From managing sleep deprivation to scheduling carpools, from choosing a daycare to finding the right university, the Support Group for Working Mothers at Mason and Working Dads Group help George Mason University faculty, staff and students swap advice about raising children and finding a life/work balance.

The working moms group has met monthly on the Fairfax Campus for 10 years during the school year—and occasionally during the summer. The working dads group has been meeting quarterly since early last year at Merten Hall.

Both groups embody Mason’s Well-Being University Initiative. Members marked National Work and Family Month in October by joining another Mason wellness initiative, Who’s Walking Wednesdays, to swap stories of juggling family and office duties.

Heather Aleknavage is the founder of the working moms group, which has up to 60 members. She joined Mason in 2000 and now works at the Office of Sponsored Programs. The mother of Jeb, 12, and Tara, 8, says group members support each other with advice on subjects such as managing work and school schedules in a friendly, nonjudgmental environment.

Recently, a new mother who had just moved to the area and joined the club shared how hard it was to meet parents. “Turned out that another mom at the table had grown up in the area where the new mom was living, and her parents were still living there,” says Aleknavage. “She had some great tips for getting involved in the community, and they also exchanged information for future reference. The look of relief on the new mom’s face was priceless.”

Members also advocate for wellness and well-being causes for the Mason community, most recently campaigning with other partners across campus for possible faculty parental leave options.

Heather Aleknavage and Jim Gilbert swap life-work balance advice during a joint working moms and dads walk and talk. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Ian Reynolds started the Working Dads Group early last year and has found increasing interest among the Mason community. The talent acquisition manager in Human Resources and Payroll has been working at Mason for eight years. He’s the father of a 10-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy. Reynolds finds  group members come from all stages of life—new dads, fathers of trying teenagers, single dads, and even grandfathers. “We share success stories with one another–advice, tips,” he explains.

Jim Gilbert is assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the School of Business and the father of three-year-old Shannon.  “This group gives me a chance to meet other working dads and see what we have in common when it comes to raising kids,” he says.

And as any mom or dad knows, parenting is an adventure. ‘“One mom once said, ‘It doesn’t get easier, it just gets different,” says Aleknavage. “I always leave the meetings with a fresh perspective!”

The working moms group’s meetings are held at  the Women and Gender Studies Center at the Johnson Center, Room 240K; for more information, contact Aleknavage at  haleknav@gmu.edu. The Working Dads group’s meeting are held in Merten Hall; for more information, contact Reynolds at  ireynol1@gmu.edu.

Write to Sudha Kamath at skamath@gmu.edu

A version of this article also appeared in Mason News.