Mums the word today, as we celebrate the wonderful mothers across the UK for Mother’s Day. Last year we spoke to the working mums of Jellyfish Pictures as they juggled their responsibilities being a parent and full-time employment. This year has seen another juggling act enter the mix as the majority of parents moved to work from home with their little ones at their side. This of course allowed for added time with their children, something never thought attainable before. But adapting to the new way of working and finding a new family routine that fits has been a massive challenge. Jennifer Lee, Producer; Lucy Ward, Producer; Natalie Llewellyn, Managing Director of Jellyfish Originals; Sarah Tanner, Head of Operations; and Iraz Sanders, Producer aka The JellyMums share the good, the bad and the sometimes-hard-hitting experiences. And as the saying goes "mum knows best", they each share their advice for working from home mums.
What have been the benefits of working from home with your children?
Natalie Llewellyn: Definitely the gift of time, that’s something that once this pandemic passes, I think we’ll all miss. Being able to balance their school day with my own workday without the challenges of a long commute, drop-offs and pick-ups at two different schools has freed up the day and allowed for more quality family time. I’ve two teenagers so they are relatively self-sufficient, but it’s been good to help out with their studies where I can be an emotional sounding board if needs be and teach them some life lessons that they might not ordinarily have had the time to learn if they were in school. We’ve found our own rhythm.
Iraz Sanders: Generally speaking it’s nice to have spent more time with my daughter Olivia! I enjoyed having a break from the school run and the commute for a while! It was nice to be able to have all meals together at home when the schools were closed.
Lucy Ward: I'm not really sure there are any - sorry if that's an incredibly pessimistic answer. For me, it has been impossible to get any kind of flow going in your work when you're parenting at the same time. I constantly felt like I was failing at work and at home - you can't do both at the same time (or at least I couldn't!).
Jennifer Lee: I have loved being able to spend some extra quality time with my daughter, especially right out of maternity leave when it was already hard letting her go off to nursery. I’ve been able to see her first steps, first words, and the incredible development she has and is still going through between her first and soon to be second birthdays. Sure, it’s also been hard, but the good far outweighs the bad and I will always be grateful for something positive to focus on in the past year we all have had.
Sarah Tanner: For pretty much all of my career I have been working full time and with a long commute each day. The pandemic of course completed changed this and for the first time, like many people I have spent more time at home than ever before. The benefit I felt, which I have truly cherished was being able to actually see my daughter. Previously I would be away from the house for 14 hours a day for the majority of the week. So, the pandemic has meant that I can see her in the morning, at dinner time and at bedtime which has been very special. I felt a little more connected to her life and school and less guilt as many working Mums feel for ‘not being there’ (of course to be replaced by other forms of guilt…..kids are good at that!). I think we’ve all been surprised by how creative we got with our daily exercise…. different walking routes and managing to find great pleasure from the simplest of things- a walk and hot chocolate on the beach, ‘borrowing a dog’ every Saturday for the last 5 months, night-time walks with making shapes in the shadows and telling stories, sledging before school. It’s most certainly had its benefits.
What have been the challenges of working from home with your children?
Natalie Llewellyn: Having two teenagers brings different challenges to those with younger kids – motivation is a big thing… just getting them out of bed and out of PJs is considered a win in the morning. Screen time – massive issue because they jump from 5 hours of online learning straight into Xbox, chatting to friends online or watching Netflix! And exercise – the weather in the UK is so rubbish it’s hard to convince a 13-year-old boy to go out in the rain and kick a football about on their own! We’ve done HIT workouts, runs and long walks but it can be a battle, often incentivised by mum!
Lucy Ward: In all honesty, it's been an incredibly challenging experience. In the first lockdown when all childcare was restricted, my husband and I were starting work each day before 6 am and finishing around midnight because we had to work in 2-hour shifts in order to be able to work AND look after the kids - I know a lot of others that were in a similar situation. It was exhausting, unsustainable and not healthy for anyone in the family.
Jennifer Lee: Video calls! Keeping a toddler away from a very tempting keyboard and not being able to give them or your meeting your full attention…
Iraz Sanders: When working from home the number of calls and meetings were much more frequent than usual, so it was difficult to support online learning and answer all the questions about school work. Being in the same environment all day and night is difficult to manage.
Sarah Tanner: Where to start…..
- The fact that the ability to concentrate for periods of time totally uninterrupted by noise in the house or general needs of the rest of the family becomes harder to carve out. It often meant working early in the morning or later at night when things were calmer and quieter. It did become easier as we all settled into routines adapted and respecting each other’s space, needs of work, time away from each other (as much as you can in a house).
- Balancing the needs of work with consideration for my husband and daughter. Previously when I left the house for work, it was like I was in a parallel world and I could almost forget the wife/mum side of my life and give my whole energy and efforts to work- quite selfishly I suppose. Working from home this last year has meant that I have to try and do both...and it’s quite frankly exhausting for us all.
- Time to myself. I would have a 20 min walk in the morning and at night and then a long commute – so I had lots of time to myself. That’s not been the case this year and a big challenge- I am very sure I am not alone and foes for both children and adults. I think it’s incredibly important and good for positive mental health as well as relationships to have time apart.
- The need to be far more flexible in how and when meetings are held – to accommodate the needs of homeschooling and the needs of our children- trying to listen to myself when I heard myself say for the fiftieth time in a day ‘yes, yes, in a minute, I just need to do this….’then forgetting to help them, answer their question or get them a drink!
- When I’m there I’m not there...I’m thinking about making the sandwich and eating the sandwich ‘together’ as quickly as I can to get back to work and I’m not fully being present. Then feeling bad for it!
Do you have any advice or some words on being a working mum from home?
Jennifer Lee: Balance is key: both with work, your child, yourself and your relationship with your partner. It’s easy to let one or more of these take over others, but all are important! Also, you can always angle your computer’s camera up so your colleagues don’t see the state of your house...
Iraz Sanders: Having a schedule and a daily plan in place for everyone in the house always helps to see the clashes coming, so you can work around them. I find regular breaks with my daughter very refreshing during the day. Having a walk by myself, even for 15mins does help a lot to carry on. Being kind and forgiving to ourselves as working mothers would help, sometimes things don’t go according to the plan, and that’s ok!
Lucy Ward: As a parent to young children, the flexibility to work from home (without kids!) and to flexibly manage working hours around school/nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, tea times, bath times, bedtimes etc. is essential. You also need some kind of support bubble - whether that's a childminder/nanny or relative - you need people around you who are able to step in and help when you have that unmissable meeting or a tight deadline. You need to be careful that working from home doesn't mean that you're working all the time - be strict with your working hours and spaces and ensure that there's an on/off switch (I do this by closing my laptop and turning off my email notifications). And most importantly (and it's the bit that everyone forgets!), you need to take care of yourself too - whether that's getting out for a run/exercise class, a long lie-in on a Sunday morning, a bath with candles or popping out for a drink with some friends - you can't run on empty, it just doesn't work!
Natalie Llewellyn: Don’t be too hard on yourself and accept that you won’t get it all done and that you’ll have to make some compromises. I decided in lockdown two that I wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff as much – if they are happy, healthy and learning as best they can then you’re doing a good job. We’re all facing pandemic fatigue and juggling a lot! To their credit, my two have been amazing in the way they’ve coped with it all. It’s incredibly hard for all children not to be able to socialise together, to be isolated in a bedroom and to stay focused and engaged in-home studies. I’ve repeatedly told them that this is temporary and sunnier times are coming (quite literally I hope) and actually, whilst I can’t wait for them to get back to school, part of me will miss the madness of it all.
Sarah Tanner: Give yourself a break. An actual break- carving out even 20 minutes a day for a walk or something away from work or doing something for your family. And cherish it…don’t take your phone and check emails (guilty of that one myself). And don’t feel guilty about it. When the children go back to school, still make sure you take some time away from your screen- switch off momentarily.
Be open with your manager if you need some flexibility and explain why and how for example moving a meeting 30min can really help. Be honest and transparent and a good manager will work with you to see what’s achievable to benefit you all. Don’t try and be Wonder Woman (though of course, you are) and do everything or be there for everyone all the time. Keep talking to your team/manager and those around you- you might be surprised how much support you will have or, how others empathise with you.