Sunday, July 30, 2006

Kids and Tenure

What's the BEST time to have a baby if you're in or hoping for a tenure-track position? : whenever you want to have a baby. I think all times are just about equally good or bad, depending on how much you enjoy stress and dramatic life changes.

One of the hardest phone calls I have ever made was calling up the chair of the department I was moving to and telling him that I'd be arriving with an infant. I was afraid that he'd think I wasn't serious and that I was not going to be a valuable addition to the department, and I was afraid that my chances for tenure were harmed, and so on.. But he was really great. He had kids, and lots of faculty at that time had very young children and babies, and he said he understood the importance of balancing family and career. My husband (who had moved to University #1 to be with me 4 months before our daughter was born) and I immediately put our baby-to-be on a waiting list for the child care center at University #2. The waiting list was at least a year, and in fact it was exactly a year before we got in.

What did we do that first year? For the first 6-7 months, we brought out daughter to work with us. We set up both our offices so that she could nap and play safely, and we both spent a lot of time holding her while working at a computer, with lots of breaks to walk around and play and go outside. We handed her back and forth between our offices depending on teaching and other commitments, and we were both given a light teaching load the first year so that we could set up our labs and take care of our daughter.

At about 7 months, we felt that our daughter was ready to play with other kids, but we still didn't have a place at the childcare center on campus. We explored lots of options -- in-home daycare, childcare centers etc. -- and toured some daycare places that were very sobering, they were so grim. Finally we found a nearby daycare center that seemed like a good place, and our daughter immediately loved the excitement of being around lots of other kids. She was fascinated by it all, and although we started her off at a few days/week, we quickly realized that she was very happy at daycare and would be fine at 5 days/week (though we tended to drop her off late and pick her up early because although it was a pretty good daycare center, it wasn't great).

Once we got into the university childcare center, life was a lot less stressful. The child care was superb and our daughter was healthy and happy. Having excellent, convenient child care was a major reason both my husband and I were able to settle into our new jobs and do well. I know these centers are expensive for universities to subsidize (and they aren't cheap for parents either), but they are so important for faculty, staff, and students, it makes sense for universities to invest in them. I wish our university would expand its child care center. The waiting list is now well over a year, and some people never even make it off the waiting list.

My husband and I have a somewhat strange schedule regarding work vs. family, but it has worked very well for us. We have one night a week that is family night (we are all home together), but my husband and I divide up the rest of the nights: he gets 3 nights, I get 3 nights. We can do whatever we want with 'our' night. Typically, we all have dinner together and both of us spend the early evening at home, up to the point where our daughter starts her going-to-bed activities (bath, reading, etc.). One of us stays home, and the other can go to the office/lab, do errands, work at home, or whatever.

There are just too many interruptions during the day for me to get everything done. Well, I will never get everything done -- there is an infinite amount to do -- but if I didn't work at night and some weekend afternoons, I would spend all my time on teaching and administration and never have enough time for research.

I also like that my husband and I both take care of our daughter. I have friends who have not had a night to themselves in 6+ years because their husbands wouldn't know how to take care of the kids alone. I can't imagine that. I travel fairly often, and people often ask me "Who's taking care of your daughter when you're away?". I think that question might well be the one my husband hates the most, as it rather strongly implies that he and all males are not capable of or willing to take care of their children. Wrong!


SciMom said...

I sent this blog entry to my husband. We are currently struggling to find our "me time" in the midst of two academic careers in science and handling the lives of a 4 and 2 year old. Maybe because we're older parents, we feel more obligated to be there as we waited so long to have a family and the road to success was a hard one. We both struggle with feeling guilty about leaving the other one by themselves with the two kids just to have time for ourselves. I just took my first weekend away to visit my best friend and it was the first time in 2.5 years that I had a weekend or any time away from the kids! I like your suggestion of splitting up the days of the week. We also make every effort to have dinner together as a family. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Unknown said...

Popping in from
Academic Secret
to share a comment on this post.

It's great to hear that you and your husband found a balance that works for you. Without finding something similar in my own life I never would have been able accomplish what I have.

I'll never forget one afternoon when I stopped by a professor's office to update her on where I was on a project and she said, "I can't believe you manage to do all this with a child at home." I told her, "He has a dad, too, you know." The funny thing is, she actually looked surprised when I insinuated that he helped and I wasn't doing it alone.

Douglas Natelson said...

Hey - I just wanted to tell you that I've added your blog to my blogroll (hate that word). I stumbled across it today, and I really enjoy your writing. As a newly tenured prof with two little kids, it's good to read another person's views on these things!

Anonymous said...

I had my first kid while in the 4th year of my PhD. And my second during my first post doc. I agree with you: there's no good time to have kids. There's no bad time either (if you have a salary).

I support your husband. My wife started a new job 2 months after being mother. She had absolutely no free time whereas my academic situation was perfect for having a lot of time for my son (her family helped when I had to work). Two month later, my wife had a health problem and could hardly breath. We went to the hospital. I left the hospital around 1 am, damn anxious, with my baby in my arms. I took a cab to go back home. The taxi driver was very anxious too : what will I do with the baby ? That shocked me! I was wondering if she will recover, survive or whatever and this bastard was wondering "What will you do if the baby is crying?"

La mei said...

I've learned that if you wait for the "perfect" time to have children, forget it. I had my daughter during the third year of my PhD and as impossible as that might sound, we made it work because my husband and i focused on parenthood as a team. Similarly, we also split up our time, which not only allows ourselves "alone" time imperative for continued personal growth/development; but it also provides our daughter two very close and intimate relationships with BOTH her mother and her father.

Anonymous said...

"What's the BEST time to have a baby if you're in or hoping for a tenure-track position? : whenever you want to have a baby."

I love you for saying that. I can't believe to what degree it is ingrained in people that they shouldn't have babies until after tenure. Wait, I said "people", what I really mean is "women." Men can have a baby whenever and they'll get pats in the back and commendations if they have the kid in the baby bjorn in the department, probably a medal if they change a poopy diaper. Women get the furrowed eyebrows and the sympathetic but double-edged, "Kids just take so much time..."

I have one pre-PhD baby and one pre-tenure baby and I don't think it has hurt my career at all. I'm sure people do think I would publish more or whatnot if I didn't have kids, but I doubt it.