For many in the US, Labor Day marks the end of summer, and school is about to start or has already started. We all struggled adapting to trying to work from home with children adapting to virtual learning from home, and this fall is likely to prove even more chaotic. While many countries have (at least for now) the pandemic under control, infection continues to rage across America, so back-to-school plans vary wildly from state to state and from school to school.

As a working parent, I want to ask all of you to cut each other some slack. This is going to get messy, and I wanted to put out some ideas on how we can make life easier for each other (your thoughts welcome below in the comments).

First, be flexible in scheduling. Class schedules and whether students are in school or at home are going to change a lot over the next few weeks/months. People may not be able to attend meetings at some times and may need to drop out as situations change. Do what you can to be flexible and move things around to include your important personnel.

On top of that, it makes sense to record the proceedings of meetings, either by sending around summary notes or simply by recording the entire meeting (relatively easy to do when using Zoom, Teams, or whatever videoconferencing software you’re using). This lets others catch up on what they’ve missed when they have time available.

In those virtual meetings, make sure it is clear that having your video turned off is perfectly acceptable as needed. Many parents may need to multitask and be preparing a lunch or snack during meeting times, or worse yet, have a child melting down in the background. Leaving a camera off can at least let those parents remain aware of what’s being discussed.

Similarly, have someone monitor the chat function in any virtual meetings. For parents, it’s often easier to communicate by text than by voice, again allowing one to participate in the discussion without sharing that screaming meltdown that may be happening at the same time.

In general, parents are going to be working when they can, often at odd hours, so be as patient as possible when expecting replies to your messages. Parents — consider putting up an out-of-office notice for the hours where you know you won’t be available.

September has suddenly crept up on us in this timeless time, and to quote the great Joey Ramone, “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school.” Fun fun. We’re off until Tuesday.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


21 Thoughts on "Back to School — Be Kind to Your Coworkers Who Are Parents"

Seems like sensible suggestions. My only problem is with your article title: Be kind to your co-workers who are parents. Your next article should be: Parents be kind to your co-workers who are not parents. A different article entirely, true…but in most of corporate America..the lack of kindness isn’t really from childless workers…did I take a leap here? probably…but the active disrespect towards childless workers is often a problem.

I agree…I think it is too often the colleagues who don’t have children who get dumped on by those who do. You don’t have kids? Well then, you can do this extra work/stay late/come in on the weekends. Just because people don’t have (or can’t have) children, doesn’t mean their time is any less valuable. But, that’s a different topic for a different day. Everyone stay safe and enjoy the long weekend.

Enjoyed this blast from the past. I went to several Ramones and lots of other rock shows in the ’80s and ’90s, which may be one reason my hearing is not so great now. While my kids are now a young adult and a mid-teen able to work on their own, I certainly empathize with parents whose kids are younger and/or need a lot of attention. Hang in there – you rock!

Can confirm. Seeing the Ramones several times has contributed greatly to my poor hearing these days.

Let’s also have some patience with those who co-workers are themselves trying to take classes, whether they are parents or not. Classes that are outside of working hours may seem to be a no-brainer, but I suspect that some classes will be scheduled right at somebody’s dinner time, making it harder to maintain that critical downtime. (Anyone who is trying to do their own homework while trying to help with other responsibilities in the household such as elder care, also needs consideration.)

Great post! I have blocked out school pick up time so generally meetings aren’t put in during those times but I can answer/make phone calls or IM whilst waiting in the car. Luckily my son is 10 so can be quiet when required but it usually requires an electronic device! Got to do what you got to do!

A timely reminder to be considerate of your colleagues, whether they’re parents or not.

Weird framing since everyone is living through a global pandemic. Would’ve been more accessible if it was written as “Be Kind to Your Coworkers.” You never know what anyone is going through, and parents aren’t more worthy of patience by that distinction.

I suppose it came to mind because so many of us who are parents are about to go through an explosively difficult time rather than just continuing on with the general difficulties we are all facing now. I was part of discussions internally at my company meant to think about ways to support our employees during this period in particular (in addition to all the work being done to support everyone in general through the pandemic) so thought it worth sharing some ideas. Sorry if you feel left out, I urge everyone to cut everyone some slack as often as is possible.

We have done a large number of pandemic-related posts in general about working conditions for us all in case you haven’t yet seen them:

…many who are not parents are also going through an explosively difficult time…there seems to be a..perhaps unintended assumption…maybe bias…that those without children are just “continuing on with general difficulties we are all facing now” and then the leap:are somehow worthy of less…it is not really about my feelings but about how individuals are mother used to say: you can’t always see the cross another person bears….I agree with ANON….a topic for another day….great article poor title…that’s all…but ultimately…the dirty truth… in many environments.. is that the childless subsidize your lifestyle and yet are often harshly judged and treated….I do understand: not the topic of you article……stay well and find some time this weekend for joy…good article

I’m a bit taken aback by this attitude. Yes, others may also be facing particular difficulties this next week, and we should hear their voices as well and I can’t begin to speak for them. But I do know that being kind to one group of people doesn’t take away from the kindness that can be shown to another group of people. It’s not like there’s a specifically limited amount of kindness that has to be carefully rationed out. Helping someone else in no way lessens your value nor should recognition of the suffering of others erase your own suffering.

We’ve written many posts at The Scholarly Kitchen about the issues faced by certain individuals or groups of individuals. One would never think to respond to a post about working with a disability with a complaint that the article wasn’t also about the needs of people without disabilities. I’m really not sure how to respond here other than to wish you the best and if you think there are important needs in our community that are not being met then please write your own post about those needs:

Hi David,

You know what, I spoke too quickly. I should have considered the entirety of SK’s publications, as you are accurate. Thank you for the thoughtful writing and this thoughtful response. Sorry for being rather shortsighted before.


This is a timely post for all those who labo(u)r regardless of form. School work is another metric being dropped into the space-time continuum. Stay cognizant and have a fun weekend, when possible. Or schedule it.

This strikes home for me as a father of young children. I will say that I am blessed with great colleagues who are unfailingly supportive of work-life balance issues in this complicated time. That said, the coming school opening and the inevitable chaos to ensue is a major stress and it is useful to remind people that, say, when you ask if I’m available to meet next week my only true response is, “maybe?”
One gesture that is well-intentioned but sometimes aggravating (particularly from supervisors or leadership) is chiding folks for doing work on the weekend or off-hours. If I’m updating tickets at 10pm on Sat night, it’s probably because that was the opportune time to accomplish this work, not that I’m a workaholic who can’t let the office go, trying to impress, etc. IMO there’s no need to call attention—either commending or chastising. It’s probably just a matter of seizing a moment of peace and productivity that was elusive during regular hours. Sometimes “enjoying the weekend” includes crossing some bothersome to-do off the list.
Likewise, IMO it’s best not to probe why someone has their camera off during a zoom meeting. As someone who has attended meetings while wedged into a kid’s bunk bed, I appreciate not needing to explain why I’m not showing off my fabulous home office. Of course there are non-parenting reasons for not wanting to expose views of your remote environment as well, so best to just respect staff preferences and move on.
Best of luck to all, whatever your WFH challenges—being considerate and accommodating to all colleagues is always good council!

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