‘Rhythm’ is one of those words whose usage seems to be exponentially growing. Much like ‘season’ or phrases such as ‘looking forwards’ (what on earth is wrong with ‘in the future’?).
But I see this as a healthy thing. Synonyms such as ‘pattern’ or ‘balance’ could be easily substituted (and often are) as words to describe the efforts of parents to search for what works best for them and their families during different phases of life.
This post marks the first anniversary of a life-changing (and I DO NOT exaggerate) alteration in the rhythm of my own family life.
I think it’s fair to say that the laws allowing parents flexible working arrangements have shot ahead of society’s attitudes towards what is acceptable in the workplace. For example, dads can now apply to share some of their wife’s maternity leave, thus compensating for the paltry standard couple of weeks for men to adjust to fatherhood and those precious early bonding opportunities with their offspring.
Most employers will also listen to requests for flexible working, with at least some burden on them to justify a refusal – although I can’t imagine any successful agreements being reached without a positive pre-existing employer/employee relationship.
I work for a small-ish charity (about 25 staff), which is roughly the size of employer which I’m used to from my time in private sector PR land. Any sort of flexibility is obviously harder the smaller an organisation is, but just over 12 months ago I took the plunge and asked for a slight reduction in hours to enable more parental involvement.
After 7 years including a couple of maternity leaves and part-time work – and with both children now in formal education – my wife was looking to return to full-time work. Several other factors also came into play which resulted in an ideal solution becoming quickly apparent.
Without going into detail, we had a trial period and it worked for both sides. Simple arrangements to re-organise responsibilities were made at work, my wife’s back at work and I now see far more of my kids during the week. I work about 4 hours a week less (in theory) but I have deadlines for leaving on time which ensure I fulfil my new-found school run-based parental responsibilities.
I have suggested that these relatively minor work/life changes have doubled the Mon-Fri time I have with my children, but on closer inspection it’s more like a 60% increase – still not bad!
My only plea to you is simple: find your rhythm. If things just don’t feel balanced then, even if you do nothing else of real value for your family this year, be bold and make a change. Work out what’s best and put your family first, because it’s unlikely that anybody else will and they need you to be there for them.
There are some certainties: not everybody will agree (you will be criticised) and there will be some unwanted consequences (evening work, stifling potential career progression, etc), but doing the right thing is rarely the easiest course of action.
Oh, and Happy New Year!