Who cares?

I care. I look after my son, together with my partner. But our son needs very predictable schedules, cannot deal well with novel situations, and only feels safest with me, which means I do a lot of the day-to-day care. He is a lovely little boy, and we have all found our way in our family life. However, this does pose some challenges on my academic life. For example, attending seminars and conferences is very difficult, and I minimize these to invited talks, and only maximally a couple a year. Taking up visiting positions, or teaching abroad, is for now impossible.

Of course, there are (many) positive sides to having an academic job when juggling such a work-life balance. The ability to work from home, and the relative control that I have over my working times are highly beneficial. It means I can actually do a job! The flexibility, however, does blur the work-life boundaries, and I rarely completely switch off (ask my partner!). Particularly when our son was little, I found the most pressing challenge the mental burden when I was preoccupied with care matters, which really hindered my ability to focus on my research and teaching.

There are of course many academics that have caring comments, but I have never heard anyone else speak about a similar sense of struggle. Are there so few that struggle like this, if only even sometimes? Or do we not speak of such struggles as these are a personal matter addressed through private and individualized solutions? Now that I am approaching the end of my tenure, I am starting to wonder if leadership and management activities will actually be out of reach for me, and, in general, for those with significant caring responsibilities. I would love to hear how others have tackled such challenges.

Fortunately I am not the only one raising this issue. Here, Marie-Pierre Moreau, goes a step further and also highlights some steps towards supporting academic carers. She first and foremost suggests that carers should gain visibility, which should bring recognition, and, ultimately, acknowledgement and a response to the complex relationships of caregiving faced by the academic carers. Of course, many universities already take steps that often go beyond statutory requirements, like flexible working hours. Another example is to plan staff meetings such that carers that leave work relatively early, can also attend. Such planning of meetings is standard practice in my institute. All in all, though, it is a complex puzzle, for which, I would guess, no single solution exists.

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