Blog Equitable Conferencing: Caregivers Perspectives and Prospects

Four Ways to Help Academic Parents Conference with Ease

by Hannah Lebovits, Cleveland State University:

Much like being a grizzled Auror in the Harry Potter universe, parenting involves “constant vigilance” (RIP Mad-Eye Moody). No, I’m not endorsing hover-parenting, I’m referring to the basic awareness of where your kids are and what their most basic needs might be at any given time. If your children aren’t yet old enough to be home alone, you know that this state is definitely constant and absolutely requires vigilance. Day-care and school hours are finite, and you are wholly responsible for everything that happens before and after someone else is watching your child (and during, but that’s another conversation). This makes academic conferences a challenge for many parents who are the primary caregiver. Your youngins rely on you being around all night, early in the morning and after school/day-care hours. 

The stress permeates everything- from the application process until the return flight. Appropriate plans must be somewhat secure before applying, no one wants to be “that person” who dropped out of a conference, after the proposal was accepted. Once accepted though, the heavy lifting really begins. It’s time to deal with payments- registration costs, travel, additional childcare, etc. Schools might cover basic travel costs, but child related expenses are expenses and not often covered in full. Detailed arrangements must be made, deposits often have to be put down- and on-site childcare might be needed if children lack the permanent attachment system that allows them to be left without parents for a significant amount of time (i.e. nursing babies, young children, newly adopted children, etc.)

Still, even when everything is perfectly aligned- drama always seems to arise. Kids get sick the day before you’re about to leave, plans fall through, on-site childcare gets cancelled. Travel can be anxiety ridden, with parents running through a never-ending mental list of every possible scenario, attempting to ensure that no matter what- their children remain safe, well-cared for, and (at least mostly) on schedule. 

What can our universities, conference organizers, professional associations and fellow academics do to assist parents? 

Here are four simple ideas:

  1. For conference organizers: Offer reduced one-day admissions so that academic parents can come in for just a single day of the conference. This isn’t our ideal either- but it allows us to at least attend and present, even when we can’t stay to network and support others.
  2. Also, for conference organizers: Include child-related information in the call for proposals/original conference information. Make information related to nursing rooms, childcare, and other accommodations clearly outlined at the proposal stage by providing a directory and conference center maps to ensure that parents are aware of the resources available. Include a tab on the conference website that clearly supplies this information.   
  3. For conference go-ers: If you know an academic parent that might be considering going to a conference, reach out WHEN THE CALL COMES OUT and offer to help/support them in any way. The week before or day of is too late, we’ve already decided the conference isn’t a possibility or we’ve already booked childcare arrangements.
  4. For universities: Make conference spending flexible enough to cover child related costs, in addition to booking airfare, hotels, and other travel costs. If the university cannot pay directly for the childcare costs, they should at least immediately reimburse the conferencing parent so that that money can be spent on child-related costs. We might be a long way from seeing the whole academic and all of the costs associated with conference travel as a singular entity, but a mom can dream.

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About the author:

Hannah Lebovits is a PhD candidate in urban studies and public affairs at Cleveland State University. Her research focuses on issues related to social equity, justice, and sustainability in local/regional governance. She is also a frequent contributor to local and national news outlets. She lives in Cleveland, OH with her husband and two children. 

Social media info: Twitter- @HannahLebovits