“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
As the mother of a two year old son and an editor working in scripted television, I’ve had a front row seat to the life of a post-production professional both in the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic worlds.
Pre-pandemic I was working a “normal” 50-60 hour week with an hour long commute each way, seeing my son for an hour in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening before he went to bed—if I was lucky. I definitely went a couple days without seeing him if I was asked to come in early and stay late.
To truly illustrate the intensity with which I approach my work, and the level of care I want for my son, I present the following example of my pre-pandemic working life:
I was scheduled to start a director’s cut the same week my husband had to go out of town for a conference at the very last minute. I had never worked with this director before so I didn’t know how deep into the footage she wanted to go. To prepare for the worst case scenario I actually had my mom fly in from Chicago to help with after-work childcare with less than a week’s notice. This cut turned out to be the most intense, time consuming cut I had ever done. My mom was a godsend that week, and I couldn’t believe we pulled it off!
That was the life I had accepted as a working editor. I’m sure many of you have gone to extreme lengths to get the job done and make sure your kids were taken care of. And you managed to pull it off by some miracle that you doubt you’ll ever be able to repeat…except you do. And each time we wipe our brow and say, “well I’m glad that’s over, I’m sure it’ll all get better tomorrow!” But it never gets better…another week goes by and another miracle is expected until you’re 150 miracles deep for the year and you’re all tapped out.
Then a pandemic hits…
Parenting in a Post-Pandemic World
If you’re not working right now and being a “stay-at-home” parent is your full time job—good luck! Kids are amazing….and exhausting. Figuring out what to do with my son after we’ve taken our 657th walk around the neighborhood has started to feel like an insurmountable challenge. I’ve had to stretch every creative muscle in my brain until it physically hurt in order to come up with new ideas that would keep him busy during the day.
For those of you who are still working while also taking care of children, I’ve been there too. I’ve put my son in front of the TV for an hour or so just so I could finish some last minute notes. I’ve also brought his high chair into my office and let him eat lunch while I swapped out music.
We’re all trying our best under extremely stressful circumstances. While I may not be a parenting expert, I’ve experienced both the working parent side of things and the non-working parent side of things. And I’ve done a whole heck of a lot of soul searching and research to wrap my head around both.
When we look at our 2020 lifestyles it may seem like it’s impossible to find a good balance between keeping our kids happy and engaged while also getting our work done in a timely manner. I’m guessing that at some point, all of us will want to be working again. But what happens when we find ourselves in a situation where work starts and schools are still closed and/or daycares seem too dangerous?
As post-production professionals, we were already stretched thin. Forget about the straw breaking the camel’s back—adding childcare to the mix is like the 500 lb boulder that came along and smashed that poor camel to bits.
If we begin to look at this COVID-19 “cluster-mess” as an opportunity to change a system that wasn’t really working in the first place, we can start to rebuild that system so it actually works for working parents. The amount of footage will most likely not change. Our children will still need to be cared for, but instead of thinking each one needs to be shoehorned into our schedule, it is possible to approach our day in such a way that our work is more meaningful and our parenting is more effective.
It comes down to being present and setting boundaries for both our jobs and our kids. It is achievable, but it’s going to take some restructuring and a perception shift to make it work (something editors know a thing or two about).
A Shift in Our Role as Parents
Right now my go-to parenting podcast is called Unruffled hosted by Janet Lansbury. Her methods are all about setting boundaries and structure for your child while respecting them as a whole person. These methods also give parents the liberty and freedom to let their children explore their environment and their emotions on their own terms (i.e. without us).
As parents, our job is to keep our children safe and give them the confidence to continue exploring this world even after they’ve left our homes and our care. We are not responsible for keeping them happy and fulfilled every second of every waking hour—that’s way too much pressure and, frankly, not a realistic way to teach them about the world. In other words, “helicopter parenting” is completely unnecessary and a waste of everyone’s time and mental capacity.
Children are amazing little creatures capable of independent play and learning. They don’t need us as much as we think they do.
Remember the days of playing outside with the neighborhood kids while our parents watched (or didn’t) from afar not really interfering with our business? We were free to solve our own conflicts, find our own methods of play and perform our own experiments—much to the dismay of a few hundred lightening bugs, ants and rolly-pollies. (Sorry little guys)
The point is: we had freedom when we were kids and our parents were able to benefit from that freedom. That’s a win-win for everyone!
In our current situation we may not be able to let our children play with the neighborhood kids, but we can begin to loosen our grip on their day-to-day. They don’t need us to be walking-talking entertainment, teaching and caregiving machines.
What they want is QUALITY time with mom and/or dad. And it doesn’t take much to achieve this. Our children don’t need us to physically be around them for 6 hours if every 2-5 minutes we’re busy checking emails, cuts, or ASAP texts. Honestly, would you want to be around someone like that for an extended period of time?
No! You would leave and go hang out with someone else who valued you and your time.
Our kids want us to be present for a few minutes to show us their new trick, tell us about how cool their new scooter is, or frankly just be heard. If your kids are younger (like my son), they may want you to read a story or help them build a tower of blocks. Whatever is age-appropriate for your child, giving them freedom to explore their world and enough love and respect to listen to them share those discoveries is what will make all the difference in your relationship with them.
Making It Happen
In a great episode of Unruffled, Janet walks one parent through the exact situation post-production professionals are continually finding themselves in—how to structure their day when they are working full time (or more). Her suggestions are wonderfully reassuring and attainable.
For parents with children who are old enough to be left to their own devices, Janet outlines a few ways to keep them occupied while you go about your workday:
- First, make it clear that when mommy or daddy are in their office with the door closed it means they are working and should not be disturbed.
- Give them a few activities or ideas to help keep them busy and be creative.
- Start with short periods of time and then extend those periods as the days progress. Children are resilient and can handle this as long as you stick to your guns and are confident in the boundary you set.
- TAKE YOUR LUNCH BREAK and spend that 30 minutes (or an hour) with your kids asking what they built or discovered or learned – without a phone, an iPad, or a laptop in front of you.
If your kids are too young for this sort of freedom and responsibility then you probably need to work out a schedule with your partner or possibly get help from a family member or caretaker. Even though children can show us wonderful things when given the freedom to be independent, you just can’t trust an 18-month-old not to find something to hurt themselves with.
What If My Boss Doesn’t Give Me This Time With My Kids?
The other, sometimes more complicated piece of the puzzle: How do we get our employers to comply with our newfound freedom to spend these chunks of uninterrupted time with our kids?
We start saying “no”.
No to working through lunch.
No to being tethered to our phones 24/7.
No to working on notes at all hours of the night because our system is “right there”.
No to impossible schedules that were not designed for editors (and those assisting editors) to do their best work, but were designed to make pretty spreadsheets for producers/studios.
We need a real “new normal,” and our new normal needs to account for humans and not just dollars. We cannot be expected to meet the same pre-pandemic deadlines and work the same pre-pandemic hours in the post-pandemic world. We have lives and we have people in our lives who need us. Do not let your employer convince you that you 🎶 ‘owe your soul to the company store’. 🎶
We need to set boundaries and advocate for ourselves. And if advocating for yourself isn’t what motivates you, then think of it as advocating for your children. Studios, producers, directors, presidents of companies have no problem asking us for an additional 4 hours of work at 5:30pm right before they get to go home to their families—why should we have a problem saying no so that we can go home to our families? Of course there are always exceptions. Sometimes we have a hard deadline because an air date is coming or we are working in live TV, but we don’t need to live out every single day as if the sky will fall if a round of studio notes doesn’t get done by 10am the next morning.
This has to stop!
And it stops by us telling producers upfront that their schedule doesn’t work and subsequently saying no we cannot finish that amount of work in this truncated amount of time. Whatever the situation, we need to start setting these boundaries. Just like we tell our kids they need to stay away when our door is closed, we need to tell our employers that, at some point, we are closed for business.
Redefining Work/Life Balance
We will never be able to give half of our day to work and half of our day to our kids. That’s not how work/life balance works. Work/Life balance is finding a way to balance your internal scale so that you feel fulfilled in your relationships to both work and family/personal life. A more accurate way to define this concept is work/life presence.
You need to make your boss happy because you like your job and you have to put food on the table.
You also need a healthy relationship with your children because you love them.
Right now these parts of our lives are working against each other.
When work resumes let’s create a world where they can complement one another. “I’m a better editor because I’m a mother” instead of “I’m a good editor despite being a mother.”
We’ve been given an opportunity to both restructure how post-production operates and spend more time with the ones we love. Let’s make the most of it by cultivating a more fulfilling and worthwhile life. With a little bit of conviction, presence, and intention during our day, we can begin this process.
The life we had before COVID-19 will NOT be the answer. Why do we need to go back to rushing through our mornings with our kids, not seeing them enough during the week, and not being able to give them our full attention on weekends? The guilt we all felt during our pre-pandemic lives was real. It was there because we felt like we owed even more of ourselves to work and/or family when we had nothing left to give. Let’s not go back to that. Let’s take this opportunity to change our world AND our attitude.
Let’s find a different way forward.