This blog first featured in Cityparents – which provides support, information and advice to individuals and businesses on topics including career progression, work/life balance, wellbeing at work, and creating flexible and inclusive workplaces.
It wasn't quite a New Year's resolution as I don't tend to go in for those (why not try to tweak things as you go along?). But I had thought to myself that I should try and be useful this year, and make the most of working four days a week. So I was ready-ish when the opportunity came – an empty slot on our younger son's book change rota at school on my non-working day! I'm now one of the proud team changing the class reading books after the weekend, giving the kids the next instalment of Biff, Chip and Kipper's endless escapades.
Nevertheless, I hesitated before taking the plunge. Part of me wanted to keep my non-working day as clear as possible – not a bad thought as time is always short, but the commitment was only about 20 minutes or so. Then I realised that a part of me, to my shame, questioned whether book change was something that a dad should do. Isn't that what all the mums do at school? My embarrassment at thinking that way quickly resolved any doubts, and I signed up for the rota.
I was the only dad there on Monday morning, so I felt a bit apprehensive. I also felt nervous about doing something new, with a crack team of experts who were well-established. Turning up at school and signing in for my visitor's pass, I felt a bit like I was going for a job interview. Would they like me? Would I be up to the grade? My job involves analysing and advising on hundreds of documents, but I felt less confident picking out the right book for 30 children from an array of over-stuffed cupboards, complete with labelling system that was almost as complex as some litigation rules. Still, everyone was lovely, and helped me get to grips with the new task. It felt good to be giving something back, when our sons have benefitted so much from regular changes to their reading books over the years.
I also reflected on my own attitude, and thinking of helping at school as "mum work". Still some way to go! But in my defence, it's part of a wider issue about the changing roles of men and women in society. Compared to our parents' generation, the change in who does what at home and at work can be enormous.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is that this asks us a fundamental question – what do we value? Is it work, career and money, so we feel unsuccessful when those things are taken away? I think I need to take a wider view of what is valuable, although that may well conflict with the culture around me.