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Raising children and working: how to combine these responsibilities? A father’s story

At the end of December 2020, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the draft law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts Concerning Ensuring Equal Opportunities for Mother and Father to Care for a Child”, №3695, only in the first reading, though. This bill will equalize the opportunities for mothers and fathers for social leave related to the birth and care of a child, following the commitments made by Ukraine at the international level within the Biarritz Partnership. In particular, this law allows men to take childcare leave, as well as parental leave until the kid reaches the age of three.
 
Such changes are crucial for men because the father's role in the development of the child from the first days is difficult to overestimate. Legislation that would allow them to take such social leave could significantly increase the number of men willing to care for children. In combination with campaigns to involve parents in education, positive examples, such changes will encourage dads to actively participate in education. Also, these changes are important for the visibility of men, fathers who raise children on their own, for one reason or another.
 
We spoke with single father Oleksiy Ostroukhov, Kernel's leading in-house logistics specialist, about how he manages to combine parenting and work.
 
- Please tell us how many children you have.
 
- I have two sons, Ilya, 12 and a half years old, and Vladyslav, 16 and a half years old. Two lions born in August.
 
- Tell us how you manage to combine the upbringing of children, your role as a father who works?
 
- It seems to me that everything is going great. You know, at work I dedicate myself completely to the tasks, and this is possible when you know that at home there is a well-organized life, everyone is healthy, and everything is fine. At home, you dedicate yourself to your family, and it is possible when you are calm, confident about the future. The fact that you work for a company like Kernel adds confidence, they will always help and support you. I am a single father, my wife died of cancer in June 2017. At that time, we lived in Donetsk, in December of the same year we left. Since January 2018, I have been working at Kernel.
 
Single parents have certain benefits. As for work, it is an opportunity to take annual leave at a convenient time for the family, the possibility of a flexible schedule. I always take a vacation in the summer, we spend it with children at sea, we visit my parents. This year they gathered in the forest in Transcarpathia.
 
I was offered a flexible schedule at work. My working day starts at 8:30 and ends at 17:30. It's so convenient for me: we leave home with the children at the same time: I go to work, they go to school, and in the evening, I can be home a little earlier. Maybe someone will say that this is a trifle because according to our Labor Code, all companies have to do it, but, I think that, in fact, this is not the case if we consider Ukraine in general. Satisfaction with work consists of these trifles. No wonder our company entered the top 5 best employers in Ukraine this year. So, the secret is this: at home, I am a caring father, at work, I hope, a valuable professional.
 
I would like to add that when the pandemic hit, the company organized the possibility of remote work as soon as possible. It was essential for the company not to disrupt business processes, not to stop anything - but it was also important for employees because schools started to impose quarantines. They could be "floating": the teacher fell ill, or the student's diagnosis was confirmed - and then the class could be sent to quarantine. The company suggested and even strongly recommended that employees with children switch to a remote format. Therefore, in this situation, it was very important and really helpful: to be close. No matter what age the children are, they are still children.
 
- Maybe you can share some insights since you have children?
 
- There is probably no such discovery or secret. No matter how old the children are, they always need love, understanding, support. This is probably the main secret of warm, trusting relationships in the family. After all, we are not born parents, we become them. And we learn to be parents as our children grow. Different ages have different approaches. We teach them to speak, help them take the first steps, children are getting older, acquire the first skills. We need to teach children to learn, need to explain to them that they are gaining knowledge for themselves. When this understanding comes, then they learn for themselves, not to bring parents a diary with good grades.
 
I can say that I am lucky: children study well, they are responsible. But, probably, it was laid down in childhood, enshrined in them that school is a house of knowledge which will help. The eldest son is now sixteen, a difficult age; for example, he does not like to be photographed. And this can only be accepted, there is no point in persuading. When you understand that the child has such a position - you need to respect and accept, help.
 
- And what are the children interested in?
 
If I brag a bit, my eldest son is a prize-winner of the fourth stage of the All-Ukrainian Biology Olympiad in 2019. He was also a laureate of the Kyiv City Council scholarship as one of one hundred talented children and had been receiving a scholarship for a year. In 2020, the Kyiv team, which was supposed to represent our city at the Olympiad, was also selected, but due to the pandemic, the Olympiad was cancelled. I can say that he is a fine fellow. It was probably difficult for him: coming to Kyiv and showing his knowledge in the very first year, achieving certain successes.
 
The younger one still loves computer games and music, but since he is in the sixth grade, he still has a long way to go.
 
Therefore, the tip for parents is: love children, help them - and everything will be fine.
 
- Can you tell us what was the biggest challenge for you in raising children?
 
- I was not on parental leave to raise children alone when they are small, but I was present twice at the birth of children. Don't believe the myth that men faint in such situations - it's not true. The main thing is mutual desire. Natasha (wife, author's note) said that she would be calmer and she would be more confident if I was around. I gladly agreed and was very happy to be around.
 
The biggest challenge, probably, was to be left alone and continue raising children. Each family has a certain division of responsibilities. For example, I know how to cook, but I didn't use to cook soups or borscht before, maybe I used to go to school meetings less, didn't buy clothes for children, didn't do other similar things. When I was left alone, I had to be very close to the children because it was a very difficult period for them. When it's a two-parent family, the care is twice as great, and the worries are divided in half. One parent can scold the child a little, the other one can comfort them. And here, alone, you need to manoeuvre between those things and find the "golden mean". This was difficult because the children were already in adolescence, the eldest was 12, just growing up, experiencing the formation of character - this was probably the most difficult period. I hope that it will be easier in the future, or at least, when the younger one starts to grow up, I will already have the experience of passing adolescence with the older one.
 
- And the period of the pandemic - did it affect you and your children in any way?
 
- My children and I have always been close, but during this period we became even more close. We are renting a two-room apartment, so our home has become a kind of "business training" centre since the start of the pandemic. Two rooms are occupied by students, I am in the kitchen. I actually witnessed the learning process, although this is not the case under normal circumstances. Actually, the parents were almost present in classes.
 
Health concerns have come to the fore. Not only did I take care of them, but they also became more interested in my health. Children were also more immersed in my work because they used to know about it in general terms, and when I work at home, the children witness negotiations, some situations. I started hearing more questions about my work.
 
Have we gotten closer? I do not want to talk in clichés, but I think so.
 
- Is there any curious case that happened during your fatherhood?
 
- Me and my children recalled a case when the eldest son was seven and a half years old. He decided to catch St. Nicholas. He decided to set traps in the room, hung some bells. The children fell asleep, it was already midnight - and I went to hang socks with sweets. And accidentally rang the bell! I quickly ran out of the room, barely managed to get into bed when my son rushed into the bedroom. According to him, he certainly saw St. Nicholas, but he fled - however, to the window, not to the next room. I always smile when I think of this case, happiness in his eyes are warm, pleasant memories.
 
Additional information:
 
In 2019 UNFPA initiated the creation of the first Business Coalition in Ukraine and signing of the Declaration in Support of Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 8. The signatories pledge to make every effort to fight against gender stereotypes and combat domestic violence. Kernel is among these companies. As a part of corporate social responsibility, the company mainstreams the gender-sensitive approaches in the work, create conditions for decent work and equal employment, and practice family-friendly policies. These policies allow women and men to spend more time with their families and take care of children.
 
This interview is prepared within the framework of the core support to Equality Springboard: Project on Social Norms Change and Gender Stereotypes Elimination for Better Resilience and Prosperity of Women and Men in Ukraine, enabled by the financial support from Sweden.