Do you think of yourself as a leader?

Perhaps the question brings to mind your role at work or at church, or perhaps you jump to compare yourself to someone else. If you are a parent, then the answer is a resounding yes regardless of your roles outside the home – and we want to equip you. The past year has been hugely challenging for everybody – but today we are focussing on the experience of families. With schools on the brink of reopening and “normal life” re-booting, we are reflecting on how principles of good leadership can help our families to flourish. We brought in our friends Claire and Sam to help us, and asked them a raft of questions. Keep reading to find out more.

Claire Goodman is an Executive Coach and Innovista trustee. Her lockdown pup, Boaz brings joy and chaos in equal measure.

Sam Moore is Director of Innovista Ireland. He took part in this conversation whilst listening to Colm’s class show-and-tell their favourite teddies.

Sam; Claire; what does family life look like for you right now?

Sam:

My wife Emily works for an inner-city children’s charity. We have two children – Colm (6) and Iris (4) – and live in a small terrace close to the centre of Dublin, with a yard at the back and some flowers at the front. Emily and I are both working from home, so we juggle who gets the study and who works at the table downstairs with the children. Or who stands in the kitchen on a work call because Colm is on a school Zoom.

Claire:

I live in Wokingham with my husband Benny, who works long days as an Operations Director at The John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford and has commuted all through lockdown. Our children (10, 8 and 6) keep us on our toes. I worked virtually prior to the pandemic so there hasn’t been a huge change for me there, although attempting to juggle work around homeschooling has been an interesting challenge. We moved out of London six years ago and love the trees and green space around us. We feel incredibly grateful for all the good things we have, and are more aware than ever of our responsibility to bless and be generous to those less fortunate.

As you look back over the last year, what are the good, bad and ugly bits that stand out?  

Claire:

Daily life has been stripped back and slowed down. With all the extra-curricular clubs, parties and activities, family life used to feel extremely busy and rushed. Not being allowed to do very much has made us grateful for the small things, and brought into sharp focus what is really important.

Having said that, it has been really difficult not to see family and good friends. There’s nothing better than the happy chaos of lots of people in the same house sharing good food and fun. We’ve really missed those meaningful connections and memory-making times with others.

We’ve also experienced grief this year and that has been the hardest of all. Last summer I lost my grandfather who I loved and admired hugely. It was a very strange funeral, not being able to sit huddled together or hug. We also tragically lost one of my daughter’s best friends back in October. The loss has shocked and saddened our whole school community, and the pandemic has made it so much harder to grieve and support one another when we can’t be together or hug. It has been a lot to process particularly for my daughter who is missing her dear friend and understandably wrestling with all sorts of huge questions around her faith and suffering.

Sam:

As a family we have really enjoyed lots of time together. Colm and Iris are best friends. We have loved watching them enjoy each other, their kindness and affection for each other, seeing their creativity in endless pictures and LEGO creations, and watching various skills develop (Colm making scrambled eggs for us being one highlight). We’ve also appreciated having less of the pressure of playdates and birthday parties and running ragged on activities. We’ve enjoyed lots more time outdoors, finding parks we didn’t know about, and going for walks with people when that’s been allowed.

There has also been a lot of difficulty. The children miss their friends, and really miss seeing their grandparents and family who mostly live over the border in Northern Ireland. On wet miserable days, all being in the house trying to juggle work, energetic children and schoolwork has been really hard. As an extrovert I have really missed friends and interaction with people.

Why do you think it’s been so hard for parents?  

Sam:

We’re juggling working, schooling and family life, together, at once, in the same space, with no division of home, work or school. You can’t fully focus on anything. Constantly shifting focus, and blurring the boundaries between home, family and work, is exhausting. One of the most difficult things (even for an extrovert) is simply finding space. And when the only space is in the evening when you’re already tired after dinner-and-stories-and-bedtime, you have to be adaptive and creative which takes yet more energy.

Claire:

This has been such a universal yet totally unique experience. Pressures on parents differ based on the make-up of their family, the nature of their work, the space they have and the support they have around them.

It has put a spotlight on family life and forced us all to confront how healthy our family dynamic is. We are spending so much time with one another with very few distractions or space apart. We are seeing the best and worst of each other. Although we have slowed down in terms of busy-ness, the days are still long and intense and require us to dig deep, testing our resilience, patience, selflessness, creativity and conflict resolution skills!

How do you think families might react once lockdown is over and life goes “back to normal”? 

Claire:

We have a long list of people to see and things we are excited to do! My youngest really wants to go to Diggerland!

However, we will have to see how we all react – including our children. It will be very tempting to fill up every weekend but we will have to be aware of how tiring that will suddenly feel.

In some ways I don’t want to go ‘back to normal’, but somehow adjust to a new normal taking into account everything we have learnt during the past 12 months. It would be a great tragedy if we didn’t take time to reflect on the lessons learnt and proactively build in changes to family life.

Sam:

I agree – I hope we don’t go “back to normal” because that assumes “normal” didn’t need changing. I think this pandemic has taught us a lot about values and priorities, and the foundations that shape our lives. Hopefully we will learn lessons like not having to constantly schedule entertainment and activities, and to prioritise presence. Having this conversation now has been really helpful. I imagine for most of us, taking time and space to reflect on family life gets edged out by tiredness and all the other demands of life. Our fear for family life after lockdown is that everyone might go mad and overcompensate, and undo so much of the good learning.

What does good leadership in the home look like – and how has it helped you over the past year?  

Sam:

In moments of pressure I’m not sure how well I’ve demonstrated good leadership! Having said that, there are loads of ways for parents to lead their homes and families well. Innovista has put together a resource for parents which we hope will be useful in your own family units.

Claire:

I have definitely not always successfully modelled good leadership either!

The most important thing has been to provide stability for the children, be present, keep life as normal as possible for them, and make them feel safe without sheltering them completely from what’s going on. We have tried to create space for them to express and work through their emotions – there have been lots! We have also been really honest with them about how unusual and hard this situation is, whilst also providing them with hope that things will be better again soon. We often do this around the kitchen table over good food, whether that’s Saturday morning pancakes or a Sunday roast. We try and listen to the things that are important to each of the children, the questions they have, and talk about what’s going on in the world around us and how our faith speaks into those things. Don’t get me wrong, this is not every meal time, but we try to make the most of the opportunities when they come up.

How can parents grow as leaders of their families? 

Claire:

Your children really do see the best and worst in you so leading by example has got to be key. Modelling your own walk with God and total reliance on His promises through the good and bad times is so important too. You have to get creative as different things will resonate with different children. We don’t always get it right so we also have to say sorry and ask for forgiveness constantly. We are not perfect, and neither are they, so this is an important discipline to teach them and model.

Sam:

This is a huge question and one we don’t reflect on enough. I agree with Claire – the power of example is enormous. Even when you get things wrong, demonstrating what healthy recovery and reconciliation looks like, and owning responsibility is massive.

I’d also say that instilling and reinforcing values is critical. This starts with being clear and agreeing what you value and how that gets lived out. Like Claire, one of our values is to eat meals together at the table and talk as a family. We also limit screen time, foster independence, and allow children to be ‘bored’ so they learn to amuse themselves, take responsibility and make their own decisions.

Thank you Claire and Sam for your honesty and for sharing your wisdom. Check out our resources for families – Reflection for parents and How to Lead Well – here to dig deeper into this conversation.