Bendy… Bendy… Break! … or what I learned about including children in flexible working.
Rebecca is Co-founder of family cooking enterprise Kids Kitchen Collective. Find out how a flexible business can sometimes just sort of, happen, and Rebecca’s top takeouts for making it work.
Michael Rosen has a story he tells about his childhood… he was upstairs in the bathroom, exploring how far he could bend his toothbrush – until, “bendy…bendy…bendy… break!” It’s really worth a watch, but hey – why am I talking about Michael Rosen?
Well, I was thinking about the ways that I’ve learned how to juggle the PARENT I want to be, with the WORK I want to do. I didn’t know how far I could juggle, or bend each bit of my life… so I found out what was possible by bending… bending… with a few breaks!
Kids Kitchen emerged from an idea to fill our time, with our toddlers. Eva and I wanted to cook, and needed ideas for feeding our kids, and we wanted to spend time together. We fancied that this might be an activity toddlers could get into.
It was – and it continued, and what started as very informal volunteering for two people (and our kids) eight years ago, is now a Community Interest Company (which means it exists primarily to benefit a community or with a view to pursuing a social purpose, rather than to make a profit for shareholders). It provides work for many across three hubs and a growing community membership. So an idea between friends turned into a flexible work solution for many people, and well as providing social and community benefits. I’m still wondering how it happened!
But how much can you really do with a kid in tow? Well, it depends on who you are, and what you’re doing. Back in the early days of parenthood, I had intended to keep doing some of the things I love by volunteering with my daughter alongside. It meant I saw some of the activities that would and wouldn’t work, and wrote a little about it.
Our idea of cooking with kids came next, along with getting other people to come along. This led to pushing the boundaries some more: we initially started with a chef to help us – but realised that the sessions would actually be more comfortable just lead by us parents, as we had a better understanding of the chaos we were in! That’s the short version of this phase, longer story here!
There were times that I ended a session exhausted and completely at the end of my tether. One week, my daughter needed me constantly and I was a pretty useless host that day. Both she and I had to just sort of… carry on, even though we both probably would rather not have. But – we would have had to muddle through our morning wherever we were, at least this way we had company!
As the organisation has grown, I’ve seen the ways that other people have managed the tightrope of keeping up their skills, and nurturing their children, and how they’ve used Kids Kitchen for that. So what have I learned? Here are key 4 things that I’ve picked up along the way…
What works this month won’t work for the next. This is of course like most aspects of parenting, and is one of the things I have found hardest to get my head around over the years. But I’m starting to see the positive side of never knowing what tomorrow will bring – it means if today goes badly, we’ve at least got hope for tomorrow! There are some tasks that really don’t sit well with having kids around – anything to do with strategy or fundraising is a no-go for me – but some tasks have surprised me with how easily I’ve managed to get them done alongside a toddler.
It is not linear
My daughter can be incredibly into my particular plan to deliver aprons, go leafleting, have an online meeting structured around her life on one day, and be dead against it the next! So it’s always worth trying something more than once. Kids get sick, there are badly-timed poos, unexpected things come up all the time, so trying again and doing things with other parents and having each others’ backs is essential.
It doesn’t suit us all
Aneta set up her South East London sessions with her kids in tow, and is now gutted that they are both heading off to school and won’t be with her! Khadidja has always juggled sessions around her children being at school, but her older child has helped out with prep.
Khadidja has also now had to move into work that is more regular – but the experience with Kids Kitchen led to that job, so again – it changes! And we get to choose what suits us. ‘Bespoke’ doesn’t even slightly cover the various career lives my Kids Kitchen colleagues have – my co-director is now a designer and maker of creative spaces. One of our coordinators is at art college, another a physiotherapist. One session leader is a beautician. Some have chosen to have complete strangers and their kids cooking in their own kitchen – but this is not for me, the existing mess would have to be cleared!
Technology is your friend
From the day your child is glued to a screen while you work, to the interactive online training you can do that means you can spend more time with your kids. It cuts both ways, as Gloria Estefan once said…
We wouldn’t have the diverse steering group we have, or indeed the trained session leaders, if we hadn’t embraced fun, interactive training through Zoom (a bit like Skype but with more great features). We wouldn’t have the connected, inspirational session leaders we have without the excellent Mighty Networks (a platform that brings all the aspects of your business together for the customer). And almost every one of us were new to these experiences before Kids Kitchen, so it’s building skills all over the place.
I guess employers, colleagues, bosses might do well to know this stuff. Flexible training and meetings, the trust that your performance this week will be different to next, and the respect to let you design your own working life, perhaps?!
And what of the – now – 9 year old that has been part of this juggling experiment? I tried to glean some feedback from my daughter. Kids Kitchen has been happening most of her life and she’s pretty keen to tell people how long she’s been doing it… but it’s obviously just a backdrop to her life and as normal as breathing, because she could think of nothing annoying about her mum having a spare room full of chopping boards and aprons, and dragging her off to random cooking events her whole life!
But she did have a few positives to contribute – well, she went to two festivals this year and that included learning archery and hurling herself down a makeshift water slide on the side of a hill, so it’s definitely broadened her mind! And – she can cook. Which is ace in my book.
If you’d like to find yourself juggling a ludicrously bespoke career, or would just like to do more cooking with your kids – head to kidskitchen to find out more. Our next access-from-anywhere training starts October 2019.
Follow Kids Kitchen on Instagram for a glimpse of how fun it is!