By James Steur, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Parenting is both a fulfilling and demanding experience, and parents in academia face unique professional challenges at all stages in their career. Parents in the academy juggle a high volume of research, teaching, and service obligations as well as personal commitments that require a large amount of their time. To address these unique challenges, the panelists at “Balancing Parenting in the Academy Roundtable” discussed their experiences as parents navigating academia. The panelists and audience members represented a variety of perspectives at all career stages including university administration, faculty members, graduate students, and everything-in-between.

While listening to the roundtable, big topics arose about the state of parenting in the academy and the ideal time to become a parent in the academy. I begin by highlighting these important topics so future and existing parents can reflect on them and consider what works best for their situation. Then, I highlight two tactical tips that were brought up in the discussion to help individuals maintain work life balance.

Big Topics

1). There is no “Perfect” Time to Become a Parent

In an academic career, it is enticing to think there is a “perfect” time to become a parent—often after tenure. In reality, there is no perfect time. Each person’s circumstances are unique, and the best time to become a parent is based on your needs and when it works best for you. Some considerations include (1) finances, (2) new career opportunities (e.g., a new postdoc or new position), (3) accessibility to childcare, and many other factors. While you may try to pre-plan as much as possible, recognize that life happens, and you may not have complete control of everything.

2). Gender is a Necessary Part of the Conversation

Women in the academy face disproportionate amounts of teaching and service-related work in comparison to men. It was mentioned in the discussion that depending on your circumstances, it is important to identify your priorities and feel comfortable saying no.

Women also perform more housework  than men. In partnerships, consider conversations with your partner about household divisions of labor. This can allow yourself or your partner to dedicate more time toward their career and achieve greater balance at home. Importantly, those who tend to do less housework should not be defensive and open to the conversation.

3). Conversations About Parenting Must Continue in the Discipline

During the roundtable, it was emphasized that almost no conversations about parenting in the academy existed twenty years ago. While different institutions and cultures vary in their comfort level for discussing parenting in the academy, it is critical to continue having these types of discussions to address these unique challenges. Additionally, if you hold positions of power, consider how you can facilitate honest conversations or feedback about supporting parents.

Tactical Strategies

1). Set Time Boundaries

Long work hours pervade the academy, and you should identify what time you will stop working to spend time with your children and/or family. For instance, if Wednesdays are a big day for your family where you watch your kid’s play soccer and get dinner afterwards, be clear in your boundary. Let colleagues, students, and others know that Wednesdays are a busy day for you, and you won’t be as available.

2). Ask for Accommodations

Most universities offer some type of accommodations for parents—ask for them and be aware of them. HR departments will often have a variety of different accommodations and resources for parents in university settings.

Beyond university accommodations, you can also ask your colleagues or students for “informal accommodations.” The panel discussion acknowledged that everybody needs a break or deserves grace at some point in their professional career. Individuals in the panel discussion noted that communicating what’s happening and asking for grace involving their children has been well-received. At some points, the feedback on a student paper can be one day late, and it is ok to leave a meeting 15 minutes early every once in a while.

Ultimately, this roundtable was a necessary conversation to have on an infrequently discussed and important topic. This conversation is just one of many that should continue moving forward to address the unique challenges that parents continue to face in the academy.


About the Author

James Steur is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include  political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen  decision-making.  He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a fourth time!) at MPSA. You can find James on Twitter at  @JamesSteur

885 S. College Mall Road, #382, Bloomington, IN 47401 USA | Phone (812) 558-0588 | Fax (812) 335-1510

Copyright | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use