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Pandemic creates parenting challenges, opportunities for families

Culture

Elekta parents adapt to unprecedented times

Between Elekta employees Rachael Bissell, Mark Samsa and Eddie Reiter are eight children who have been seeing a lot of their parents the past few years. Like millions of households around the world, the pandemic created challenges for these Elekta parents, who still worked their day jobs while also attending to the needs of their sometimes homebound children. This created many parenting hurdles, but also many opportunities, as Eddie, Mark and Rachael will attest.

Rachael grounded in New Zealand

“I’ve been traveling a lot less, so interestingly enough, Covid parenting has been slightly easier than non-Covid parenting,” she says. “I’m a lot more present for our 12-year-old daughter Sofia and our 14-year-old son Theo.”

Rachael and her children

But being “present” didn’t mean that Rachael and her husband Phil could coast; they’ve still had to meticulously plan family life with everyone. 

“Organization, scheduling and pre-planning are essential as working parents with or without a virus emergency,” Rachael observes. “We have to block out all the kids’ activities months in advance for a year. When I see a work clash – if Phil can’t handle it, you bring in family or friends. You have to plan well in advance because you can’t take surprises so easily.”

One issue that countless families are doubtless wrestling with – Rachael’s included – is internet bandwidth. 

“When we’re all at home, my husband and children are at home, the Wi-Fi grinds to a halt,” she says. “On the upside, I’ve trained Theo how to use the espresso machine, so he brings a cup into my office while I’m working, which has been a bonus.”

Throughout the pandemic, Elekta has also adapted in stride to its employees’ new way of working, Rachael stresses. 

“Not being able to travel to see customers has been frustrating, but the management team has been very understanding with employees, particularly those with kids at home,” she says. “Pre-pandemic, having a child walk in with a question during a Teams meeting might have been frowned on, but now it’s completely understood that these things will happen. As long as you’re achieving your goals and attending to your responsibilities, Elekta has shown a lot of flexibility.

“Elekta has been very supportive with ways to keep everyone well and helping us deal with an unprecedented period in our lifetime.”

“Locally, the company has demonstrated their concern for our welfare with well-being check-ins and encouraging walk-and-talk meetings to ensure we’re getting exercise outdoors,” Rachael adds. “Elekta has been very supportive with ways to keep everyone well and helping us deal with an unprecedented period in our lifetime.”

Mark adds “Supervision of Young Learners” to his resume

The Samsa Family

When lockdowns descended on Ireland, Elekta’s Mark Samsa, Customer Manager – Ireland, Scotland & Wales, earned himself an auxiliary position keeping two of his kids – Lily, 7, and Charlie, 8, on task with their schoolwork, while also keeping an eye on four-year-old Ellie, who was back at home indefinitely from pre-school. His fourth “child,” Hannah, an 18-year-old college student, thankfully didn’t add to the crowd and actually helped Mark in his new role, which occupied his Mondays and Tuesdays. 

The first thing Mark did was confirm with his manager and colleagues that he could take time to supervise Charlie’s and Lily’s schoolwork on Mondays and Tuesdays. It was on those days that the children’s mother, Susan, needed to be at her post as a healthcare worker during the height of the pandemic. 

“Coordinating the schoolwork was a big challenge.”

“Coordinating the schoolwork was a big challenge,” he recalls. “There were a lot of Zoom classes, so it wasn’t just worksheets that you could do whenever. It was really difficult trying to keep the kids focused – they were struggling with that. I had to make sure the TV was off, take away their devices and tell them that they were to treat the kitchen table as their class at school.”

For the two or three hours of schoolwork in the morning, Mark would avoid scheduling Zoom or Teams calls that would distract him from child supervision tasks. Rather, he reserved mornings for attending to Elekta work emails. In the afternoons, Hannah and Susan stepped in to supervise, enabling Mark to do work that couldn’t be interrupted, such as Teams calls or organizing large customer tenders. 

When it came to the kids’ electronic devices (iPads, iPhones), he found he needed to create a new routine to account for the children’s excess downtime after their schoolwork.

“Pre-Covid, they’d go to school, come home, do their homework, we’d have a family meal together and then they would spend an hour or so on their devices, and not every day,” he explains. “During Covid, with them home all the time, their attitude was: ‘Well, I’m not at school. Can I go on the iPad now?’ So, we got into a routine of going to different places locally for walks with the dog. Then, every evening, the local football [i.e. soccer] stadium stayed open to allow people to walk around it.”

The Covid-19 situation in Ireland is now much improved, with schools and many venues open. Mark’s stint as Supervisor of Young Learners has essentially ended. 

“Mondays and Tuesdays are now actually my best days from an Elekta work perspective,” Mark says. “There’s no one here except me and the dog.”

Eddie on home-based without kids versus home-based with kids

For home-based Elekta employees like Eddie Reiter, Manager – Informatics Sales Support, concentrating on work at his New Hampshire home had been a fairly straightforward endeavor – distractions were minimal.

Eddie and family at the beach

“I’ve worked from home for many years, so I already knew and understood what that was all about,” he says. “Around the third week of April 2020, Brayden, my first-grader at the time was pulled out of school and in May last year the daycare where Addison, my four-year old, was closed and now she was in the house. All of a sudden, my wife Danielle and I had to figure out what life was like to be a schoolteacher and setting up Addison’s dance class on Zoom and everything else that would be done on Zoom calls.”

While Eddie was not spared from responsibilities to coordinate all of this, Danielle – “freed” from her role in promo and event coordinating – had an outsized role.

“I got lucky, I was very fortunate,” Eddie says. “In the mornings, I’d try to help out, but once work started, I’d go down to my office in the basement and my wife was the rock star that kept everything going. She was keeping Brayden on schedule with his Zoom meetings, while Addison was left to play on her own. But when Addison started kindergarten, then it became really difficult. Like everyone else, we never planned to be teachers but here we were.”

Eddie would surface from the basement occasionally to help Danielle with the logistics of class schedules and making sure the parents’ lines of communication open and synched. 

“When I came upstairs, I needed to be able to help sort out when Zoom meetings were for both kids, and more importantly, keeping them focused on their tasks,” he says. “This wasn’t a huge issue for Brayden, who was used to traditional classroom routines, but Addison had had no on-site schooling before. We had to encourage her to stay focused.”

Immersed in what seemed like an indefinite new normal, Eddie could feel the stress of day-to-day full-time parenting and full-time work building. 

“Fortunately, all of us at Elekta have a great, mutually beneficial support network that helped a lot to minimize that stress.”

“What I realized is you either had to learn to ask for help or offer help to others,” he says. “You get so many things going on that they’re just ‘ping-ponging’ around in your brain. If you don’t pause for a minute and ask for help or take a break and step back, you’re going to overload on frustration. I had to understand that virtually every Elekta parent was going through this too – you could see it on faces during conference calls. Fortunately, all of us at Elekta have a great, mutually beneficial support network that helped a lot to minimize that stress.”

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