What's been your biggest challenge working from home?
Without a doubt, it has been mustering the patience and creativity to meet the needs of my job as an academic and those of my family when both roles are occurring in the same space 24/7. Personal and professional aspects of who I am collide in this environment, and being an academic mama means that there is regularly a toddler on my lap…or next to me eating in a highchair…or somewhere in the house shrieking…while I am teaching or participating in meetings.
I hope seeing academic parents in action will normalise for students, especially women, that while being both a parent and an academic may be chaotic, it is possible!
What has surprised you about working from home?
The most precious gift of working from home has been being alongside my partner (who is also working from home full-time) to watch our 19-month-old son grow. When social distancing restrictions were put in place in March, we were together to see him take his first steps. Now, his language is exploding! We have kept a list of all his new words and are awestruck at hearing new words every single day!
We’ve also been surprised to make friends with our neighbours. One of our lounge room windows looks directly into a building on their property. For the past several months, our families have been getting to know each other by taping handwritten notes and pictures drawn by our children to our windowpanes. We’ve celebrated special days, expressed frustration, shared hard moments, and learned about one another—and yet we’ve never been in the same room! We look forward to finally meeting our new friends face-to-face when social distancing restrictions ease.
How are you staying connected with Swinburne and your colleagues?
We are all striving to do our best to engage students and to support them. As a result, I have a lot more meetings since we moved to remote work and online teaching. Increasingly, meetings begin by checking in on how others are faring. Taking time to ask colleagues and students how they are doing and making space for the spectrum of feelings they may be experiencing has helped to keep me connected.
Also, a colleague and I have created a routine of starting our weekly meeting with a quick hello and a 20-minute yoga session. We can’t see each other and aren’t even doing the same sequence, but it helps ensure we both do something kind for ourselves that day. It also helps to clear our minds, so we can be as productive as possible when we sit down to work.
How do you unwind/switch off from work?
I’ll be candid, I have found this really, really difficult. In general, this is an area where I struggle. To recharge, I usually spend time outdoors and on the water. Being confined inland without those outlets, I’ve been doing my best to focus on the details of my natural surroundings on my daily walks…the colours of the flowers, dew drops on leaves, sounds of the birds. The biggest help, however, is my little one. As a toddler, he lives 100% in the present moment. His exuberance, silliness, and wild antics help keep me grounded.
Dr Jessica Mackelprang and her 19-month-old son, Sawyer, smiling through lockdown together.
What are your lockdown recommendations?
Mindless television is all the rage in our house. Recent shows we’ve enjoyed include Sex Education and Cobra Kai. We also found the film Knives Out pretty amusing. My favourite new social media star is Dr. Rachel Brenner who uses TikTok to bring humour to all things academia. If you’re not familiar with her, check her out. Seriously, she’s hilarious!
Have you stocked up on anything?
Whittaker’s chocolate… LOTS OF IT! Specifically, the dark chocolate with caramel, and the milk chocolate with peanut butter. These are survival staples at our house.
Who is in your family at home?
My partner, Neil, and our 19-month-old son, Sawyer.
What is your best tip for balancing both family and work?
In my household, it has been really important to have candid conversations about what is working and what is not. Like me, my partner is working full-time remotely. The pandemic has pushed us to think creatively about how we can continue to be the parent and the professional we each desire to be. This has meant putting a plan in place for how to share childcare and other household responsibilities as equitably as possible and then revisiting those plans and modifying our strategy, as needed.
It has been a bumpy ride at times, but we’ve both leaned in to support each other in ways that have strengthened our family. At this point we split childcare around Sawyer’s naps, such as one of us minds him in the morning and the other cares for him in the afternoon. We then work for a while in the evenings after he goes to sleep. It is tiring, but it enables each of us to have some true focus time and for Sawyer to always have a parent on duty for snacks, play, and stories.
That said, this is just what works for us. There are so many different types of families and circumstances, and I recognize that many staff and students might not have this option. Whatever your situation, I just urge parents and other carers to be kind to themselves. We are all doing the best we can with a very challenging, once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) situation.
What is the funniest/trickiest/strangest thing that's happened with work and having kids at home?
Very much engrossed in a meeting, I hadn’t realised that Sawyer had been busy rearranging the furniture behind me. Unbeknownst to me, he had pushed the coffee table across the lounge room and behind my desk chair. Out of nowhere, he startled me as he popped up over my shoulder, hugging me around the neck and shouting, “HIYA!!” to everyone in the Teams meeting.
Between family cuddles and nap time, Sawyer has found a knack in interior decorating the home office.