Parenting as an Academic Librarian

Being a working parent is challenging; there’s a lot to manage and prioritize. Thinking of both your personal and professional lives — how do you make it work with an extremely busy schedule? I recently read Courtney Stine’s, Sarah Frankel’s, and Anita Hall’s interview “Parenting and the Academic Library” in C&RL News. Hearing about other parents’ experience is great to hear, and these three bring up a lot of salient points: work-life balance, childcare, academic library support for caregivers, and precarity.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a parent, especially during the pandemic. My daughter was born in February 2020, as my son was two and a half years old. In 2022, I wrote about how important it is to feel a part of a community of parents, and connection more broadly:

I find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in feeling challenged as a father and as a husband. I’ve felt this with other aspects of my life, like job searching or dealing with challenging parents and family. I like knowing there’s others with similar experiences to myself, others that are living parallel lives, with aspects of your lives matched up.

I want to know about other people’s lives and experiences, and get their perspective on similar situations that they’ve found themselves in; to know that it’s not just me, to hear their insight and advice, and to learn and grow.

It’s rooted in this sense of finding common, universal experience that I want to share with others and have others share with me. I learn so much from others and I really appreciate that. There’s solace to be found there, among others who find parenting challenging.

After attending a great writing workshop offered by my institution, “Writing Your Parenting Journey,” I’ve revisited some of my pandemic reflective writing. I’ve thought a lot about what’s required of you to be both a parent and a librarian (or, really any other profession). Working while parenting is challenging!

During a recent CALM 2024 presentation from Courtney Drysdale (“…Supporting Librarian Parents & Caregivers”), she outlined parental supports in academic libraries, specifically aimed at women caregivers. I was struck by how little maternity and paternity leave academic librarians get, especially in the United States. I’m very lucky that in Canada we have substantial maternal and parental leaves.

Through parenting two young kids while working as an academic librarian, here’s what I’ve learned and try to model:

Prioritize

You have limited time as an academic librarian parent. Okay, I’ll admit it, on occasion I work in the evenings. Sometimes it’s something time-sensitive, sometimes I didn’t have enough time at work to finish or work on something. It’s not common, though, and I prioritize my to-do items during the workday so this doesn’t become more common.

You have to prioritize what needs to get done, and what can be left for another day.

Ask For Help

Ask. For. Help. Always! I get help from a lot of different people in my life: my wife, my parents and in-laws, my friends, and of course my coworkers. My colleagues have helped me a lot in a lot of different ways: I’ve asked them for advice, I’ve leaned on them when I’ve been overloaded with work, and I’ve listened to –this can help you in immeasurable ways.

Sometimes just having someone you can talk with, and work something through, is enough.

Learn to Say No

This is something I struggle with and I’m sure it is something you have at times in your life. I’m working on getting better at saying no and figuring out where I want to put my energy.

As Sarah Frankel says, “learning how to say no is hard, but it does get easier. I value my job and the people I work with, but my family has to come first. As my kids get older, I may find myself with more time to do career-related things that I have had to put off since becoming a parent, so that is something to think about for the future.”

You don’t have to do everything or be everything to everyone.

Take Advantage of Flexible/Remote Work (If You Can)

Those of us lucky enough to have some sort of remote work arrangement or having flexible schedules should take full advantage of those perks. Pick up from childcare, early soccer practices and dance lessons, your kid’s doctor’s appointments – it never stops.

For all those administrators, managers, and supervisors who don’t recognize how nice it is for your employees to have flexibility on your schedule – you do now! Flexible and remote work don’t fix everything, but it helps. I’m working on a research project that explores engagement, burnout, and the effect of remote work and flexible scheduling on academic librarians. Stay tuned!

In her closing keynote to CALM 2024, Katherine Goldstein says she “normalizes caregiving through sharing stories.” I think we’ve all got a story to tell. What’s yours?

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