We start with a disclosure – not every workspace is suitable for children, and obviously what works for one parent may not work for another. We’re on a journey to find what works for us and our staff. Our trial guinea pig, Imelda, is a fiercely independent toddler, who is happy playing alone and usually loves meeting new people.
I have been sneaking Imelda into work for short bursts of time for a couple of months, trying to find that bridge between spending quality time together and also getting some work done. We’ve done ok so far, if little bits of admin need doing, I can get distracted to play the role of ‘’orange car” in the ongoing drama of ‘blue car likes to smash into orange car’ or Peppa Pig Jurassic Park in which Daddy Pig and family take a safari in their jeep and play with a brontosaurus.
CAGED Arts work really hard to build an atmosphere that’s supportive and welcoming to parents, we have a holiday policy that includes unlimited ‘wellbeing days’ –these can be taken for anything from parenting nightmare to period uncomfortableness, and are paid days of leave. We don’t have the world’s biggest office, and we work in quite a noisy building, so whilst we don’t have a crèche we do have a small selection of toys.
But I’ve been interested to see if I could cope and what would happen if I brought Imelda to meetings across the work day. This intrigue was brought about after a woman who came to a toddler group on work reasons, apologised for bringing her 2 year old son with her. She had nothing to apologise for, but I realised that whilst I was comfortable staying in the office, I rarely proclaimed that I took Imelda to work. So I decided to change this.
It was Friday morning, and after successfully packing two lunchboxes and navigating commuters on the bus, we arrive as unflustered as possible. We work in a building that’s usually quiet on Fridays, so I manage to sneak Imelda in unnoticed. For some reason, I feel like I’m being naughty and like I might be caught at any moment. And when I catch myself thinking this – I force myself to ask ‘what’s going to happen?’. Every time Imelda joins me at work, it feels like I’m doing something wrong, both as a parent and as a member of the workforce; like I’ve crossed streams that should never cross and suddenly I’m neither a good parent, nor a serious member of the workforce. But who I am hasn’t changed just because there is a small person clinging to my leg and singing about dinosaurs (she REALLY likes dinosaurs).
In short, nothing terrible happens. This, to be honest, is a blog post about nothing terrible happening. Our office, when it’s quiet, can be a space that is warm, inviting and safe – whilst still being a productive workspace. It’s a perfectly child friendly environment. There are no comments, when I take Imelda to meetings in the afternoon, and I am very careful not to apologise for her being there. She is not there by fault, she is a part of my day be design.
The only part of my day I find myself apologising for is when *someone* starts screaming, because she can’t play with someone’s shredder. Or when, later on in the afternoon I notice it’s suddenly very quiet, and Imelda has pulled dozens of paper folders out of the bookshelf and I have no idea which shelf from or the order they go in.
But all in all, nothing happens. I am not immediately disgraced as a failure for taking a child to work. Nobody shouts at me in a meeting, not even people who don’t like children. It’s clear that this is not the answer to rising childcare costs, or any long term solution, but it’s important occasional solution – knowing that the option is there. There’s a huge disparity between being a parent and being a member of the workforce, and it’s important to create a culture that says ‘hey, if you need it, bring your children to work. Bring them to the office, take them to meetings. We have your back, and a Ninky Nonk.’