Tuesday, May 27, 2008

 

Academe and Parenting

Over at IHE, there's a story glossing two new studies that suggest that academics are less likely to have kids – and to have fewer, when they do -- than professionals in other fields with similar levels of training. The comments are worth reading; stories on this topic always generate a fair bit of interest.

Admittedly, my first thought was that the comparison groups – lawyers and doctors – were misleading. They make much higher incomes than do most entry-level faculty, so it's easier to pay for daycare or to have one partner stay home. If a general practitioner is making, say, 150k, her partner can work part-time or not at all and they'll still be fine. If an assistant professor is making, say, 45k, the same isn't true, at least on the coasts. Yes, we have similar levels of graduate training, but economically we're much closer to high school teachers than we are to doctors. (In the case of adjuncts, the economics come closer to office temps.)

There's also a problem with the term 'academe.' Even if used only to refer to post-secondary education, it's still terribly broad. The demands of a position at a research-intensive university are different from the demands at a community college. Judging by what data I've seen on the percentages of women faculty at each level, it appears that community colleges (and teaching colleges generally) are more hospitable to people with children, though even here it's often a struggle.

Part of the problem, I think, is the potentially infinite demands of the job. How much time does it take, per week, to prep and grade a typical class? No, really. I suspect that an honest answer for a course you've taught before would have to be “it depends.” (New preps are very time-consuming.) If you made a point of doing the absolute minimum you could get away with, how little time could it take? Alternately, if you put your heart and soul into it, how much time could it take? And that makes negotiating family time difficult. When you're trying to negotiate childcare responsibilities with your partner, and a significant chunk of the work time you're trying to claim is 'soft' like that, it's tough.

Although I put in far more hours per week in the office as a dean than I ever did as a professor, I'm not sure if the total workload is more. It probably is, but by a much smaller margin. Most of my job can be left at work, even if the leaving sometimes doesn't happen until later than I'd like. (Of course, idiot that I am, I add blogging to my home time.) That mostly isn't true as a professor. Yes, class times are scheduled and therefore finite. Office hours are also scheduled, and generally finite. Grading is finite (even if it doesn't always feel like it), and largely cyclical. Just looking at your syllabi, you can usually tell when you'll be in 'grading jail' and when you won't. Committee work is generally much less onerous than faculty folklore would have you believe. (If you don't believe me, try administration for a little while. I dare ya.) But things like “reading in your field” and “preparing class lectures/discussions/exercises” and “writing” are potentially infinite. They're never really done. So, depending on both internal and external pressures, it can be nearly impossible to leave work at work.

That puts a real strain on homelife, especially when childcare is part of the equation. Putting off some background reading for a day is less costly than, say, skipping a class. Of course, if you do it too much, you lose effectiveness. But it can be hard to quantify that when other things – the end of the elementary school day, say, or the empty refrigerator, or the science fair, or the infant screaming at three in the morning, and four in the morning, and five in the morning – are both urgent and concrete. Children are urgent and concrete.

So if you combine tricky homelife with a nasty market with comparatively low salaries and potentially infinite demands, it's not surprising that intelligent people tend to hedge their bets.

As my regular readers know, I have kids. The moniker “Dean Dad” is supposed to reflect the two roles that take up most of my waking hours, and my efforts to do justice to both. I have very little patience with those who suggest that children are just another lifestyle choice, like kayaking or blogging. They're a choice, yes, but of a fundamentally different kind. We have ethical obligations to children that we don't have to kayaks or blogs. To suggest that childcare is worthy of no more respect than, say, a model airplane club strikes me as monstrous. If a model airplane takes up too much time, you can store it or sell it. If your daughter takes up too much of your time, you can...what, exactly? Especially on a young academic's salary?

I'm concerned that the family-unfriendliness of higher ed is becoming self-reinforcing, and is undesirable both inherently – there's no contradiction between being smart and wanting kids – and politically, as we grow ever more out-of-touch with the rest of the culture. But the usual suggestions for ameliorating it – onsite daycare, adjusted tenure clocks, 'awareness' – fall terribly short (as welcome as they would be). They're potentially helpful, as far as they go, but they don't get at the employer's market, the low salaries, or the 'soft' and undefinable contours of the work. Weirdly enough, I actually have an easier time as Dean Dad than I had as Professor Dad, since the dean's job at least has easily understood time boundaries. In some ways, it's much closer to a traditional office job, so it's more in synch with the rest of the culture.

A question for my wise and worldly academic readers who have children: how have you drawn boundaries between work time and parenting time? For those whose partners aren't academics: do they get it? If so, how?


Comments:
The idea that it's just easier for one partner to stay home in the case of doctors and lawyers is an unlikely explanation: Female doctors and lawyer have more kids than female academics, so the phenomenon is not restricted to men whose wives stay home. And fathers do not stay home in any statistically relevant numbers. Just a few percent, who can hardly be responsible for all the kids.
 
I have a two-year-old. The complete inflexibility of my time for 8-9 months out of 12, the drain on my available time DD refers to, and the unwillingness of my current employer to mentor or otherwise help alleviate the crisis are the main sources of dissatisfaction with my current job.

Since the first option can't really change in academe (though I teach an overload year in and year out and have extra responsibilities as the main representative of a very small program), this issue would be the one that would drive me into another career (if it happens).
 
Part of the problem today (and I would be the first to admit that it is a very complex problem) is that traditional teaching in a traditional university is not flexible. You have be in class to teach it, every single class period.

When I adjuncted at a mid-sized university that used adjuncts to teach all their gen-ed requirements, nearly all of us with kids (male and female alike) had a spouse who worked in high tech or law. And guess who always had to step in when a child had an ear infection? The high tech spouse who could work from home, run a meeting with a conference call or juggle a baby on one knee while keeping up with email. The lawyer spouses had less flexibility but most of them had staff and meetings can be rescheduled much easier than classes.

Over time, the very low pay combined with very low flexibility will drive people out of academia.

I have a good friend who left a tenured job when she had her third child. And then there are the friends without children who also left tenure for more flexibility and relevance outside of the university.
 
I would think, by the standards mentioned here, it would be even less likely for elementary and secondary teachers to have families.

They have to teach, in class, full days, five days a week. They still have homework to grade at night. If they are seeking to keep their positions, or advance, they are likely to be taking continuing education, or graduate, courses. They are developing and revising lesson plans perhaps nightly, since every year, and every class, are different.

Oh, and did I mention that they are paid relatively low salaries?
 
I agree with most of what's been said so far. Some others that came to mind:

1) Childbearing is seen as a sign of lack of seriousness in a female academic. In a profession where most people already won't get jobs, labeling yourself as less serious and dedicated than your colleagues is insanely risky unless you are a by-God genius or an incredibly hard worker. (It's OK for male academics as long as the wife takes care of the kids. Invisible children don't count.)

2) In the sciences, the lengthening of the post-doc period means that women are 36-40 years old at tenure. Might be even older, if the graduate work took more than 5 years. If the woman already has a spouse, and is still fertile, on the night of the tenure decision, she might have a couple of kids. If not, well...

3) Again, a scientist-oriented concern: fieldwork. Some professions (anthro, geology, marine biology...) require you to be in the field for weeks or months at a stretch. A spouse might be OK with that, if the couple is childless. I know very few men who would put up with being left at home with a toddler for 3 months while his wife is in Papua New Guinea.

I really do think a lot of it is institutional culture. Academies grew out of the monastic tradition, and I think they did retain some of the old assumptions, including the lack of family concerns. I mean, since when do monks have to worry about daycare?
 
Anyone want to tackle the obvious flaw in the study?

They limited the research to studying "recent household "birth events" (having a child aged zero or one) in households of physicians, lawyers, and academics"

It seems to me this doesn't actually tell me anything about the final conclusion that is drawn--that academics are likely to have smaller families.

I have three children. All born before entering my PhD program. I am not alone in this, as more professionals are returning for their PhDs in business after successful business careers, bringing practical experience and older families with them.

It just seems, well, odd to limit the study to "recent birth events" as some sort of indicator about family size and parenting.
 
Fertility doesn't necessarily have to be a barrier because I know a lot of academics who have adopted children after tenure.
 
Dictyranger is right about having children as being a sign of lack of seriousness. I am sad to report that this idea is still going strong in the Humanities.

I've made a career with 2 children only because I've been very, very lucky. I ended up with a tenure-track job (now tenured) at a SLAC where teaching is more important that scholarship. I ended up with colleagues who were mostly okay with the kid thing. But I KNOW I sacrificed a high-flying academic career for children. Because, as anon#1 mentions, I am the spouse with the mostly flexible schedule. I take the children to the doctor, to their lessons, to campus on school holidays. It becomes very difficult to attend more than 2-3 conferences a year, to really sit down and concentrate and write those articles when other things always need to be done. A 3-day hospital stay for one kid next month? My job, because tech spouse can't take the time off.

I"m not complaining, but these are the facts. There is also no daycare on campus and no childcare support for meetings. It has been tough.

And, schlupp? My female doctor with 2 kids works 8-12 every morning. Sets her own hours.
 
As a more direct answer to DD's original question of "how do you balance?":

My husband is also an ABD academic in the humanities, and we have a 9 yr. old and a 19-month old (and we're planning to have a 3rd and final child next spring). We balance family and academia by following one primary rule: Treat this job as if it were an 8-5. Even though we may not have to teach, prep, grade, etc. every day of the week, we still head to office M-F and stay there for the entire workday. We divide the kids' drop off and pick-up schedules evenly, then we both arrive at work a bit after 8:00 and work until just before 5:00. Making the most of this "regular" work week, allows us the flexibility we need when one of the kids gets sick, has a field trip, or is out of school for a holiday. We take turns caring for sick children, and we are flexible with *each other* when one of us may need an hour or two of work time after the kids go to bed. We've found that treating our academic jobs as if they were "regular" jobs (b/c everyone outside of academia seems to think they're not), allows us to concentrate on work during the day and our children in the evening. We're more productive as academics and much more engaged and present when we get home in the evenings.

Now, all this said, things will certainly change, to an extent, once we get jobs (yes, I'm making a big assumption), but we'll figure it out. Unfortunately, Dean Dad's point about the low salary for beginning professors is true. Add to this the fact that most newly minted PhD are towing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt behind them, and it's even less likely that one or the other parent can stay home to care for children.
 
As a quasi-outsider to the conversation I think it's a really big misperception that academics have way more research to do than anyone else, woe is them.

My husband works in IT and he has to stay up in his field, which changes constantly. I work in publishing which is a whole other concern. My doctor friends have a heck of a lot of reading at night to keep up on research, and lawyers the same.

In other words, white collar jobs of ALL kinds can expand beyond the boundaries.

I am guessing there are two critical differences, both relating to tenure.

1. It's hard to have kids when you are having to take a post-doc year here, a post-doc year there in different places. Hard to maintain a relationship, be in the right place while ovulating, etc. Two-academic families are even worse.

2. I think there is a sense that not-yet-tenured professors are "waiting for their lives to start"and may put off having kids, which may result in smaller families. Some people do have kids earlier but I think a lot don't.
 
Excellent post -- thanks!

When I read these discussions in other venues (or when I talk with colleagues in the coffee room), I notice that we don't always talk about academics who looked at the professional landscape (insane FT-job-market, huge work hours, pressures of tenure and keeping up in the field, low pay, etc.) and made the decision to be child-free.

Of course, one could look at this decision as something unfortunate: i.e., it's awful that, despite all of the gestures toward fairness in academia, this is a profession that puts up lots of barriers to having children.

But at the same time, as many of us looked at this landscape in graduate school, what we saw triggered a feeling that we would rather make the choice not to have children. Looking at the academic landscape helped us feel at ease with the fact that we simply do not have the desire to be fathers or mothers.

For someone like myself (and my wife, also a writer and academic), this decision came upon surveying the landscape in graduate school, and I suspect that this is the case for many child-free academics.

(I intend no offense w/the term "child-free." It's just the preferred term to "childless," which presumes lack.)

In short, academia is not a friendly environment for being a father or mother, and I agree this does create complex problems. But it doesn't always have to be a problem, as is the case for those who choose not to be parents.

As DD says, "choice" can be a vexing word in this discussion. I don't mean to equate the choice of parenting with any other choice we make, but I only mean to emphasize "choice" in regard to birth control.
 
Anonymous 7:33 AM,

My point exactly: Stay-at-home spouses cannot be the reason for doctor's having more kids.
 
I am newly-tenured at a regional comprehensive university with a 4/4 teaching load; my wife is an ass't professor in the same department. Our child was born the day after the job offer came through.

One way that we have been able to find some flexibility is that we keep our teaching schedules opposite one another's. There's never a time when both of us are in the classroom--which sometimes means tight handoffs, but does give us control over our parenting.

(The realpolitik reason this works: The T/Th schedule is so popular in my university that my willingness to teach on MWF gives me some freedom about my schedule.)

Of course, that also means we divide up the nights: Usually, I work from ~8.30-1.00/1.30, and she goes to sleep around 8.30, then gets up around 2 or 3am and just stays up until morning. Every night. For 5 years now.

But this is hardly a scalable model! It depends on a family-friendly chair, the ability to negotiate about our teaching schedules, and a fair amount of goodwill and patience. It also doesn't hurt that we've both had good luck with publications and teaching evaluations, which gives the chair some cover.

But "good luck" isn't a model.
 
I sat on the "diversity committee" at our school and one of their "brilliant" ideas was to start a campaign to hire more gay and lesbian faculty. I had to laugh - my department has two gay men and a transgendered woman on the faculty but we only have one woman (me) who's had a baby in the last 30 years - and I'm not tenured (and never will be). If we really want to get serious about diversity and we believe that students will relate to professors that "look like them" then we have a responsibility to make our workplaces more family friendly - most of my students are parents! It's more than a little crazy to expect people to give up something that's such a normal part of life for the majority of people. And it's equally crazy to expect people to want to have kids when their take home pay is less than what it costs to have a kid in daycare.

It's easier for folks in other professions to have kids because the penalty for going part time or taking a few years break is much more in the academy then it is in professions like medicine. My mother, a doctor, had four kids and worked off and on throughout the time we were growing up. She could work locums and other part time jobs as needed and took a couple years off when she had 3 kids under 5 at home. She was able to have her career and have her family.

At the end of the day, I think the academy loses because smart men and women gravitate towards other fields where their ability is more important than a 6-12 month gap in their resume (and they get paid more!)
 
Dean Dead:
[...]I have very little patience with those who suggest that children are just another lifestyle choice, like kayaking or blogging. They're a choice, yes, but of a fundamentally different kind. We have ethical obligations to children that we don't have to kayaks or blogs. To suggest that childcare is worthy of no more respect than, say, a model airplane club strikes me as monstrous. If a model airplane takes up too much time, you can store it or sell it. If your daughter takes up too much of your time, you can...what, exactly? Especially on a young academic's salary?

Congrats on demolishing that straw man argument. Now, where people actually use the phrase "kids are just another lifestyle choice" is when yet another person with a kid uses that as yet another reason that the childfree have to assume some odious task, whether it's working late, working early, working period (Suzy's sick again), being flexible, being on call, being the one who travels, etc.

In the age of birth control, adoption, and abortion kids are exactly a lifestyle choice, and if you have them, you made a series of choices. I choose not to have kids and so yes, I do enjoy flexibility because of that -- and I'm not about to give it up on behalf of a parent because they chose to have a child. My blogging, boating, or just plain sitting on my a** are just as high a priority as your kids, and I don't intend to make sacrifices on your behalf.

earl
 
Dear earl,
Blogging, boating and sitting on your ass - sounds like a nice life. I'll go out on a limb here and assume you are over 40, which means that all of those activities are probably facilitated by other people's children. Oh, and your retirement? Brought to you by the contributions of the young. The folks who will help you die, you know, wipe your ass when you no longer can, make sure you aren't suffering too much, wash and bury you? Other people's kids. Who will cure cancer? Probably someone younger than you. Are you getting my point?

No man is an island, earl, and my "choice" to bring kids into this world is as much about contributing to the larger community as it is fulfilling my desire to pass on my genes or delight in the wonders of child development. Take your own straw man and blog it, boat with it, or sit on it.

Sincerely,
jen
 
I got pregnant right after my defense. I started a post-doc and my husband started a TT position at a R1 university when I had just entered my second trimester. Fortunately, my position was guaranteed for three years as a spousal hire option. Once my son came around we were really lucky in our situation. But as my three years were ending and nothing was on the horizon, we both completely rethought our careers. My husband was not looking forward to not being around us. His mentors were the kind of people who were all over the world giving talks - even with little ones at home. They were writing or in the lab 80-100 hours a week. My husband was wonderful in that outside of 8-5, he did that work while my son was sleeping or nursing. So it didn't cut into his parenting time, but it did cut into our marital time. I was scared of how the hell we were both going to have research careers and take care of our son. Why should he have suffered because we wanted to have everything that seemed promised to us in our Ph.D. programs? So my husband decided to leave academia. He is now a chemist who works 8:00 to 4:30 with on-site daycare for our son. I chose to abandon my research career. I purposely chose to work at a community college because I only need to focus on teaching. If I want my summers to myself, I can have them. I can teach online courses which reduces my "required to be on campus" time. So I now only have 4 classes on campus and 2 online courses. We also have decided that regardless of our schedules we work 8-5. I come home when my husband and son come home. One night a week I have to teach until 9:30, and one night a week I am allowed to work at home - if need be. We don't have official maternity leave if I were to have another child, but this is working for our family right now. I do think that my career is part, but not all, of why we are choosing to only have one child.
 
Dear earl,

children are human beings.
 
Interesting. If I am reading the general threads correctly, academics don't have kids because they are too busy, and their work lives are to crowded to allow for the start of a family life. And once the family arrives they are not able to devote enough attention to the children.

I am curious if anyone can explain why, when other professions demand significantly time at work, and away from work, they don't seem to have these "issues?"

I mentioned earlier primary and secondary school teachers. I also can think of military families where the call of duty is 24 hours, and the time away from home--for mothers and fathers--is significant, in peacetime as well as war. How about long haul truck drivers?

I suspect we can all think of a few other disciplines where their work requirements are more stringent, more structured, and yet they seem to have the time to not only procreate, but nurture and love their choices, er, children.

What is most interesting to me here is that these career choices often pay less than a liberal arts faculty position and yet these folks are able to support families. I will admit, though, that in some cases they may pay more. For instance, "National fleet drivers who have been with the company at least one year averaged $49,744 in 2004" (see http://www.classadrivers.com/company.php?method=NewsletterDetail&Nid=111)

I have actually quite a different view of being an academic. I have found it quite liberating. I can determine when I have office hours. I can even have "some" input as to when I have classes. I can choose to grade at home if I wish/need to, and can even take reading/writing/grading with me when I make those drives taking the kids to swim team, or band competitions, or...

The workload of an academic isn't any "easier" than any other job--but I certainly find it more flexible and, if you meet the obligations of the university of college, quite accepting of various lifestyle choices, including parenting.
 
I've taught both community college and high school. CC was far less structured, and had a far lower workload, than high school.

Currently, at high school, I spend 50-60 hours a week either at school or working at home (marking and lesson prep). I get 10 weeks holiday a year, which is nice, but I actually work more hours a year* than I did as an engineer in a high-tech firm. I work more than some of my colleagues, and less than others—and some of those working longer hours than me have kids.

Some weeks I look back on my days at community college as a carefree period, when my schedule was more flexible and I actually had time for keeping up in my field that wasn't squeezed from my personal time.

So, I guess I agree with the Professor: if teachers can manage a family, I don't see why professors can't. (Indeed, almost all my professors at university had families.)


*I include all the expected volunteer activities—supervising clubs, attending concerts, coaching teams—as part of my workload, because they are expected and not doing them gets one in bad odor with admin very quickly…
 
I would just like to add that in my neck of the woods K-12 teachers actually make more than our community college faculty do. With a BS straight out of school K-12 teachers start at $50K or higher. This September our new professors will be starting at $45K, and that is only because the union has been fighting for a while to raise beginning base pay. My Ph.D. only gave $3500 more than my Master level colleagues, but still less than the K-12 teachers in this area. My point being that teachers actually do have a little more money to help out than some professors do.
 
The way we're making this work (for now, at least) is that my spouse also has a flexible schedule. So on days when I have to be on campus, and there's some emergency (sick kid, daycare is closed), my spouse takes time off and does the child care. On my non-teaching days, I do. Unfortunately, my spouse travels quite a bit, and there always seems to be a crisis at least one day while he's gone...I've actually had to cancel classes once or twice because of this. (Clearly we need a better backup plan, and we're trying to figure it out, but with no family in the area, it's tough.) Some weeks we're both exhausted and feel like all we do is work. It's not ideal, but it works for now. It sucks that it has to be so hard sometimes, though.
 
I'm usually on campus 9-3 and then race out the door pick up the kids. At 6 or 7, I'm either back in the classroom or working from home until 11 or later. Weekends are less predictable, but it's a rare weekend where I don't clock at least eight hours of research.

On the plus side, I benefit from academia's generally more flexible schedule. On the downside, as Dean Dad noted, you can fill up all your available time with work, work, work. This last tendency is exacerbated by the tendency of some academics to punish those who visibly have a life outside of their work (be it as a parent OR a blogger).

Interestingly enough, when I was a child my father followed somewhat of the same pattern only he didn't have the luxury of doing so much of his evening work at home. He'd head back to his lab after we were tucked into bed or hole himself up in his home office.

I also appreciate that I wouldn't have earned tenure at many other universities given how much emphasis I've put on parenting my special needs child.
 
Earl,

Thanks. Now I won't have to reread Dickens for a while. Scrooge's line about the "surplus population" -- who knew that some of us have come such a short distance since that line was written.
 
As DD notes, there's "academe" and there's "academe." I see a few ongoing threads, though:

1) The Long Apprenticeship. Five to ten years grad school, two to five years postdoc, then tenure-track, then tenure. Little money, little security. These are not good times to be having kids -- not if you're a woman proving yourself and not if you're a man (who gets more leeway) seeking to be a serious contributor to childrearing. This is, I think, why folks in equally demanding professions (schoolteacher, for example) have more kids; they have more money, and sooner.

2) Mind The Gap. There simply is no reason why someone cannot leave academia and return to it months or years later. Technologies change, but the vast corpus of knowledge necessary to use those technologies does not. For Pete's sake, Brian May finished his dissertation forty years after abandoning it to be in Queen.

3) Pretending the 80/20 rule doesn't exist. 20% of creative people produce 80% of the output. This is the way it is. On the one hand, this means that 80% of your people aren't terribly productive. On the other hand, it means that the vast majority of your people don't need to push themselves to the limit to burn out works of genius -- because they simply don't have those works in them. Structures and systems centered around superstars don't scale at all well to folks in the trenches, making real contributions but on a much smaller and more linear basis.

4) General abusiveness. The only thing rigid hierarchy is good at is responding quickly to crisis. The relatively rigid hierarchies which prevail until one achieves tenure are profoundly dysfunctional.
 
Great posts here, with the exception of earl who is a selfish myopic idiot.

Just to add some more fuel to the consensus that seems to be forming: time and money were big factors for us in delaying having kids, even though my partner works a regular full time gig (with irregular hours and high demands, though, certainly not strictly 9-5).

The whole travel thing looms large for us now, since it looks like the best place for me to do a post doc in on another continent. So we might have to move and my partner's career may have to go on hold so I can earn more 'cred' and make $45,000 (tops). That isn't the most attractive option.

One thing that strikes me about this conversation and what is going on in my life right now is that maybe it has a lot to do with boundaries. Academics can be crap at setting boundaries; it goes with the territory, we are curious people who see a new research path to take or think up a new course to teach and off we go pursuing it. This usually happens on top of everything else, there is certainly no release time in my adjunct world, and even people I know with tenure find it hard to get release for new projects. So we add things, never take anything away, and end up seriously overworked and time poor because we don't set boundaries, and our culture fosters this. This happens outside academe of course, my partner works in new media and isn't a good boundary-setter and he's screwed right now - to the point of thinking that quitting his job might be the only way to actually complete projects and say 'no' to new ones. Suddenly another continent sounds pretty good, except for the three people living on $45,000 a year in Europe part.
 
I don't think anyone has mentioned this point yet in relationship to the study: unlike (I would guess) many doctors and lawyers, academics often end up in positions very far from their hometowns and extended families.

I've noticed a HUGE difference between my parent-friends who have extended family in the area and those (most) who don't. My few friends who are from this area have an entire network of people to help them raise their kids. Susie's sick? Well, she can stay with grandma. Billy has a dentist appointment? Well, grandpa can take him, etc.

My friends from around here also seem to have much less difficulty taking time for themselves as a couple. I think this is because they don't feel nearly so guilty if they leave the kids at the grandparents' while going on a date, as opposed to the whole hassle (and expense) of getting a babysitter.

Most of my friends, though, *aren't* in this situation, and it's only *them* trying to do it all. Most of them are also stressed beyond belief and/or feel like they aren't doing either their parenting or their job as well as they'd like.
 
To the Professor (and others who ask why combining parenthood and career is so much more momentous for academics than for other people):

May I suggest it's because we academics think about it too hard? We analyze and argue; they just do it.

I'm a female VAP in the humanities, 4/4 teaching load, 9 kids ranging in age from 19 to 5. It took me 12 years to get from the M.A. (received while pregnant with Number Two) to the Ph.D., eight of which were spent writing my dissertation in fits and starts. I teach within commuting distance of my husband's job, so I'll never go on the market. Oh, well.

I'll admit I sometimes wonder where I might have gotten a position, whether I'd be a full professor by now, how many books I might have published. But my children are a more profound expression of who I am and what I can do than anything I might write. And they, in turn, help me to be a better academic. Just like the relation between teaching and research: sometimes symbiosis, and not boundary-drawing, is the better way.

Not sure how it all works, but it does...although I do tend to run late, pick up fast food for dinner too often, and struggle to keep the dirty laundry pile from hitting the ceiling.

Earl, I'm sorry if my life and that of my children impinges on your ability to sit on your ass. And I'm really, really glad you weren't my dissertation director.
 
Maggie brings up an extremely good point, lack of family where we are is a deciding factor in our discussions about whether or not to have another child (we think not). We are in the middle of the country, our parents are at either end, and our support system where we live is therefore minimal. Add to that the transient nature of grad students, every couple of years a bunch of friends ups and leaves for another program, another job, another life and there goes part of the support system that we did have!
 
K-12 school districts have paid maternity leave.

They have substitutes available to come in when you miss a day because your kid is sick or you have to take them to a doctor.

You still have to write the lessons (and it has to be a lesson an out-of-subject sub can teach) and grade any resulting papers, but you don't have to be there.
 
Another thing that makes it easier for docs and lawyers is that they are typically younger when they finish school and have their families - even surgeons finish their training (M.D. and residency) in less time than the average Ph.D in the sciences takes to get an academic job (10 years vs. 12 respectively.) Lawyers are only in school for three years – by the time they make partner, they might still be in their early thirties. An elementary school teacher isn’t making 45k 12 years after he graduates from college and is therefore much more likely to be able to afford childcare and the other expenses that come with being a two income household. This makes having kids easier.

Subsidized daycare, “sick-kid” emergency care and other support (like that provided by many companies in the technology and biotech sector) would go a long way in mitigating these challenges for academics. But I'm not holding my breath.
 
Maggie's point about opportunity cost is a good one. In that sense, lawyers and doctors are probably the closest comparison groups, since nearly nobody else has as much graduate work. Of course, their salaries are correspondingly higher. We make K-12 salaries, but start much older.
 
K-12 school districts have paid maternity leave.

They have substitutes available to come in when you miss a day because your kid is sick or you have to take them to a doctor.


Um, not everywhere. In most of Ontario, for example, if you are ill your classes are covered by your colleagues, until your illness extends to three consecutive days (at which point you need a doctor's note when you return).

A few years ago I ended up covering a lot of classes for a colleague who took of time when her daughter was ill, or when she (the colleague) felt tired from parenting. I was covering almost 10% of her classes and other duties (shifting all my own prep/marking deeper into my personal time). If you'd have talked to me then, I'd have sounded a lot like Earl—because she was costing me 2-5 hours a week. Unpaid, with no thanks.

I do invest in the future. My pension is fully funded by me, not "contributions of the young". I pay the same education taxes as the family of six next door. I pay the same group health insurance premium as the colleague with a non-working spouse and nine children. I accept that I am subsidizing other people's kids, for the good of society.

But I don't see why I should be expected to work longer hours than a parent, for the same pay.
 
I have greatly appreciated reading (almost) all of these posts - and DD's original blog.

I am a 40-year-old mom of two young (1-year-old and 4-year-old) children, and recently achieved tenure at a 4/4 state university. I took the job before finishing my diss - and defended (a year into the job) while 6 months pregnant. Thus, I have had little to no time to experience a tenure track job without a child.

I will say that my partner (former academic - now working in biotech) and I were much more successful at balancing professional work and parenting with one child - and we even, sometimes, could spend time together.

But, the arrival of child #2 has radically changed our lives - so much so that I took a leave from my 4/4 job (where I just achieved tenure) for a visiting position at a local R1 2/2 job just to have a more sane life. It was too depressing to see the kids in the morning - in a dazed pre-daycare pre-preschool rush, and in the evening - in a dazed dinner-bath-bed rush, and on the weekends (as long as I didn't have too much grading that needed to be gone...).

DD asked about balance - and my experience is that I can't achieve it (with 2 kids and a 4/4 load) and be sane and happy (two things that I have seen to be a bit too rare in academia - especially sanity!).

Indeed, I am in the process of trying to get my 4/4 institution to support my request to go to a 2/2 load for prorated pay, but keep my tenure - an option that is available in our contract, but which they don't want to honor (the Dean says she fears the precedent it will set...).

This institution claims to be family friendly (and does much that makes it so, I believe) - but, maternity leave is only paid *if* we have saved up enough sick leave (woe to those to procreate in less than three year intervals!).

I think these structures need to change. I love the students at my institution. Indeed, I love teaching there. But, I can't live with the monster I become 9 months of the year as a mom of 2 with a 4/4 load (and *all* family on the other coast).

DD - perhaps you can talk to my Dean?

Oh -- re high school? I used to teach high school - for three years before going to grad school. My experience was that expectations for classes were so very rigid that, in fact, not a lot of change and renovation could happen. Many of the seasoned teachers I knew (beloved and effective) had little to no prep and took very little (to no) work home with them.
 
Oh - sorry - I forgot to mention:

If they do not honor my request, I am resigning (from a tenured university position!!).

I feel similarly to some of the posters from above - the profession is not worth the personal sacrifice. I think, though, that I am a great teacher and a benefit and resource. I am sad that it looks as though they don't value me or what I bring to the university enough to work with me on this, alas...
 
I really take issue with the idea that having children is a 'choice,' because it really isn't always. Say, ultimately, one intends to have children, but becomes pregnant at an unplanned and non-ideal time? Or, say one plans to have children with a spouse/significant other, and things don't work out with one's partner, or s/he dies. Then all your plans don't mean a thing.

Enrolling in graduate school is a choice. Buying a house is a choice. Having children is not the same sort of choice. Such thinking privileges those who are able to choose and plan & have plans that work out, and it undermines the of agency of parents who are caught off guard by life.
 
It's very telling that the people who say they're making things work are all people who have made clear that they've moved to the edges of academia; the center is, apparently, not hospitable.
 
After 8 years as non-tenured faculty at a major university in the Midwest I finally admitted defeat. After having children my academic career was made nigh impossible by other faculty (mostly male), and also by female administrators who felt and expressed openly to my Department Chair, that I was getting unfair treatment in terms of the flexibility of my hours etc.

I had a male faculty member throw up his hands and even lodge an official complaint when I was unable to travel to present a paper in Kenya (yes, Kenya) due to my being 13 weeks pregnant and advised by my OB not to travel. After having worked on a big grant proposal with another colleague I expressed to him my commitment to follow through with the project and he replied, "Well it won't get any easier with 2 children, will it?" At the time I only had one, but my recent miscarriage had alerted them to the fact I might be planning to have another. I took a total of 3 days off work following the miscarriage and then traveled to a conference as planned. I later found that my role in the project had been reduced to almost nothing without my knowledge.

Finally, after bringing into the University over $10 million in grant funding, I quit when my Department Chair made me listen to another diatribe on how hard it is for women faculty and how -his- wife gave up work to bring up his kids. Uh. Yeah. And that's relevant to me, how?

Bitter, moi? I could write a book on the crap I went through. I could have done things differently. I should have played the politics more, but at the time I believed in fairness and the ultimate goodwill of those around me. Boy was I wrong.

My only crime by the way was working from home 2 days a week when I didn't have to be on campus for meetings.
 
I don't think the issue is expecting child free individuals to carry the load for those of us with children. I don't expect my colleagues (I teach elementary) to do more work than I do. I just expect them to understand my stresses and limitations - as I would someone carrying for an elderly parent or sick spouse. A family friendly institution does not mean that it is having parents work less than others. It means that it could offer child care.

Our society does not value child rearing and this is obvious in this discussion. It is not simply in the academy where this is true.

(I don't think it is easier or more difficult for me to take time off to take care of our children than it is for my husband, a tenured professor with a 4/4 load. It just requires different sorts of flexibility and work-arounds.)
 
My partner is a tenured math professor at University of Illinois at Chicago. I'm currently visiting faculty at Northwestern, but will be starting a three-year visiting position at UIC in the fall; a spousal hire, teaching creative writing and Asian-American lit. We have a one-year-old daughter and are considering a second child. I'm 36 currently, so if we have another, it'll be soon.

It's definitely not easy juggling it all, but so far, with one child, it's manageable. We can afford three days a week of childcare, which means that if he takes two days of childcare and I take two days, we both get five normal workdays during the week, which is just barely enough to manage teaching and admin. It's not enough for his research or my fiction writing -- we're primarily looking to the summer for that.

Part of why I didn't push for a tenure-track job is because I don't think we can afford the additional time it would take in terms of admin -- or rather, we could do it, since it'd pay more, but it'd mean our daughter would be in childcare five or six days a week, instead of three. Which does, to some extent, make you wonder why you decided to have a kid in the first place.

I think for us, a lot of the delay in having kids does come down to the infinitely expandable nature of creative/research work. We both felt passionate about our work, to the extent that we knew that we wanted to give it our best shot at doing something great *before* we had kids. I wanted to write a good book before I had a kid, because I knew if I had the kid first, and never wrote a good book, I might well blame the kid for that. Similarly with his math, I think.

My family is medical, and while my sisters and father enjoy being doctors, and love their work, they do the job and then come home. They don't pour every waking moment into it, with the hope of being brilliant. So since we didn't have kids 'til I hit 35, it's not surprising that we're going to end up having fewer kids than if we'd started right after finishing graduate school.
 
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