Planning for parenthood
Qualitative researchers need a diploma in juggling when it comes to combining kids, career and childcare. We take a sounding on members" experiences.
Parenthood, no matter how planned, always comes as a bit of a shock — particularly when it's time to start work again. Earlier this year Lucie Wernicke decided to trawl fellow independents to discover how they juggled family/work/life in general, and whether the world of qualitative research treated parents any better than other career choices.
Replies to her queries built up a picture of mothers (and fathers) who would give a whirling dervish a run for his money. They need to be glass-half-full type of people, capable of focusing when the kids are asleep, with supportive partners (and networks), and who don't flap in a crisis.
Ah, crises. More than one mention of these, they range from a son who stapled his finger while his mum was on the phone to a client, the same mum who headed off to groups while her husband, unbeknown to her, was not on his way home to relieve the nanny (also in the dark, and holding the fort until 10pm that night) but off to A&E with a sporting injury, or a child mouthing, in tears, "mummy, please come", outside the office door — again during a client call.
These might be no different to the type of crises that occur in other professions. I remember jamming my office door shut while interviewing the marketing director of IBM on the phone, with two toddlers screaming on the other side. A Civil Servant colleague, meanwhile, recalls making a recorded radio interview with seconds to spare because her son's school bus was delayed.
But back to qual. Just how family friendly it is probably depends a lot on the type of work, and the environment. If you work in an agency, said one mum, they tend to be pretty family friendly and recognise that people do more hours than they're paid for so don't make a fuss if you need to leave early for parents" evening.
And if this is a full-time post, there are side benefits: being able to put childcare in place, good pay and career progression — even if you never get to see the kids enough. Part-time? The benefits should be the same but clients are less likely to accept part-time workers, who end up feeling pulled from all sides.
If you're in charge of your own destiny as a business owner with staff, you can reap the benefits of good pay and intellectual stimulation. That is, if you survive the stress levels involved of not being able to switch off. And for those one man bands, there are similar benefits although a childcare safety net is harder to organise (feast or famine) while it's tough simultaneously generating business. In fact, one company was set up as its directors wanted control over diaries and destinies, and a place kids could come after school.
One dad appreciated that he was able to attend a lot of school events with his girls that he wouldn't have been able to justify had he not been working evenings as well as days. Yes, he added, it wasn't always good to miss a lot of bath-times and bedtime stories, but he wasn't out every night and, let's face it, in qual you can make decent money if you're any good at it.
So, points for the future. Life as a quali parent is good, but it could be better. For those working full time, compressed hours might be seen as an option, as would more flexibility and job shares. In an ideal world set hours, the ability to walk to work, and reduced nursery fees would be good, too. But that's just not going to pan out in this particular area of research — or is it?
We'd be interested in your thoughts on what the industry should aspire to for parents so, if you would like to join the debate, please email the editor on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, June 2012
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2012