Working from home does not set a bad example to kids – it makes me a better parent

Charlie Mullins believes children will see their parents ‘sitting at home watching Netflix’ and think that’s ‘the norm’ – he couldn’t be more wrong

Victoria Richards
Tuesday 26 October 2021 10:45 BST
‘What Mullins fails to take into consideration are the benefits to children of having their parent (or parents) around more’
‘What Mullins fails to take into consideration are the benefits to children of having their parent (or parents) around more’ (PA)

Unless you’re a key worker who has had to be in at a hospital, supermarket, school or other workplace over the past 18 months, chances are you’ve gotten used to working from home.

I, for one, can’t forget the way it felt to be working during Covid-19 lockdown 1.0; trying to focus on my laptop screen while one of my children diligently stuck my feet down to the floor with electrical tape, and the other practised the recorder directly into my right ear. RIP, home schooling – gone (for now, at least) but never, ever forgotten.

Crucially, though, I wouldn’t change a thing – particularly not now the kids are back at school (though how long they’ll stay there is anyone’s guess, judging by the current Covid rates). Many of us, if we’re lucky, have still been able to retain some sense of flexible working, and long may it continue. My personal work schedule sees me in the office for two days, the rest at home. What does that mean? It means I am able to go in person to pick my kids up from school, three times a week – something I never managed to achieve before the pandemic.

But according to Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers (and Tina Knight, the chairperson of Women in Business) this is not a good thing. Why? Because, they say, you’re setting a bad example to your children.

“People that are working from home that can go to work is the equivalent of drawing benefits when you should be going to work,” Mullins told Jeremy Vine On 5 this week. “Of course it’s a bad thing for children to be home and just seeing their parents working from home – they’re not going to want to go into the workplace, they’re going to think that’s the norm; you don’t go into work, you sit at home, watch Netflix and do all your chores, and all that. The people who don’t need to work from home should go back in the workplace and get the economy going.”

Meanwhile, Knight – who was presented with the Women in Business Award by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1988 – told Good Morning Britain on Monday that she agrees with Mullins, and believes employees in Britain have a “sense of entitlement”.

“The problem is people don’t want to hear the truth, everything has to be sugar coated,” she said. “That has now set bad examples, you’ve got three generations of families now that have never gone to work, because it’s a mindset. [Mullins is] looking at that as the way things are going, the sense of entitlement of people nowadays is absolutely incredible.”

To me, the idea that anyone with a demanding or busy workload would have time to watch Netflix (some of us don’t even leave our desks for a five minute toilet break) is laughable. Tea and coffee, maybe; but we’ll be busy making calls or replying to emails while we do it. Because that’s the thing about working from home. That feeling of needing to be constantly “available” is potent and addictive – if anything, it’s working from home that can sometimes blur the boundaries between a healthy working day and the need to switch off.

But not according to Mullins, who said he didn’t allow anybody to work from home during the pandemic. “We are essential services anyway, but we didn’t allow it,” he said. “Whichever way you dress it up: the working from home situation is not fooling anybody. All the people who say it’s more beneficial and they get more done – no they don’t.”

Mullins also said that those who claimed to be working from home were actually going to the gym, watching Netflix and getting coffee all day long. “The more people who work from home, the more people are going to be unemployed,” he added.

What Mullins fails to take into consideration are the benefits to children of having their parent (or parents) around more. Long working hours plus a lengthy commute, as is standard for so many of us who live and work in and around major cities, meant I had to find wraparound childcare before the pandemic – schools start at 9am and kick out at 3.15pm, which is pretty much impossible for anyone who works in an office. I had to have someone to look after them before and after: they never got to hold my hand on the ten minute walk to school and tell me about what they hoped they’d have for lunch that day, or share their worries about a Maths test.

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This way, for half the week I can leave my desk, greet my kids with a kiss at the school gate, walk home with them and hear about their day; before (admittedly) leaving them to their own devices while I finish off my work upstairs – but I still wouldn’t change it for anything; not least when research shows just how many benefits there are for children who have working mothers, particularly girls.

A major study conducted by Harvard University revealed that daughters of mothers in paid employment have better careers and more equal relationships – and while working mothers were said to “often internalise social messages of impending doom for their children”, in reality, their sons and daughters (according to data collected from 24 countries, including the UK and US) were shown to thrive – with daughters benefiting most from the positive role model of a mother with a career.

I love showing my kids that I’m busy writing, and I love being able to connect the things we are fortunate to have (a warm home, a TV, books on the shelves and food in the fridge) with the fact that “Mummy is working”.

Perhaps the real risk of “impending doom” comes from the attitudes of men like Charlie Mullins – because what this study (plus the past 18 months) shows is that the kids are doing alright, and – thanks to flexible working – so are the parents.

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