Working from home when your wife is an essential worker

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OMD's Ben Aves reflects on living with his wife, a palliative care specialist.

“And what do you do Ben?”

One of those harmless questions you’ll encounter at a wedding or other social function. Except for me, it’s nearly always been preceded by increasingly emotional nodding and wonder.

Such is the life of someone married to a doctor; and not just any doctor – a palliative care specialist.

My typical jokey response (because by this point, most people really don’t know how to react, so any attempt to lighten the mood always goes down well) will be that I don’t save lives, but neither does my wife either.

And that’s how life has been for me for the last decade or so.

I am immensely proud of what my wife does as a job. I’m fortunate enough to have seen her progress from a house officer, terrified at the prospect of giving out the wrong medical advice to a consultant expected to be running the show.

And I’ve seen her gravitate to her specialism, palliative care and the central question at its core – that of what makes a ‘good’ death?

And, as a result it’s given me bucketloads of perspective.

Then the world tipped upside a few months ago.

And now something else has happened, I’ve become a stay at home, working Dad because my wife is one of those essential workers you hear about in the news.

One of those people you clapped for.

So, I’ve been worrying a lot about my wife.

Worrying about how to do my job with a four year-old boy running amok in our house.

Worrying about how to give considered communications planning advice, whilst all this is going on.

Like everyone, lots of worry.

But also learning.

Learning that I can only do one hour and 42 minutes of a two hour meeting because that’s the runtime of Cars 2.

Learning that Cars 2 really did keep his attention that whole time, Cars 3 not such much – turns out the reviews were right.

Learning that the day needs to be rigorously structured around snack-time.

Learning that I’m in serious trouble if the snack doesn’t meet expectations.

Learning that clients don’t mind if the meeting gets interrupted by pleas to come and play hide and seek.

Learning that hide and seek essentially means hiding under the same blanket repeatedly.

Like everyone, lots of learning about how to do this; but differently.

No split shifts, no negotiations over who covers who’s video call.

Just John and me.

Except it isn’t just us.

As an industry, supporting working parents seems to have taken up a lot airspace in recent years; as has the need to be more collaborative.

The last couple of months (and let’s face it, the next few months) have put those twin ambitions under severe pressure.

A pressure, from my experience, we seem to be bending to, not breaking under.

Children, previously the reason to have to leave ‘early’ or come in ‘late’ are now frequently seen and heard.

And that’s been totally ok.

In fact, colleagues and clients alike seem to welcome this little window into your life – making us all that little bit kinder and more empathetic along the way.

Judging by the conversations in our nursery WhatsApp group, it’s not every industry that’s this supportive.

Collaboration has flourished.

Having to work irregularly, because sometimes playing with Lego can’t wait, has made Teams a godsend.

Being able work on presentations together but apart, video calls and truly flexible working feels like just the beginning of the true age of collaboration in advertising.

So, there are positives to take from all this.

Time spent together, chiefly among them.

Time we’ll probably never have again as John will be starting school in September; hopefully.

Time reminding myself of the incredible creativity of small children.

Time to just play.

Time to dance around to music.

‘Everything’s not awesome’ is our favourite song at the minute. I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics:

“Everything's not awesome

But that doesn't mean that it's hopeless and bleak

Everything's not awesome

But in my heart, I believe (I believe)

We can make things better if we stick together

(If we stick together)

Side by side, you and I, we will build it together

(Yeah, build it together)

Build it together (together forever)”

You should really check out The Lego Movie 2. It’s really rather good (as is the first one and Lego Batman); and in my humble opinion far superior to Cars 2.

Ben Aves, executive director of strategy at OMD.

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