Like lots of working dads lockdown brought ups and downs for Yash Puri, founder of the Papa Penguin website, but he’s keen to take positives from the experience like achieving household equality
Yash Puri founded Papa Penguin, a site for dads to share their experiences, after finding himself cast as a role model for taking Shared Parental Leave. He shares his experience of lockdown along with some vital insights and advice.
As lockdown 1.0 was being announced I was summoned to go to the supermarket and top up on key rations. Nothing out of the ordinary that evening other than several customers stockpiling essentials and strangely a few people had face masks. En route home I decided to have my last pint in the pub. Pubs were closing their doors that evening for the foreseeable future.
I was actually full of excitement at not having to have a 90 minute commute into the City. I was excited I wouldn’t have to iron my shirt, I was excited I wouldn’t have to shave daily! Being Indian, I get the five o’clock shadow by 10am – us Indians can grow a full beard in a day! The real excitement was being able to spend quality time with the kids! That was a huge bonus. We decided to keep our children out of nursery and create our own bubble.
The first four weeks were full of adrenaline! We were in a situation we had always dreamed of, being able to work from home and spend quality time as a family. My wife and I worked up a schedule on how we would manage the children during the working week. On my days I would cook, do arts and craft and strolls in the park. My employer provided all its staff with two weeks additional Covid days in addition to sick leave to use if needed for childcare, family care etc.
One really interesting outcome of that was that I noticed more fathers were using that leave. Where previously you might expect the mum to take time off if childcare fell through for example Covid leave was new and unencumbered with gendered expectations. There might be the germ of an idea there as to how to equalise leave – rebranding it, changing how it’s viewed and sold could make a big difference in take up.
By week five of lockdown the sounds of the washing machine, dishwasher, oven, microwave continually beeping during the day was starting to hurt my ears and brain. When I used to be at work I would hear these appliances over the weekend but even that was sparse as we were out most weekend. Being home 24/7 started to bring a whole lot of more challenges.
Week six and beyond the game changed, the excitement and adrenaline faded away. We were in survival territory. We had to ensure we didn’t fall into the situation of having Peppa Pig on TV for hours in end. The challenges of working from home and taking care of the children was real. Weekends began to be planning for the week ahead and we worked through it as a team. Our priority was to ensure we continued to be the parents we wanted to be, maintain work life balance. We planned down to details like who would unpack and disinfect the shopping, who folded the washing. One of us had a scheduled lie-in on Saturday morning, the other one got a lie-in on Sunday!
Six months in and, on reflection, yes it has been tough BUT I would never replace the time we have had with the family. We have had to adapt, we have had to be flexible, we had to be open and honest with work about what we could manage. We are not in rush to head back into the office.
I’ve learned a lot, and there will be changes going forward.
Work from home is part of our lives now and going back to the office five days a week seems very alien and silly! There isn’t 9-5 anymore. I work the hours I need to get the job done.
In the future I hope employers will give staff more freedom to choose how and where they work. That does bring challenges around switching off, creating boundaries when at home. It’s important not to fall into the trap of being online for hours, sending emails at odd hours to prove you were at your desk and doing your hours.
Communication is key here again though. My team use technology – shared calendars, chat platforms like Microsoft Teams – to let everyone know when we’re available and when we’re not. I don’t feel guilty about blocking out a couple of hours in the morning for childcare. I’ll get the work done at the other end of the day. I’m seeing more dads doing the same. And no-one is challenging them. This stuff is getting normalised.
Did I have challenges of my children bombarding my meetings? Ironically no. My eldest understood I was going to work and left me to it. I got the same goodbye and welcome back hugs as I would have if I’d been going out to catch a train to the city.
My wife and I achieved 50:50 parenting during lockdown. That showed kids are not automatically inclined to cling to either parent. It was what we’ve always wanted to achieve and a big part of the reason I took Shared Parental Leave last year. But I appreciate it’s not for everyone. I know some dads who just can’t combine work and children, they need to get out of the house. You have to be honest with yourself and do what’s best for you and your family.
I do pick up and drop offs three times a week and love it. My youngest just started school and it has been amazing sharing her experience. I’m sure there’s more dads in the queue to drop off at reception class than there would’ve been this time last year (though there’s still more mums in the queue!)
On reflection after the first time since lockdown thanks to the opportunity to blog about my experience, I can say my dream has come true – working from home and being a hands on father
My children are witnessing equality in our house. There isn’t boy v girl, or man vs lady – it’s all equal.
I hope other dads have taken positive experiences from lockdown. (And if they have I’d love to feature them on PapaPenguin!). That they’ll feel confident and keen to ask for more leave, use Shared Parental Leave, and apply for formal flexible working arrangements that suit them and their family. And I hope employers will take this opportunity to provide better policies around paid leave for fathers. I’m seeing more companies putting their hands up, admitting they’ve not done enough to support dads and seeking to make change. It feels like what were previously aspirations are increasingly likely to become reality soon.