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Group Offers Support for Faculty Parents by Cody Kitaura

The coronavirus pandemic has created numerous challenges for faculty parents, especially mothers, the organizer of a support group on campus said. (Getty Images)

Woman holding small child while talking on phone. They sit at desk in front of a laptop screen.
The coronavirus pandemic has created numerous challenges for faculty parents, especially mothers, the organizer of a support group on campus said. (Getty Images)

The faculty member helping her colleagues learn to balance their work with new children has a conundrum: Many parents are too busy for a meeting to talk about how busy they are.

“You’re so exhausted it’s hard to imagine you’re ever going to be able to write a sentence again,” Diane Wolf, professor of sociology, said of new parents. “So many people could use more help but they’re so stressed already, it’s hard to find time to connect with others. That leads to isolation, and that’s not good.” 

Diane Wolf
Diane Wolf

Wolf, who has been a faculty work-life advisor for more than a decade, is going into her third year as convener of UC Davis’ Faculty Parent Support Group, where new parents can attend confidential meetings to connect with others in similar situations or brainstorm solutions to problems like balancing a tenure review and teaching full-time while caring for a young child, or dealing with senior colleagues who set unrealistic expectations because they don’t understand the demands of family life. And if they can’t fit one of the lunchtime meetings into their schedule, Wolf offers one-on-one conversations by phone, Zoom or email.

“Those who have connected with me have been extraordinarily grateful someone is helping them try to manage things and brainstorm possible solutions,” she said.

The pandemic has made life more difficult for everyone, and parents are no exception. Wolf said the closure of daycare centers, remote learning and other challenges related to COVID-19 have created extraordinary pressure on faculty parents, especially women who saw their domestic workloads increase disproportionately during the lockdowns.

‘DOING IT ALL WHEN YOUR CHILDREN ARE SMALL’

Meetings for the group are held from noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom five times per quarter. The next four meetings will be held:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 13
  • Tuesday, Oct. 26
  • Wednesday, Nov. 10
  • Tuesday, Nov. 30

More information is available on the group’s website.

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More work-life resources are available on the Academic Affairs website.

“We are seeing a tremendous regression back to assuming that childcare is the woman’s concern, regardless of her education or profession, including academics,” she said.

In response, the parent support group broadened its focus to also include parents of school-age children, and has invited guest speakers to provide tips on balancing work with kids’ remote learning.

The university has other policies and programs designed to help parents, and Wolf praised the ease with which maternity leave is now granted — a far cry from when she became a mother more than 25 years ago. The University of California system has also been flexible during the pandemic, allowing for paid time off for parents whose child care centers are temporarily closed because of COVID-19, and allowing faculty members to pause their “tenure clocks” because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She said UC Davis’ policies are better than those of many other universities, but added that more could be done to support faculty parents: aligning teaching hours and department meetings with child care availability and providing additional teaching assistants, for example.

“Some senior faculty are aware of these challenges, but I don’t think it is widespread,” she said.

She’s working to create a video so more senior faculty members can become aware of those challenges and hear suggestions about ways to support new parents.

The group and her role as a work-life advisor are part of Academic Affairs, and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Philip Kass has been very supportive to new parents, Wolf said.

“He said very specifically when I spoke to him, ‘There’s a national pattern of women faculty deferring their merits and promotions, and I don’t want to see that happen at UC Davis.’”

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.