June 16, 2020

The latest piece in our series of responses to prompt cards from our resource Navigating with Kindness was written by social psychologist and People United associate Julie Van de Vyver.

 

The "Step in or step back" card which shows two green wellies with mud on, pictures here with a pair of women's metallic sandals, which are facing in opposite directions

 

Julie chose to respond to the card “Step in or step back?” (pictured above), along with the following prompts:

There are times when you need to decide whether to take a step away or to step in and give guidance or make changes. Much of what is normal and what’s been planned, has been turned upside down.

Have you needed to step back to get a better sense of perspective before deciding on a course of action – where did you look for advice, how did you show leadership? Did you decide to step back, or forward? Why?

Julie’s piece is a personal reflection on how being in lockdown has made her focus on the different aspects of herself, and on how to manage the competing demands on her time while being kind to herself…


 

Since the start of lockdown I have stepped in… and I have stepped back.

I am mum to a small wonderful and energetic four-year-old, and I work full-time as an academic. Under “normal” circumstances Flynn attends nursery full-time, and I work full-time. Now Flynn spends all his time at home, mostly saying “mummy, will you play with me?” To which I can’t bring myself to say “no, I need to work” or “no, I need to tidy up”. Covid-19 has changed not only adults’ lives, but suddenly and drastically changed children’s lives and routines. Their worlds have turned upside down. My mummy bear instincts are screaming to shelter him and ensure he is happy and safe. So the challenge I have faced (like so many other parents and care-givers) is – how do I step up with this aspect of my life, while also maintaining my income and my career.

A young boy wearing blue jeans, a blue t-shirt and yellow wellies lying on the sun-lit grass next to his painting of a rainbow.

The life of an academic is often likened to “spinning many plates at once, and trying not to drop one… or even all of them”. I imagine this applies to many jobs outside of academia too. At the start of lockdown I was overwhelmed – I did not know how to spend quality meaningful time with my child, while also keeping on top of my full-time job. It seemed (and honestly often still seems) impossible. When I mentioned this in a text to a colleague and friend in the early weeks of lockdown, she instantly rang me up. As well as offering a compassionate listening ear, she gave me some important advice: focus on the essential parts of the job – learn to say no – be kind to yourself – accept help. My mum, who I turn to often, offered the same advice. This advice has helped me navigate these past weeks and months. After some reflection I have figured out which of my “work plates” are most important- supporting my students and completing essential tasks. I have also finally gotten much better at saying “no”. Something I have been meaning to learn for a while now… I have become more efficient – I type emails much faster and I have become better at setting boundaries.

My stepping in has required little to no reflection – protecting my four-year-old – trying to make sure he is getting the connection and love he needs. I haven’t become a star baker, knitter, or painter, and I haven’t managed any house renovations, however I am enjoying and appreciating this precious family time. My stepping back from aspects of my work gradually evolved through receiving and reflecting on compassionate advice.

So… some quite automatic and instinctive stepping in and some quite slow and reflective stepping back.

Sending love to all. Take care. Be kind. To others. And to yourself.

  1. Such an important reminder Julie! The way work worked before all this was at breaking point I think. I learnt to say no to a deadline for the first time in my freelance life of many years! Imagine! And I’ve learnt this just a the moment my working life is going to change… interesting how change is also a catalyst…

    Maria

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