“It was so busy on the roads this morning”
“Dropped off my dry cleaning before I headed into the office”
“Had a bit of time before class this morning so treated myself to breakfast in the park”
“Get up. Gym. Shower. Breakfast at my desk”
“Got ahead with my emails on the train”
“x2 outfits, socks and shoes to get on; x2 breakfasts made and fed; x2 lunches packed. Twins watch TV while I get ready. Then it’s x2 buses to get them to nursery and me to work”
“Driving into work. Get a text. Pull over. Mum’s had another fall”
“I’m always up at 4am as my son doesn’t really sleep past then. Last night, though, lots of crying and interrupted rest. It might be his meds need adjusting. I’ll try and make a doctor’s appointment today. I need a lot of coffee. Constantly tired”
“Work has scheduled a last minute meeting. Calling friends – can you take her to school? Can you? Can you? Finally – you can? Thanks! Drop her off on way in”
“We’ve got Dad’s and my favourite carer in today, I’m sorting laundry from an overnight accident (Dad’s doubly incontinent). Soup is on stove. It’s okay. I can leave him without worrying. Bye Dad, see you later!”
“6am feed. Soft hair and nuzzles. I have time to read lecture notes for today. Check nursery bag, grab toast and tea for me, my bags, your bags, breast pump. Get buggy downstairs. Raining. Fix rain cover on buggy. Singing ‘pitter patter it really doesn’t matter’. I feel like I’m always leaking”
“About to board ferry. Message from daughter. ‘Mum I left my assessment project for school at home. I am going to fail this module’. I can’t get home and I can’t help her and I can’t get it off my mind for the rest of the day”
“Spelling test practice. Kisses at the door. Did you pack your bags? Is it hockey or swimming today? Have you got your lunch money? I run five people’s schedules in my head at all times”
“Shared breakfast, croissants and fruit for me. Yoghurt for her. A couple of spoonfuls. It’s what she most fancied this morning. Kiss goodbye and see you tonight. Home from hospice (she’s on respite) feed the cats, collect marking. Drive to work”
“George is here with the minibus. Let’s get your chair to the door and George can get you on board. Got your bunny? Have a lovely day darling. I’ll be here when you get back”
“My class is just due to begin. Message from school. Vomiting bug. You have to collect”
“Glad you made it”
“You’re so organised”
“That sounds lovely”
“You’re so fit”
“Let’s get started!”
“You chose to have kids”
“Time off again?”
“I don’t really want to hear about it”
“Please don’t bring your family difficulties into work, it’s unprofessional”
“Perhaps if you tried to be more organised”
“Let’s get started!”
ABOUT THESE MORNINGS
I asked friends who are not parents and carers – and those who are – to describe in a sentence or two how their day begins. All are used here with permission.
I have deliberately focused on big contrasts to the start of these days (and colleague reactions), with the aim of encouraging dialogue within academic/research spaces about supporting staff and students who are parents and/or carers.
You can see from the descriptions the diverse experiences people have, the additional workloads and concerns of parents and carers, and in some cases more struggles to manage than most.
You can also see from the responses to people describing their mornings, again deliberately chosen to contrast, how those who have additional responsibilities are often shamed or judged.
What is missing in the reactions to the parents and carers is silence, which is another common response. People’s experiences and needs outside of work, while impacting on their research/academic careers, are just not acknowledged or discussed. This can make it difficult to ask for help, or speak openly about problems, or raise valid requests for accommodations.
HOW TO USE ‘MORNINGS’
You may want to use this to note your own experiences if you are a parent or carer – perhaps adding in the comments how you begin your day and what provision (if any) is made for you at work. What helps you juggle responsibilities – and what doesn’t?
If you are a tutor, manager or have any responsibility for staff/student development or welfare – or if you just want to be a better and more supportive colleague – you may want to reflect on this and consider how your day may begin (and end) differently to others you are working or studying alongside.
You might extend this to note how those who don’t have dependents but are on low incomes or disabled may find barriers or challenges to accessing work.
How do the dynamics in the scenarios described above change if it’s a single parent/carer, if the person’s on a low income/insecure contract, if they’re an early career researcher, or if they’re in a department where bullying/harassment is the norm? What additional stresses occur if there aren’t safety nets of positive and secure work environments, health, wealth and wider family support?
You may want to ask those you are working/studying with to describe for you the realities of their lives outside of the academic/research setting, so you are better placed to understand, appreciate, and adapt to their different needs.
That might include changing when you schedule meetings/classes, offering better childcare or resources for carers (pay allowances, for example). It might include flexible hours and home/remote working, reducing or removing unscheduled meetings, and understanding the diverse and changing needs that may come from having multiple children of different ages and/or relatives with disabilities or chronic or life limiting illnesses.
You could also ‘swap mornings’ and imagine how you might manage if you were having to live someone else’s life. What would you need to do to continue as you are right now – would that even be possible?