Parents at AO

TWO CAVEATS TO THIS POST! 

  1. Mums. You rock. Any and all complaints or challenges I perceive as a dad are absolutely nothing compared to what you face. I mean, you grew another human inside of you and/or spent MONTHS of your life nurturing a new born. 
  1. I’m a “back-office worker” e.g. I’m not customer-facing or assigned to a specific shift-rota. A lot of the points in this article are more relevant to others in a similar role to me because that’s just my experience. I fully recognise the different set of challenges faced for those in fulfilment, CEx or recycling roles.  

Hi. I’m Ali. At AO, I’m a portfolio manager at AO Tech. At home, my sole reason for existence apparently is to be at the beck and call of two children who think they run the place… I’m married to Hannah. On a good day, our kids are known as Isla and Fraser. On a bad day, they’re known as several very not-safe-for-work names… 

Fraser often looks like he sees dead people, as evidenced in this pic… 

Isla had just turned one and Hannah had been back at work for a week after mat leave when lockdown arrived back in 2020. We opted to work “shifts” to help share the childcare and juggle work. I’d work 6am to 2pm, whilst Han would work 10am through to 6pm. If Isla played ball, she’d have a two-hour nap over lunchtime, which meant we’d only have an hour or two of juggling work and her (sometimes literally).  

It was definitely tough at first, but I think a lot of that was eased somewhat by the fact the whole world was in the same boat. All we had to do with Isla was keep her entertained and/or stop her chewing through electrical cables. This is a child who could play with an empty Amazon delivery box for hours… She had no understanding of what was happening and was just delighted to spend time with us. Some days were tougher than others – if I felt a burst of creativity later in the afternoon, I couldn’t action it. Or if a significant call was taking place after my ‘shit’ had ended, I’d either miss it or try and join with Isla in the background. Looking back at that first lockdown, I was (and still am) in awe of parents who had more than one kid and/or any kids of school age. A whole load of parents at AO had to repeat what we did, but with added home-schooling and much greater awareness from their children of the crappiness of lockdown: I genuinely have nothing but respect for you getting through that alive. 

Fraser rocked up in August 2020. That changed the game significantly, and the effects of lockdown were much more pronounced with him. I wasn’t allowed into the 20-week scan, and for his birth (a planned c-section) I was only allowed into the hospital 10 mins before the section, the duration of the section, and 30 minutes after the section. I then didn’t see him or Hannah for 24 hours before they were discharged. 

After my paternity ended, it really hit home that the days of “I’ll look after the child [singular], you have a rest” were gone. Hannah needed a lot of time to recover from the section so the return to work was certainly a lot more tiring than the first time around as we coped with general newborn fun and an 18-month-old who was fast finding her independence. We eventually settled into a new shift pattern during Hannah’s mat leave, where she would do the nights, and I’d be up and ready to take over at 6am. I’d have the kids and do a nursery run with Isla till about 8:30am when I’d start work. This afforded Hannah some much-needed shut-eye whilst I quickly learned how to prep breakfast for two under two while the aforementioned two were destroying whichever room they were in. 

Throughout lockdown, I’ve always obsessed over making sure work came first – being available for the right meetings, working my full hours in as few undisrupted blocks as possible. But once I established a routine around that, I’ve then leveraged all these extra benefits for the family simply by way of not having to be in the office. Extra time for lego vs. staring at a sea of brake lights on the drive home. 5 minutes here and there to get after those tedious chores that would otherwise be a key part of the weekend (yeah, I’m looking at you, ironing). Enjoying lunch together with Hannah. It’s a lot of lovely stuff. 

At such a fundamental time of the kids’ lives when they’re learning and taking in so much, and when they can be the hardest to look after, being around them so much more is something I’ll always feel grateful for. Equally, I’m grateful to AO Tech for enabling the flexibility in the first place – for me personally in our department, we’ve remained outcome-focused rather than trying to prescribe a schedule.  

But as a parent, that remote or hybrid working flexibility isn’t infinite. Our two need to eat around 5pm or else they turn into hangry gremlins. Fraser’s nighttime sleep is wildly inconsistent: he can sleep through to 7am some nights, whilst other nights he thinks sleeping’s for losers and can wake four times. 6-7pm is very much reserved for bath time and bedtime (and as Isla gets closer to three years old aka the most independent female ever, this is increasingly the singularly most stressful part of my day). Collectively this means there are days when I still operate (and look like) an extra from The Walking Dead. I can’t attend meetings after 5pm without a decent bit of notice (and subsequent haggling with Hannah).  

All told, since becoming a parent I’ve harboured a real fear that my career would slow down or plateau because of this reduction in flexibility. At times this has been a powerful motivator for me to adapt, and at others, I’ve been awake at night worrying endlessly about stuff. I say this knowing my situation is far from complicated in comparison to those who spend months away from work on parental leave, those whose children have ongoing medical treatments, or those who have tricky family situations where they may be shouldering any number of other burdens often invisible to us at work.  

To counteract these personal fears, and to embrace the best of things I’ve learned since becoming a parent, I’m making these principles central to what I do: 

  1. Be present. This applies to work and family life. How many times do you have a billion apps open on your laptop at one time? Plus a further 15 million Whatsapp or Instagram notifications screaming for your attention? Multi-tasking plus these distractions just slows me down. So now, no checking messages or emails during Teams calls. I do one task at a time instead of multi-tasking on five things. Outside of work, I’m resolute about not checking work stuff when I’m with the kids. 
  1. Be curious. I can’t believe just how fascinated kids are in the world around them. Their curiosity is equal parts amazing and at times infuriating (“please, for the love of god, stop touching the oven”), and applies both to skills as much as it does their emotions. I’ll be the first person to roll off a list of when the kids have been utter douche bags – but the important thing to recognise is each moment of douche-ness is an opportunity to understand the situation from their perspective, and what you as an adult can do to help them. If as adults we all possessed that same desire to be open minded and fascinated in what we do and who we work with, we’d stand to learn so much more about our world and the people around us.  
  1. Communicate. You’ve got to make sure your comms are on their A-game when you’re not in the office full time – particularly written comms. Everything from the basics of letting your colleagues know where you are/how to reach you, the purpose, and agenda for any meeting you’re setting up, through to hitting send on an email to OpCo (with the mandatory “oh man, this will be the email that gets me fired” thoughts that come to mind whenever you’re emailing the big dogs…). This is something everyone needs to invest time and effort into and is something I know I’m a long way off considering myself good at. There’s a tonne of thought-provoking resource out there in the big wide web but let me direct you to this tweet to help start that journey for you).  
Ironically, the post with advice about writing doesn’t have question marks at the end of the questions… 

If you got this far, thanks for reading. I’d love to connect with other dads, mums or carers of kids of a similar-ish age to exchange war stories and learn about your experiences. Equally, if anyone’s ever awake at 5am and wants to talk, I’m 93% certain I’ll also be awake… #PleaseSendCoffee