The holidays are upon us and for some parents that means a tricky few weeks of juggling kids who are on break from school with the last weeks of the working year.
While many manage the gap by having their kids in holiday programs or daycare, it’s also common for the occasional child or teenager to sneak into the office with an iPad and headphones at the ready while Mum or Dad madly try to get a few hours of work done.
I have no issue with a quiet, school-aged child sitting in a corner and entertaining themselves while their parent works. I also was that kid on a few occasions in my childhood. I remember how proud my parents were when they introduced us to their colleagues and how much fun we had with highlighters and printing paper, sitting on the floor behind a desk and keeping ourselves occupied.
Of course, bringing kids to the office should ideally be a last resort.
I’ve worked in environments where we actively promoted flexibility in the workplace. This meant parents accessing carer’s leave and annual leave as needed and occasionally working from home so they could supervise their children while also getting their work done.
It’s my belief that parents are more than capable of working from home when their kids are present (although I concede that younger children may be harder to manage while working). I’ve seen the resolute focus and multitasking capacity of parents firsthand, and I honestly think many have a better capacity to concentrate while keeping an ear out for their kids than I do while avoiding the lure of TikTok.
But there are some cases where working from home isn’t an option, and so parents tow their kids into the office for a few hours here or there, so they can access the resources they need or attend a few meetings.
Given these are usually rare or one-off appearances of kids at work, I’m on the side of tolerating the minor disruptions they might pose to co-workers to make life a little easier for working mums and dads.
I may be in the minority, though.
A friend vented to me about the sheer number of children in her open-plan workplace this week. There have been kids literally running down corridors, making noise and interrupting work to the degree that she’s losing her patience.
Another friend complained about a co-worker who brings her younger child into the office but then casually delegates to her to ‘watch’ the child while she attends a meeting – babysitting is not part of my friend’s job description, but she doesn’t know how to say no without it being awkward.
Maybe I’ve only been exposed to well-behaved kids and considerate parents on the occasions when my peers have brought their kids into the office, but I was really surprised by these stories. And they do point to the issue of how swiftly having kids at work can deteriorate working relationships if people aren’t mindful of the impact on others.
I’m not a parent, but I empathise with the challenges of finding care for children over holidays, especially at this time of the year. What’s the middle ground here? Should workplaces perhaps actively try and provide an on-site option for kids when parents have no option but to bring them to work? Or do parents just need to plan better and take leave to manage the holidays?