There are a few practically universal ‘aha‘ moments in the realm of parenting. The first is perhaps the most shocking and often happens around the time you leave hospital and take full delivery of a newborn.
“What do you mean we’re responsible for keeping this tiny little bundle fed, settled and ALIVE???? Why isn’t someone QUALIFIED coming home with us???? HELP!!!”
This is usually followed by an equally daunting realisation.
“This is a fully 24/7 proposition. No weekends. No breaks. No annual leave. NO SLEEP!! I WILL NEVER EVER COMPLAIN ABOUT WORK EVER AGAIN!!”
From there things settle down and the revelations vary depending on the temperament of your infant and their willingness to feed and sleep. Ideally, at some point upon emerging from the newborn cocoon, the aha moment will be tinged with relief.
“You’ve got this! You can do it. You will sleep again. You will eat again. You will return to a version of life that is familiar.”
Around the point when both parents (if there are two) return to work outside the home and the need for outside care arises we reach common ground again.
“Sorry, childcare costs WHAT each day??? How on earth does anyone afford this???”
Soon enough the shock of the costs subsides and is replaced by the sheer astonishment of what a logistical feat it is to get a child fed, dressed and out the door in time for an adult to also arrive fed and dressed to their place of work.
And, then in reverse at the end of the day. And then repeat several times a week. It’s a cliché but the realisation is universal.
“THIS is why they call it the juggle.”
“My gosh isn’t it LOVELY to be in the company of adults, be able to drink a coffee or tea while it’s still hot and go to the bathroom ALONE.”
At this point the aha moments vary depending on your child, your childcare, your family plans, your workplace, your role and your life.
Some parents will decide the juggle is impossible because without flexibility and support the juggle is impossible. Some will persevere out of necessity and others out of passion and ambition. Other babies might arrive at which point the aha moment is usually a version of this.
“Give me a newborn any day. It’s the task of toddler-wrangling that is truly herculean.”
For parents who stay engaged in work outside the home one of the next universal aha moment happens when it’s time for their first child to begin school. In this regard having used childcare provides something of a false sense of security because long daycare hours vary between 7am and 6pm. The school day? Blink and you miss it.
“How does anyone get their work done between 9am and 3pm???”
It’s the question working parents of school children can’t help but ask. Followed by another pressing dilemma.
“How do you make 4 weeks of annual leave cover 12 weeks of school holidays?”
They are valid challenges that have a genuine impact on how any parent manages the rest of their life, particularly their career.
The commitment of school isn’t just limited to dropping off and picking up. There are information nights, assemblies to attend, excursion to remember, readers and homework, activities, the start of friendship highs and lows. All of these things matter and all of them require an investment of time, energy and emotion.
Time, as we all know, is a finite resource. There is only so much any one person can do in a day.
If managing the school load isn’t shared between parents, and if employers and workplaces aren’t accommodating, it is not difficult to see why school becomes the point where the ‘juggle’ is too much of a struggle.