Furlough might give men an insight and understanding of the maternity leave experience. That could bring us all a step closer to equality.
Three months of stinky crisps.
That’s how I’ll remember furlough. With no afternoon meetings (or morning meetings, or any meetings actually) I no longer had to check my penchant for smoky bacon and settle for ready salted with my lunch. I would only be inflicting my bacon breath on my family rather than an interviewee or potential client. I didn’t fall back into my youthful pickled onion habit. That would be taking it too far.
But now I’m back at work. And while I still have no meetings my ‘work brain’ has clicked back into gear and I automatically reach for the red packet of Walkers.
For any dads still on furlough I have one piece of advice – try make the most of it. Read or garden or golf or whatever it is you prefer as much as possible. I look back at three months ‘off’ and marvel that the pile of books on my shelf grew rather than withered. And I wonder what I was doing with my time.
The answer of course to a large extent is homeschooling.
It’s been a challenge keeping the kids engaged and motivated to learn. Even when, after a few weeks, we started drawing up a timetable on Sunday night for the week ahead. Preparation did not negate the need for improvisation. And it saps your own attention when the nine-year-old is sat at the kitchen table jabbering away just as he would, and should, were he sat at his table at primary school. (We await to see if tables in classrooms are to become a relic of the pre-Covid era). Difference is, his classmates have unending tolerance for the same three topics of conversation every day: your favourite meme; which superpower you’d choose; which Lego set would you buy first if you won the lottery.
Guilt is the constant companion of engaged parenthood. So just as it’s hard not to feel guilty when you cannot bring yourself to choose again between the Lego Millennium Falcon or the Lego haunted fairground it’s easy to beat yourself up for ‘wasting’ a day on homeschool rather than doing your own reading, work projects or cleaning the house. As ever, the mantra is ‘good enough is good enough’.
But the homeschool experience is hopefully one of a number of lessons dads are going to learn from lockdown.
Before coronavirus many men regarded funding the household as fundamental to their role as father. The last few months, or perhaps more pertinently the next few months, may not have changed that. But hopefully we can all see parenting as a richer experience now. It’s not just about paying the bills, it’s also about being around to help with the history lesson. And that second part goes further. It’s not just knowing the answer to a maths problem, it’s sharing your experience of school, talking about which subjects you like, providing encouragement. Not just adding up but adding to your child’s life.
The biggest change I’ve noticed is the return to work. I’m a feminist dad and equal parent and proud of that. But only after returning to work after three months of furlough have I begun to properly understand what it’s like for mums at the end of their maternity leave. The inevitable loss of confidence caused by time out. The time it takes to get back up to speed. To plug into the networks you had to drop. To mentally switch from spending almost all your time talking to people to whom you’re related to speaking to people to whom you are not. To remember that you can’t have smoky bacon crisps for lunch any more.
I’m still processing the experience of furlough. I suspect it’s going to be something that will change many men, many parents, many people in ways we don’t yet fully understand.
Hopefully it’ll be for the better. But it’s up to us to make it so.
If you’ve been on furlough or if you just have thoughts on the lockdown experience I’d love to hear from you and start a conversation. Leave a comment below and/or please take part in our survey here.