By Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC
Do you remember the “BBC Dad,” Robert Kelly reporting from home on international relations in a live interview when his toddler came marching in behind him playing an imaginary instrument and his younger child came cruising through the door in their walker? Then, Kim Jung-A, his spouse, came swooping in trying to corral the kids and get them out of the room (if you haven’t seen it, Google it. It still makes me laugh.). This video went viral in 2017 and had a resurgence during COVID when many people found themselves working from home with their children at home as well. Why did it go viral in 2017 and again in 2020? Because so many of us could relate.
In the past 14 months, we have come to learn so much more about who our colleagues are and what their life is like outside of work. We have seen parents and caregivers working at home with children at home. We have discovered those who are navigating elder care issues or are caring for a spouse or adult child who may be disabled. We have come to respect and appreciate our children’s teachers so much more after trying to explain math to a third grader or practicing Spanish language vocabulary with our high schooler. We idolize pre-school educators’ ability to stay calm with a room full of toddlers, when we can barely remember which child NEEDS to have goldfish with their lunch or a tantrum will occur.
We have pulled back the curtain on our colleagues, leaders, and co-workers lives. I have talked to professors who have had to create learning pods, hire nannies, or provide more screen time than ever before so that they could teach their class of college students without a baby or toddler on their lap. We have stretched our finite energy so thin that it resembles thread which is starting to unravel.
We have seen it firsthand. We have heard about it. We have shared experience with different challenges to navigate. We never know what other things people are navigating, there are the things we don't talk about at work. This year we learned to form connections while physically distanced. We have learned that caregiving affects women and women of color disproportionately more than others. We have practiced flexibility because of it.
But, what have we learned?
- Have we learned to value caregiving?
- Have we strengthening our emotional intelligence, resiliency and practiced empathy during this time? Those skills are also helpful as we continue to build toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- When we re-emerge into the next normal, will we remember what is most important?
- Will what we learned continue to be valued?
- How will we show that we value human relationships, family, and the fact that not all of us have the same work-life demands?
- Will we remember how flexibility and telework allowed us to continue to get our work done?
These are the questions that will guide us into the next normal. My hope is that we have learned that even the most studious and committed among us have priorities and demands on us beyond our work at MSU. The good news is that caregiving provides some valuable skills that benefit us all in the workforce. When we utilize these skills and value our employees for their whole selves, we create a community that thrives.
Next month, I will cover how caregiving skills add value to the workplace.