I heard that a good time in your career to start a family is when you are a postdoc. You have the training to work efficiently and the flexibility that is appreciated in parenthood. I thought I was ready. I was not prepared to parent during a pandemic. Parents face barriers that impact their productivity, and the pandemic exacerbates them. The pandemic impacts the way I parent and how I attempt to balance my time between two things I love: science and my family.
Limited work hours: During a large part of the pandemic, our ability to work was limited by the number of individuals allowed in the lab at one time: three people down from eight. As this was the most fair way for everyone to get time, this challenged my ability to be in the lab as I worked within the constraints of daycare hours. Thankfully, I am at a university that provides on-site COVID testing and am surrounded by supportive colleagues. However, time constraints impacted my progress during these past two years.
Children at home while you work: The omicron surge occurred in January, hitting my partner and I hard with our daycare closing for most of the month. The last time we had no daycare was the beginning of the pandemic when everything closed down. We were coordinating hours so that one of us was home with our child. Time spent with my son challenged my creativity on how to entertain him while I tried to sneak in some time to work. I am grateful that he gained more independence, which helps my ability to focus a little more on work. But I always feel like the next daycare shutdown is around the corner.
Strict sickness guidelines: Children at daycare benefit from socializing and learning from their friends, which often means sharing their sicknesses too. We sometimes sent our son to daycare with a mild runny nose or cough before the pandemic. In response to the pandemic, we no longer can send our children to daycare with mild symptoms. While I can understand the guidelines, it has still been hard and frustrating. Now he’s not supposed to go to daycare with a runny nose, which happens a lot, especially during peak allergy months in Sacramento. As I type this, I’m debating whether or not he will be able to stay at daycare tomorrow. Even on days when his runny nose seems just a little bit too runny, we rapidly change our plans and figure out which parent can work from home or take time off. I try to remind myself that we are doing the best we can and that has to be good enough.
I could share a list of what has not worked for us, but I thought it may be nice to focus on a few things that help me get through the week. From trial and error and advice from others, I try to prioritize enjoying the time when things don’t go as planned, coordinating constantly with my partner, and finding support from other parents in similar situations.
Enjoying the time: I sought out support groups offered through my university during the pandemic, and one piece of advice really stuck with me: Enjoy it. Whenever our child is emotional and needs just a few more minutes to hang out in the car before going into daycare, I need to relax and not rush things. Or, just take the day off and go to the park with my child to have a fun day when daycare closes. I’ve realized the importance of enjoying the moments with my child while everything else can wait.
Coordinating with my partner: While our relationship has grown and been challenged during the pandemic, my partner and I figured out how to support each other as parents. This includes figuring out the daily logistics like who cleans up the dishes or makes dinner. Our routine helps me to manage our week and get through these uncertain times. Having a partner or another support in it with you matters — something I’m leaning on, even more, these days.
Parent support: We feel isolated during the pandemic because we have not been able to socialize much with other parents. But what helped was finding support from other colleagues in similar situations. In particular, a postdoc down the hall from me at work has children around the same age as my child. She helps me tremendously by talking through the challenges as a parent and as a postdoc trying to be productive. These support systems remind me that we are not alone.
While I’m sharing some barriers that I’ve faced during the pandemic and what helps me get through this, we all have different experiences. At the end of the day, we need to do what is best for us and our family. This may not be the same for everyone. We also need our universities to support us during this time, whether that means forming support groups, giving us additional time off if needed to take care of our family, or providing more flexibility. The one piece of advice I keep trying to internalize, better some days than others, is to be kind to ourselves. I hope that as you read this blog, you are also reminded to be kind to yourself.
About the Author:
Kelly Subramanian earned her PhD in Biochemistry, Molecular, and Cellular Biology at the University of California, Davis, where she examined the organization of the mitochondrial inner membrane in Jodi Nunnari’s Lab. She is currently a postdoc in the Nunnari Lab and collaborates on a project in biology education research with Erin Dolan at the University of Georgia and Jeffrey Olimpo at the University of Texas, El Paso. Twitter: @kssubramanian12