Pulled in Different Directions: Being a Parent and Faculty Member During the Pandemic

Jennifer McCormick, R.Psych., Counsellor/Assistant Professor (2021-04-09)

The pandemic has shone a light on the many ways our personal life intersects with our professional life. For one, my cat is a frequent visitor to meetings and sessions with students. He makes an appearance whether I like it or not. If he’s not on screen, he might be heard in the background yowling because I’ve tried to keep him contained in a bedroom. This is something I (and my colleagues/clients) seem to have come to accept over time. This acceptance is probably related to the fact that we all have these types of examples – ways in which the pandemic has meant a blurring of the boundary between personal and professional.

For faculty members who are also parents, this blurring may have had a significant impact on our professional lives.[1] Whether it is supporting our children through mandatory school-from-home while working, massive reductions in options for childcare, or trying to figure out how to parent and work at the same time, this pandemic has created unique challenges.

I was one of the members of the Diversity and Equity Committee who have facilitated a focus group with other faculty who also have dependents to care for. Working with this group highlighted for me the many different experiences our colleagues have had over the past year. There was not just one parental experience but many.

Some of the impacts of the pandemic are specifically related to your position. Some struggled to find time to complete the type of research they normally do.  Others were concerned about their job security and income, particularly some contract faculty members who had to make difficult choices about how much work they would be able to take on during the pandemic.

For many of us, the challenges of parenting during the pandemic really hit home when the public schools were closed to in-person classes in March 2020 and we were encouraged to secure “alternative childcare options”. Except, there were no options.

A year later, the options continue to be highly limited. For example, if my child is required to self-isolate or is at home sick, I cannot bring someone into my home to care for my child. In this circumstance, my ability to work from home is severely impacted (especially given the confidential nature of my work). I can, and have, taken vacation time to cover this time. However, for most parents I know, this has not just happened once over the course of the year but many times. Financial implications abound– especially for our contract colleagues who may have already had to take on fewer courses in order to balance responsibilities.

I care about my work and I want to do a good job. I have clients, colleagues, and a practicum student  I am committed to.  I care about my kids and I want to provide a loving and supportive environment for them. I want to be able to support their education and their health. Many times since last March, I have felt like I have to choose between the two.

So what have we learned? I cannot speak for everyone and there are many valuable stories to share. For myself, I have learned that being a parent has a significant impact on my role as a faculty member and vice versa. I have come to know the limits of support available to me as an employee and also come to know the gift of support from colleagues. I have also learned that there is a new awareness for me recognizing that being a parent as a topic of diversity and one that I hope we can continue to focus on moving forward.

[1] Though I focus on a parental role in this article, both I and other members of DEC have discussed the impact of the pandemic on all those who have dependents who they support.