Working Parents Adapting to COVID-19 - An Update

On March 17, shortly after schools and creches closed in Ireland in an effort to contain Covid-19, I wrote a post about how my wife and I were attempting to adjust to cope with the need to fit full-time childcare into our already busy schedules.

After the first 30 days (by mid-April), we needed a serious reset of our nutrition, exercise, and sleep habits. This stopped the sense of our lives spiralling out of control. However, the Irish government's May 1 announcement of its "roadmap to easing Covid-19 restrictions" put the whole situation in a new light - we potentially had to continue adapting to a lack of childcare support for months to come.

As we spent the weekend thinking through our situation, it was clear to us that the previous plan - working 6 days per week, sharing full-time childcare - just wasn't sustainable. And, as a business owner, my wife was under especially intense pressure. Even though I also had a lot going in work, with somewhat of a change in role in progress, it seemed like the right time for me to take some time off. Especially when we imagined looking back on this period in 5 years from now. We decided we must somehow carve out some more time to focus on our family.

In Ireland, we have a Parental leave entitlement - you can take up 22 weeks unpaid leave for each child before they are 12 years old. And so, working with my manager, I put together a plan for me to take 2 weeks leave in every 3 week period until mid August. We spent some time discussing how to fully offload my responsibilities and set things up so I could effectively contribute on my weeks working. I put together a document with a detailed plan including my schedule for the months ahead, and shared it with close colleages. Everyone was super supportive. My out of office would read "out of office, returning on August 17th" but those close colleagues would understand that I would be returning to work regularly, looking for ways to contribute.

By the start of June, I had completed my first 2 week period of leave and 1 super effective week back at work. The plan was working! And so too was Ireland's containment of Covid-19 working! We were due to move to "Phase 2 plus" on June 8! I took this as sign that we could start thinking about re-hiring a nanny for the kids and, sure enough, we found someone suitable and very local quite quickly.

This meant that one month after turning on my out-of-office, and 2 months before I was due to return to work full-time, I somewhat embarassingly was able to revert the parental leave plan and life at home was able to return more-or-less to normal. And life has been manageable since then.

I decided I should write this update because it's clear that many others are struggling to understand how to make their situation sustainable where - elsewhere in the world - they may be facing the prospect of a return to lockdown restrictions and schools/creches not reopening for months to come.

There are no easy answers to the conundrum of how to sustainably look after young children while continuing to work full time. Extended periods of unpaid leave is a luxury that is not available to everyone. Employing a fulltime childcare worker in your home is a luxury that is not available to everyone, or may pose too great an infection risk for some.

My one piece of advice - use a long-term view to put your situation in perspective, and be honest with yourself and your colleagues about how sustainable that situation really is. Certainly, at Red Hat, I felt confident that everyone around me would instinctively understand the need to think this way - no matter how pressing our short-term priorities might be, none of us would want a colleague to put their family under undue stress, damage their health, or risk burning themselves out. If you work in a healthy organization, then you can be sure that the organization can adjust quickly to your absence if needs be. Trust this fact, lean on it, and talk to your manager about how you can prioritize yourself and your family.