My wife and I are both archaeologists. This year we attended the SAA meetings in Austin with two little kids. I'm not sure what kind of polygon would be required to represent all the inter-related constraints that emerge when you take children to professional meetings, but I'm sure it would need more than three corners. Maybe 10 corners. Or maybe 38 corners. Maybe it would be a hectogon. No matter how many corners there are, however, you still only get to prioritize two. At times this year it felt like the best we could do was hang on to the "be present during daylight hours" and "eat meals" corners: things like "good" and "cheap" weren't even in sight.
The point of this post is not to complain about the difficulties of bringing kids to these meetings. Bringing kids is optional, of course, so you pay your money and you take your chances. We chose to do it because it was our best move given where we're at with our professional and personal lives. We both needed to be at the meetings and we didn't have options for leaving the kids with someone else while we were away. So we brought them (and their grandmother) and we all did the best we could. We used the childcare services that were set up for the meetings, we gave our presentations, interacted with friends and colleagues, covered for each other, tried to maintain our sanity and senses of humor, and tried to keep everyone fed, rested, and as healthy as possible.
Having the kids at a conference can be fun. Did you happen to see a 3-yr.-old in a space suit singing songs from "Frozen"? That was mine. But we also had our share of challenging moments: I spent way too long trying to find a men's restroom in the convention center with a diaper changing station (if you see a guy struggling to get a stroller into the men's room, why not hold the door for him?), my wife got called a "bitch" by a fellow traveler who thought that our entourage was in the wrong airport security line, one of the kids had to go to the ER in the middle of the night, we spilled every drink on everything everywhere, and I delivered my presentation with snot and masticated Cheerios on my suit jacket. Those are just a few examples. I'm going to try to forget all the bad stuff before we have to start thinking about next year's meetings.
Taking care of kids at a meeting compels you to prioritize your time and energy differently than you might if the kids weren't there. That's a given: when you bring the kids, you're going to have a different experience, period. No amount of subsidized daycare or restroom signage will change that. But that doesn't mean we don't want to get the most out of the time, energy, and money we put into going to meetings like the SAAs. I don't expect that the SAAs will ever be really "family friendly" (and I'm not exactly sure what that would mean, anyway), but I wonder what could be done to make them more inviting and rewarding to those of us who are trying to find some reasonable balance point in the parent-scholar conference polygon.
I don't know how similar our experiences were to those of other families at the SAAs. It would be useful to know what others experienced and how they handled things. I met a guy (with children) at breakfast one morning who said there was a talk of organizing a parent forum of some kind for next year. That sounds like a good start. Looking at how other disciplines organize their professional meetings might also be fruitful.