practically, but it also allowed us to do things that were comforting.
And it still helps. I don’t really get lonely living without another adult. And a great part of that is because I can pepper my days with coffees and playdates with friends, knowing I will work in the evening, or from very early.
It’s a quality of life issue.
Bring flexible working into law
As you may have seen if you follow Dominique McMullan, IMAGE.ie’s editor, who is soon to return from maternity leave, the Irish Government is currently looking for opinions on flexible working.
Submissions close on January 31. This could lead to the possibility of flexible working being introduced as law in Ireland.
Photo: Erin Brockovich (2000), Universal Pictures
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