Academic mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stressors, strains, and challenges in adapting to work-life enmeshment


  • Chang Su Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science, Brandon University.
  • Tsorng-Yeh Lee Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, York University
  • Gordon Flett Professor, Department of Psychology, LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research Canada, Research Chair in Personality & Health, Faculty of Health, York University



Stress, Enmeshment, Strain, COVID-19, Adaptability, Perfection, Mothers, stress, professors


The COVID-19 pandemic had numerous unexpected impacts on academic mothers around the world. In the current article, the challenges being faced by academic mothers during the pandemic are illustrated based on recently published peer-reviewed and grey articles. The enmeshment of work and family life and the lack of separation from work increases the possibilities of significant professional challenges and possible mental health and physical health problems. Specific themes are highlighted, including strains of learning new technologies for online teaching, increasing workload, and household chores, barriers to scholarly productivity, insufficient support from institutions, loneliness due to disconnection, and pursuing perfection. The need for adaptability is also highlighted. This article also provides some institutional recommendations designed to support various academic mothers in increasing their empowerment, adaptability, and resilience, when they are facing the enmeshment of work and life. Given that the pandemic is continuing and now clearly represents a prolonged stress sequence, it is essential that academic mothers develop and utilize positive resources in order to limit the impact on their personal and professional lives.


Adams, L. E., Smith, D., Caccavale, L., & Bean, M. (2020). Parents are stressed! Patterns of parent stress across COVID-19. Online publication. DOI:10.21203/ DOI:


Besser, A., Flett, G. L., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2020a). Adaptability to a sudden transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: Understanding the challenges for students. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Advance online publication. DOI:

Besser, A., Lotem, S., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2020b). Psychological stress and vocal symptoms among university professors in Israel: Implications of the shift to online synchronous teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Voice. Advance online publication. .jvoice.2020.05.028

Creely, E., Laletas, S., Fernandes, V., Subban, P., & Southcott, J. (2021). University teachers’ well-being during a pandemic: The experiences of five academics. Research Papers in Education. DOI: 10.1080/0261522.2021.1941214 DOI:

Deryugina, T., Shurchkov, O., & Stearns, J. (2021). COVID-19 disruptions disproportionately affect female academics. AEA Papers and Proceedings, American Economic Association, 111, 164-168. DOI:

Donner, F. (2020). The household work men and women do, and why. New York Times, 1–1.

Drew, K., & Marshall, C. (2020). Work-life balance in academia In E. Drew S. Canavan (Eds.). The gender-sensitive university (pp. 52-66). Routledge. DOI:

Flaherty, C. (2020). No room of one's own. Inside Higher Ed, 1–1.

Flett, G. L. (2018). The psychology of mattering: Understanding the human need to be significant. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press/Elsevier. DOI:

Flett, G. L. (2022). An introduction, review, and conceptual analysis of mattering as an essential construct and an essential way of life. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 40, 3-36. DOI:

Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L. (2020). The perfectionism pandemic meets COVID-19: Understanding the stress, distress, and problems in living for perfectionists during the global health crisis. Journal of Concurrent Disorders, 2, 80-105. DOI:

Guarino, C. M., & Borden, V. M. (2017). Faculty service loads and gender: Are women taking care of the academic family? Research in Higher Education, 58(6), 672–694. DOI:

Guy, B., & Arthur, B. (2020). Academic motherhood during COVID-19: Navigating our dual roles as educators and mothers. Gender, Work, and Organization, 27, 887-899. DOI:

Hill, A. P., & Curran, T. (2016). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20, 269-288. DOI:10.1177/1088868315596286 DOI:

Jahrami, H., BaHammam, A.S., Bragazzi, N. L., Saif, Z., Faris, M., & Vitiello, M. V. (2021). Sleep problems during the COVID-19 pandemic by population: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 17(2), 299–313. DOI:

Kalaimathi, G. A., Venkatesan, L., & Vijayalakshmi, K. (2021). Faculty Perceived Benefits and Barriers of Online Teaching among Nursing Faculty in Tamil Nadu. International Journal of Nursing Education, 12(4), 148-154.

Kasymova, S. Place, M. S. J., Billings, L. D., & Aldape, D. J. (2021). Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the productivity of academics who mother. Feminist Frontiers, 28(2), 419-433. DOI:

Krapf, M., Ursprung, H. W., & Zimmermann, C. (2017). Parenthood and productivity of highly skilled labor: Evidence from the groves of academe. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 140, 147–175. 2017.05.010 DOI:

Lee, T. Y., Zhong, Y., Li, F., Tao, Z., Shi, T., & Ji, J. (2021). Knowledge, risk perceptions, and depression related to COVID-19: the comparison between nurses and other professionals in Nanjing, China. Journal of Scientific Research and Reports. 27(5), 10-21. DOI: DOI:


Martin, A. J. (2017). Adaptability—what it is and what it is not: comment on Chandra and Leong (2016). American Psychologist, 72, 696–698. DOI:

Martin, A. J., Nejad, H. G., Colmar, S., & Liem, G. A. D. (2013). Adaptability: how students’ responses to uncertainty and novelty predict their academic and non-academic outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 728–746. DOI:

Maushart, S. (1997). The mask of motherhood: How mothering changes everything and why we pretend it doesn’t. New South Wales, Australia: Vintage.

Nahas, V., & Amasheh, N. (1999). Culture case meanings and experiences of postpartum depression among Jordanian Australian women: A transcultural study. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 10, 37-45. DOI:

Oleschuk M. (2020). Gender Equity Considerations for Tenure and Promotion during COVID-19. Canadian Review of Sociology = Revue Canadienne de Sociologie, 57(3), 502–515. DOI:

Pun, S. H., Ma, J. L. C., & Lai, K. C.C. (2004). In search of perfect motherhood for imperfect childhood – Experiences of 22 Chinese mothers. Child and Family Social Work, 9, 285-293. DOI:

Racine, N., Hetherington, E. McArthur, A. B. McDonald, S., Edwards, S. Tough, S.…. & al. (2021a). Maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada: a longitudinal analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 8(5), 405-415. DOI:

Racine, N., McArthur, B. A., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Zhu, J., & Madigan, S. (2021b). Global prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during COVID-19: A meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, e212482. DOI:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482 DOI:

Rao, A. H. (2019). Even breadwinning wives don’t get equality at home. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Schiebinger, L., & Gilmartin, S. K. (2010). Housework is an academic issue. Academe, 96(1), 39–44.

Sharmaa, N. & Vaishb, H. (2020). Impact of COVID – 19 on mental health and physical load on women professionals: an online cross-sectional survey. Health Care for Women International. 41, 1255–1272. DOI:

Sherry, B. S., Hewitt, L. P., Sherry, L. D., & Flett, L. G. (2010). Perfectionism dimensions and research productivity in psychology professors: Implications for understanding the (mal) adaptiveness of perfectionism. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 42(4), 273–283. DOI:

Sorkkila, M., & Aunola, K. (2019). Risk factors for parental burnout among Finnish parents: The role of socially prescribed perfectionism. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29, 648-659. DOI:

Stadtlander, L. & Sickel, A. (2021). A qualitative study examining home as faculty workplace during COVID-19 self-isolation. Research Communications, 11, 96-105. DOI:

Yildirim T. M. & Eslen-Ziya, H. (2021). The differential impact of COVID-19 on the work conditions of women and men academics during the lockdown. Gender, Work & Organization, 28(S1), 243–249. DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12529 DOI:




How to Cite

Su, C., Lee, T.-Y. ., & Flett, G. . (2022). Academic mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stressors, strains, and challenges in adapting to work-life enmeshment. INYI Journal, 12(1).