‘Hi, nice to meet you, so what is it you do?’
‘Hi, I’m Matthew, I’m a juggler.’
Okay, so technically I’m not a juggler, but I do around five thousand different things a day (and I don’t get round to doing another five thousand things that I really should have got done last week). But, let’s spare you the detail, let’s just say that I’m Matthew and I’m a Club Support Officer for England Boxing.
Actually, I’m much more than that. At least, I’d like to think I am. I’m building a second career as an author, speaker and mental health champion. And, most significantly – at least to me and two little people – I’m Dad.
So many of us define ourselves primarily by what we do, by our career. But, perhaps more than ever, we find ourselves juggling many different priorities as we futilely attempt to create a greater work/life balance. This has become ever more apparent to me in the last four years, thanks (for want of a better word) to divorce.
I have joint custody of my children and the demand of balancing the often competing priorities in my life is a constant challenge. Who says men can’t multi-task? I’m far from having this business sussed but I’ve certainly learned a great deal and would like to share a few lessons from along the way.
My flexible friend
In striving to attain some sort of balance, flexibility is a skill that it has been very necessary for me to develop – and it isn’t a skill that comes naturally to me. Hell, I can’t even touch my toes. As well as needing to be flexible in my own approach to work, I’m very fortunate to have an employer and a job that allows me the flexibility to manage my own time, meaning that I can work my hours in a way that enables me to do all of the things that are important to me as a parent – school runs, sports days, assemblies, parents’ evenings. I really don’t know how I would manage without this flexibility and I appreciate how fortunate I am to have it. It was especially valuable throughout the process of divorce and the joys of solicitors’ appointments, mediation and moving house. What’s more, such flexibility from an employer makes for a much happier, more productive employee, who is more likely to want to stay with the company for the longer-term.
Where’s the ladder gone?
Career aspirations need to be evaluated and often re-evaluated in adapting to being a single parent. The personal and family sacrifices that can be necessary to advance your career can be much more difficult to make when the other parent is no longer supporting you to achieve your ambitions, when you no longer have a life-partner that will carry the extra domestic load required for you to climb the career ladder.
As a driven, career-minded individual, it can sometimes be difficult to admit that we are finding it difficult to keep all of our plates spinning and to ask for help. In the aftermath of divorce we can become more fiercely independent, determined to show the world that we can do it all and that we don’t need anybody by our side to help us to achieve our goals. But that’s rubbish. Nothing of note is achieved single-handedly and we all need help sometimes. Again, I’ve been very fortunate – I have parents that help hugely with looking after my children when work commitments require me to be away from home. Even then I am conscious of losing more time with my children. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be too proud to accept it when it’s offered – heart-attacks and burnout aren’t the most desirable entries onto anybody’s CV!
Pushing the boundaries
With the ever-advancing marvel of modern technology the opportunities for flexible working – both in terms of the hours we work and the location from which we work – have greatly expanded. But nothing of worth ever comes without a cost, and in this case it is the blurring of the boundaries between being at work and being at home. In an age where we are ever contactable it’s important to set and protect boundaries around ourselves and our families, particularly as a single parent. I work with volunteers and as such my work involves evening and weekend work. But, just as I am not expected to be interrupted by demands from my children to play when I’m at work, nor should I feel compelled to answer emails and phone calls when I am looking after my children.
It’s all about priorities
Isn’t it always? The clearer we are about what’s most important to us, to our employers, and to our families, the easier it will be for us to balance our competing priorities. Take time to consider where your priorities lie and allocate your time and effort accordingly. And don’t forget to take time just for you – to recharge and recover from the demands of clients, customers and children. As any professional athlete will tell you, the recovery is as important as the training.
Sometimes you just can’t do right for doing wrong. From single parent bashing media to well meaning colleagues and friends, people can be quick to offer advice and lectures on what is best for your kids, even if they haven’t walked a single step in your single parent shoes. Stay at home to look after your children and you’re sponging off the state and not contributing to the almighty economy, go to work and your children will soon belong to the herd of feral youth roaming the streets at night, or zombies unable to communicate through any medium other than their XBox. Ignore the single parent bashing – you’re not to blame for all of society’s ills. Do what works for you and your children and be the example that you want them to follow.
What are your tips for a single parent managing the demands of a busy job?
A Design For Life – Manic Street Preachers