Parenting in the Pandemic: How Faculty With Kids Are Juggling Teaching and Childcare

Faced with school and daycare closures, many faculty members have been inundated with childcare duties. Managing these challenges alongside the difficulties of online teaching has been a delicate balancing act — one that has forced many to work late into the night. 

The shift has been especially hard on those with younger children, who must now manage the responsibilities of being a full-time parent and working a full-time job. 

“It’s exhausting,” said Kate Follette, assistant professor of astronomy and mother of two small children of ages seven and two. “My youngest is normally in preschool — he has special needs — so in addition to being a kindergarten school teacher and a daycare provider, we are also being physical therapists and occupational therapists”. 

The extra work, Follette noted, has taken a toll on her sleep schedule; with so little downtime, she has pushed much of her work into the evening. 

Professor Edward Melillo, who now spends daylight hours helping his seven-year-old son navigate online learning, stressed a similar point. “It is a lot to juggle, and sleep is usually the first thing on the chopping block,” he said. 

On top of these challenges, remote teaching requires more time from faculty than regular, in-person classes. Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Danielle Benedetto reported that she works “probably three times more” on writing, filming and editing her asynchronous video lectures. With 99 students that live from Asia to California, she stressed the importance of office hours as a way to bridge the gap. She offers 20 hours a week, a feat she feels lucky to be able to accomplish given the older age of her children — her youngest is in high school. 

Melillo also maintains that office hours are key to connecting with his students. “They are getting a lot of one-on-one time from me,” he says. Melillo tries to set up individual Zoom meetings “as often as humanly possible” — which also pushes other college-related work later into the night. 

While keeping remote courses ultra-organized and easy to follow certainly poses a challenge to faculty, Benedetto noted that this aspect of pandemic teaching has a silver lining. “I’ve created new materials for my course, like a course calendar and weekly checklists,” she said. She plans to use these materials for future classes. 

Assistant Professor of Statistics Shu-Min Liao also found some positives in the chaos of at-home teaching and full-time parenting: her family are no longer occupied by the many meetings and after school activities that kept them from spending much time together. She and her husband now enjoy going for runs and bike rides with their eight-year-old son on a regular basis. Liao also noted another unexpected gain: not having to drive her son to school has given her an extra half-hour in the mornings that she can take for herself. 

But more family time can blur the lines between work and life — Liao now places a screen behind her so that her son cannot walk in and interrupt her Zoom meetings. “If anyone ever finds a [work-life] balance, please let me know,” she said. 

While staying at home may mean more time with loved ones for some, others — like Professor of Geology Peter Crowley — are forced to watch from a distance. “It’s horrible,” said the geology professor, on being a grandparent in the pandemic. To Crowley, the hardest part was not being able to be at the birth of his new grandson just over a month ago. “He’s in a bubble, and even though I’m also in a bubble, we’re in different bubbles,” he said. 

In the midst of this madness, faculty members like Crowley have been finding ways to destress by spending time outdoors. An avid cyclist, the geology professor enjoys going for bike rides and walking his dog. Melillo, who took his second-grader on a camping trip this past weekend, noted that “I wish that less of the pandemic world was screen-dependent. Being outdoors is the best remedy for all of this.” 

Follette emphasized that while exhausting, learning to juggle being a full-time parent and a college professor has taught her that nurturing physical and mental well-being is the key to staying present for her students and her kids. She urges students to take some downtime for themselves too, adding that “you’re not as efficient at your work if you’re not taking care of yourself at some level.”