It’s my first day back after a fabulously, mind-blowing family holiday in Japan – Tokyo and Kyoto. I am a mum of 4 in a blended family – I am step mum to Martha (25) and Flora (23) and ‘birth’ mum of Kaela (14) and Lyra (11).
The trip to Japan is one of the many bonuses that arise out of this blended family – Martha and her boyfriend George are living in Australia and we couldn’t afford the time or money to visit them but as luck and serendipity (and some clever scheduling) would have it, five out of our family of six were able to reunite in Tokyo at Easter just in time for cherry blossoms. Sadly Flora couldn’t join us – a hazard of growing up – not being able to take the time off work or afford it.
While I was away I reflected on our family journey and my professional life. I have written untold blogs and speeches about how important it is to support working parents, what the difficulties we face are and how our productivity and contribution can, and should be, maximised. In fact, this week sees a King’s Parent and Carer’s Network Ideas lunch come into fruition. You can also find out more about how King’s supports working parents through our Pregnancy & Maternity Toolkit.
Those pieces whilst true, necessary and relevant can often make it seem like parenting is nothing but a chore. However, I want to also reflect on how brilliant being a working parent can be too. Practically, there is no way I could afford a family holiday in Japan if my partner and I hadn’t had successful careers. I know, in many ways, we are privileged and in part this is thanks to employers, such as the Civil Service that had good maternity and flexible working policies, so we were able to develop our careers and be parents.
I used to see family holidays as hard work; planning, preparing, packing and paying for six people ground me down and took the fun out of the trip itself, but I’m glad we persevered as time has gone, children have grown and the whole dynamic has changed.
Japan was like a sci-fi movie, where someone travels in time and returns to where they started – everything is familiar yet distinctly different and generally somehow incomprehensible. Tokyo is vast, endlessly frenetic and makes next to no accommodation for tourists. In that truly foreign environment I found it really lovely having time off with our children. The challenge and adventure we faced together was great fun. Watching each of us negotiate each new surprise, supporting each other through the tribulations of the Tokyo subway or the surprises of Japanese food (like ‘cod organs’ – an indescribable culinary experience) was really uplifting.
I love watching how each of the people I have had a hand in bringing up see and experience the world. Observing what is important to them, what causes them to pause with excitement or fear alongside the sometimes deeply intellectual and simultaneously hilarious discussions we had every day was such a pleasure. We covered all sorts, feminism, puns, Harry Potter, racism, Hello Kitty, gender identity, puns, Disney, politics, The Princess Diaries, world history, sexual orientation, is water wet, gendered violence, UK football, family dynamics and puns to give just a sprinkling of topics. I haven’t felt so relaxed or laughed so much in ages.
Life as a working parent can be hard with the constant juggling and feeling like you are not doing anything properly, or to anyone’s satisfaction, but overall I am glad to have taken this path and how great my family is. So next time I feel the working stress monster I am going to have this blog to look back on and remind me that life can be brilliant too.