A commendation for parents with younger children in the pandemic
The last few months I have been doing a research project with McKinsey and Company on the topic of ’Fathers who stay home for more than two months with newborns.’ I have interviewed by Zoom over 140 fathers and mothers. Many live in the big urban centres: London, Tokyo, New York, the Silicon Valley, Toronto and Montreal. Mum and Dad both with demanding jobs and one or two small children in a single or, at best, two-bedroom apartment. We talked about life, how hard was the mum’s labour, the challenges of breast feeding, about juggling two jobs and a baby or two. These were fairly intimate conversations and after an hour or so of conversation it would often turn to how they have weathered the pandemic. Lockdown life has been brutal for many of them.
Our kids are now university students and we live in a relatively roomy four-bedroom house across from Stayner Park, not too far from downtown Montreal. Our kids were four and two when we moved from England to Montreal. We went to Stayner Park hundreds, no, thousands of times. When your kids are older it is, honestly, very hard to remember how much work small ones are. The intensity of the memories fades with the perspective of time.
In the design of life, it is logical that the majority of parenting takes place earlier on; it takes a stunning amount of energy, enthusiasm and frankly, stamina. Earlier today I wandered over to Stayner Park and talked to some of the parents there with small children. A number of them work at McGill where I teach. An extrovert by nature, I have been going over most days to fill up my emotional and energy tanks by talking to the neighbours. Some of them are now looking a little less worn down than in the depths of lockdown, but for the last few months, frankly, they have been more than a bit frazzled.
As a way of making it more survivable we have been getting together for a beverage on Fridays at 17:30 on the sidewalk in a socially distanced way every few weeks. This is an occasion to share the week, family life, work news. There is much laughter, silliness and some serious conversation. This sense of being part of caring community has been a tonic for our souls.
Most of the senior members of the administration at McGill are older than those in the height of their parenting responsibilities. This would be equally true in business or government. Their kids are in or have finished with university days. Naturally, logically, it is rare to become a Dean or a C Suite executive, for example, in your 20s or even 30s. One needs more experience, in life and professionally, to lead in such a senior post. As a self-professed older member of the staff, I feel compelled to recognise and honour how challenging, difficult – indeed harrowing at times – the last half year has been for many members of staff, and how they – you – have risen to the occasion.
At McGill I run a course, CEO Insights for our MBAs. We have 24 CEOs who come by, two a week on Wednesday evenings. Also a radio show where I interview a CEO one-on-one for an hour each week. So I have had the chance to talk to about 40 CEOs about the Covid-19 crisis and how it impacted themselves and their organisations. I cannot think of one who did not say that they are working more than ever and have had to learn to pull back a bit in order to stay sane and maintain their health. More stress, more work, more uncertainty about your future, these things are true for these senior leaders with high incomes, a strong support group at work and older children. How much more true is for young parents?
Two working parents and often two (or more) rambunctious, energetic, demanding children to care for round the clock. Simultaneously, many jobs in today’s world have called for more energy, as one new challenge after another has arisen. Likely, your spouse has also a demanding job. And parents have had to manage more aspects of their children’s schooling than ever, while the usual support networks – childcare, cleaning and even grandparents – were literally outlawed!
As we transition into a new school year, and the new family and professional rhythms, opportunities and concerns that brings, I want you to hear a heartful thank you and say that we – those who witness and are trying to figure out the best way to be there for you – are very, very proud of you. Well done!