Laptop and peg puzzles elbow out me-time

The ‘heroes of the month’ in May: the members of the TU/e community combining running their home office with caring for their young children while the pandemic marches on.

Anthal Smits. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

The other day Jolien, aged five, sat herself down at the table in front of a shoebox that was flipped open, tells Anthal Smits, and began talking “gibberish”. His little darling, it appeared, had a ‘meeting’, in ‘English’ – just as her father often does. Little brother Abel aged three sometimes heads off upstairs having announced that he is going ‘to work’. “So you might not think it, but working from home is having an effect on them, too,” observes Smits, assistant professor at Biomedical Engineering, laughing.

As for himself, he has learned during the pandemic to move with ease between extraordinarily different tasks. Singing songs with his daughter, her classmates and teacher in the virtual classroom; helping out at Jolien’s school during the lunch break; then presenting a virtual lecture to an international audience of over four hundred at a conference. “The life of an assistant professor during COVID-19,” as Smits summed up his working day a few months ago on LinkedIn.

Pitfall

Right there in that combination of activities lies the biggest pitfall for working parents, observe both Smits and ‘others in the same boat’ Marloes Dielis and Maarten van Rossum. “Agree clearly who is looking after the children and when,” tips the latter, “otherwise you’ll be continually busy with work and home at the same time. And while you are taking care of your child, pay full attention; don’t be checking your phone for mails every so often.”

Dielis (communication officer for the departments of Industrial Design and Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences) found it took a while to adjust to this double role, as she admits. “I had to accept that I cannot be fully mom and fully employee at one and the same time. When last year the first lockdown began, I had been working just four months at the university; that’s right when you want to be giving two hundred percent. But I felt held back by Jules; she’s very young, she’s not yet able to amuse herself. And for my part, I couldn’t be the mom to her that I wanted to be.”

Marloes Dielis and her daughter Jules. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

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