When this becomes a daily routine, week in and week out, my work does not simply suffer, it disappears. And this invisibility—the evaporation of my hard work, the career I’ve built, the changes I’ve strived to make in my field, the plans I had for my future, the research pipeline that is, in this business, so crucial to long term success and livelihood—begins to take on a Voldemort-level ominousness.
What can we do to “Harry Potter” this monster?
How is your pandemic parenting going? "The Faculty Parent" series chronicles the highs and lows of juggling parenting, teaching, research, and writing in uncertain times.
It’s difficult to describe the fatigue that comes with around-the-clock seven-days-a-week caregiving. If this is you right now, then you don’t need me to describe it. You are tired, sleep-deprived, and probably as unkempt as I am. Yet, despite this demonstrable sacrifice of my mind and body, I’ve been struggling with overwhelming feelings of guilt. For some reason, when I’m exhausted from trying to do my own work while caring for children and elders, my first thought is often something like: “You should be more grateful, you are lucky, you have resources, you have family and friends to support you, stop complaining, get over it, others have so much less.”
I wonder if you’ve had that thought, too.
I wonder how I was programmed to gaslight myself this way, imagining that the first person to blame for the effects of my not having childcare (despite paying nearly 3x what I paid in the “before times” for childcare and then still doing the bulk of it myself) is me. Perhaps it’s an extension of that old parenting lesson in self-flagellation, the one that teaches you to imagine that, when things go awry and there are tears or mistakes, that you’re not a good—and not even good enough—parent. Though my oldest is only 5, I’ve already been at this long enough to know that that one, at least, is a bald-faced lie: if there are tears and mistakes, then it’s just another Tuesday in parenting; if my kids are loved, cared for, learning, and happy (not every living second, you know, but holistically speaking), then I am a good enough parent (and so are you). So, let’s throw some cold light on this other failure fantasy:
5:30am 1yo wakes up, needs diaper change, clean clothes, milk, food, and Elmo songs, demands stories Peekaboo Farm, Sassy Baby’s First Words, Moose (a flip-book about…a moose), PJ Masks Hero School, Peekaboo Farm (“A-gain! Weeeed it! A-gain!”)
7:00am 5yo wakes up, needs persuading about going to school, needs change of clothes, teeth brushed, breakfast (also requires persuasion), lunch packed, water bottle, school bag packed, child-sized mask, shoes on, coat on, shoes off again for reasons unknown, shoes back on; 1yo needs breakfast, demands songs “Batty Bat” by the Count von Count and “Propeller” by the Wiggles (on repeat), throws food on floor, needs another breakfast, gets dropped off at daycare; 5yo needs more persuading
7:45am 5yo gets ride to school with cousins (thank goodness)
At this point in the day, with childcare in place (kindergarten for 5yo, daycare for 1yo) my other workday begins. Without childcare—when school or daycare closes because of a case of COVID-19 or due to snow—some variation on the above continues unabated through remote kindergarten morning lesson (12 five-year-olds on a videoconference call, a spectacle like no other), morning walks (requires sweater, coat, socks, shoes, blanket, crackers, water), various diaper and potty-related adventures and disasters, playtime, lunchtime, naptime (for 1yo), remote kindergarten afternoon lessons (somewhat more productive than morning lesson but not by much), more walks, outdoor play, snack time, trampoline bouncing, dinner with grandparents, various meltdowns, bedtime stories, bedtime meltdowns, lights out, and many more reappearances by 5yo at irregular intervals (“but, Mommy, I have to tell you something…”) before she gradually succumbs to sleep.
I recount this with a smile on my face, with joy, and lots of love, but—here again that cold light—this is not a productive workday. I can easily bounce back from one or two days like this here and there, or even a once or twice a month if need be. When this becomes a daily routine, however, week in and week out, my work does not simply suffer, it disappears. And this invisibility—the evaporation of my hard work, the career I’ve built, the changes I’ve strived to make in my field, the plans I had for my future, the research pipeline that is, in this business, so crucial to long term success and livelihood—begins to take on a Voldemort-level ominousness.
What can we do to “Harry Potter” this monster?
I’m starting with documentation: on my cv, in my tenure and promotion file, in my teaching portfolio, in the questions I ask on mid-semester and end-of-semester student evaluations, in my research budget statements, in my fellowship and grant applications, and anywhere else I can allow this experience to leave a legible mark. As many experts are now advising both faculty and the institutions they serve to do, I am documenting the impact that these changes and disruptions have had by describing in detail the how and why of the work that has not—because it could not have—happened, and by describing the how and the why of the other kinds of work (caregiving, service to students, colleagues, and community, even this blog!) that have happened. I am making this effort to document what is and is not happening, first and foremost, so that I can avoid the trap of gaslighting myself into thinking I have nothing to worry about, no reason to gripe, that there is no recourse, or that I’m not entitled to any recourse that does exist. I can also seek to share this information with colleagues, with administrators, and others through formal and informal channels to ensure that I am credited for my otherwise invisible labor, that I and others like me are not censured for failing to produce more under these conditions, and that I and others like me are given credit for the gains we have made in our work even in the face of these added challenges.
Patricia Akhimie is a 2020-2021 Chancellor’s Scholar-in-Residence with the P3 Collaboratory. She is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance drama, and early modern women’s travel writing. @pakhimie
CTAAR Reflecting on Online Teaching Feb 24
SMARTeaching Fighting Course-and-a-Half Syndrome Mar 29
Rutgers Graduate School How to Measure the Impact of Your Research Mar 31
You may find this recorded NCFDD webinar particularly useful. It is freely available through Rutgers Newark’s institutional membership (remember, you can activate your free institutional membership from RU-N here).
Preparing Tenure and Promotion Materials (recorded July 2020)
Best Practices for Documentation
Misra, Joya. Documenting Pandemic Impacts: Best Practices. University of Massachusetts ADVANCE Program (2020)
Subramaniam, Mangala. Documenting the Impact of COVID-19 on Faculty. Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence, Purdue University (2020)
Recently updated Faculty Survey website for creating promotion and tenure reports
Further Reading: Documenting the impact of COVID-19
Arora, Vineet M., et al.. “Using the curriculum vitae to promote gender equity during the COVID-19 pandemic.” PNAS (Sept 29, 2020)
Malisch, Jessica L. et al. “Reply to Arora et al.: Concerns and considerations about using the CV as an equity tool” PNAS (Sept 29, 2020)
Malisch, Jessica L. et al. “In the wake of COVID-19, academia needs new solutions to ensure gender equity” PNAS (July 7, 2020)
Malisch, Jessica L. et al. “Old Problem and New Solutions to ensuring gender equity in academia in the wake of COVID-19” PNAS (July 7, 2020)
Misra, Joya, Dessie Clark, and Ethel L. Mickey. “Keeping COVID-19 from Sidelining Equity” Inside Higher Ed (Feb 10, 2021)
Zahneis, Megan. “The Shrinking of the Scholarly Ranks: The Pandemic May Do Lasting Damage to the Pipeline of Academic Researchers” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb 15, 2021)