Sunday, July 19, 2009

I know people who have kids

At this point in my life, I don't really want kids, but someday I do. When I think about it--and these thoughts are purely in the abstract--I think how could I ever afford something like that? and, where would I ever find the time for something like that? Something would have to give in a serious way.

Now, I know that there are plenty of people with less money than me who have kids. And I know there are plenty of people a lot busier than me who have kids. But I guess I don't get how they do it.

This is one of the things I really can't stand about the VAP situation. I feel unsettled. I don't know where I'll be living a year from right now, or how much money I'll be making, or whether I'll have to move across the country, or what Mrs. Zero's job situation will look like. I can't see how a kid would fit into this kind of life, so I feel like there's this door that's closed to me. Now, I'm not desperate to walk through this door; if it were open, I might wait a few more years before taking that step. But it would be nice if I could feel that it were open.

--Mr. Zero


Rob Sica said...

If you weren't including adoption as a possibility, David Benatar's book might be useful in easing your concern about having that door open.

Popkin said...

Dan Gilbert's research apparently shows that, in general, having children has a small negative impact on people's happiness.

In fact, he says the data show that "parents are generally happier watching TV or doing housework than interacting with their children."

John said...

I love the fact that the post was concerned with the way the profession prevents one from fulfilling the desire to have children, and contained an implicit request for reassurance that one day, perhaps, if you organize things right, you too will be able to have kids...and both responses are instead suggesting that the desire to have them at all is misguided.

That's so philosophy core. (Which is to say, awesome.)

Anonymous said...

If you want kids don't wait. We waited until I was done with graduate school and landed a TT and now it seems we are too old to have kids. I went through grad school quickly and walked right into a TT job so now I have a TT and love it but regret waiting. I think I could have done both.

Asstro said...

This is a difficult question, Zero. I have a kid. He was born about a year after I finished my PhD, and one year into a VAP. (I did roughly two or three years of VAPs, depending how you count, before getting my TT job.)

On one hand, it was insane to have a kid. I didn't have any kind of stability. My wife and I knew we would probably be moving in a year or so. With this knowledge, she couldn't get a terribly stable job herself. The rest of our family was on the coast, and we were very far from them. So it was crazy. Children are expensive, they demand a lot of time, and it helps to have a stable place to be with a strong support network. If you're trying to land a TT job, there's all the more pressure to publish and turn your back on your kid and your family.

On the other hand, we somehow made it work. I think the "somehow" here is the key. We pretty much just did it. The first few years of a kid's life are demanding on parents, to be sure; but they're also relatively straightforward: eat, nap, eat, poop, nap, eat, poop, nap... and so on. I wrote half of my articles sitting in a coffee shop rocking my kid to sleep. You can make sacrifices in other areas -- in your social life, say -- in order to get your writing and academic work done. So long as you have some sort of income, even a very small income, there are ways to make it happen for you.

I'm now several years into my TT job, and it really doesn't get any easier. The stability is here, yes, but the pressures to publish are much greater, the service requirements are overwhelming, the appeal of integrating into a faculty at all phases of life and socializing with graduate students who live _completely different lives_ is very strong... and yet, it still seems to work out. Students -- undergraduate and graduate -- can make great babysitters. They seem to understand the demands of parenthood.

Ultimately, the kid thing is all up to you and your partner. You're probably more ready than you think you are... or maybe not. But I think that's really a "where you're at" kinda thing, not a financial thing.

True, the VAP situation isn't the greatest for having kids; but ultimately, it's not the greatest for having anything... except, perhaps, landing a TT job. I've said before that I'm a big fan of the VAP. I think you should be too. It has its downsides, to be sure, but if you're landing VAPs, you'll probably land a TT job somewhere soon. And when that happens -- baby time!

cross the breeze said...

"Dan Gilbert's research apparently shows that, in general, having children has a small negative impact on people's happiness.

In fact, he says the data show that "parents are generally happier watching TV or doing housework than interacting with their children.""

I suspect that says more about the sad state of our culture than about what raising a child is like (or should be like). I'm watching my daughter having a lot of fun painting in the back yard; I prefer this to watching Matlock reruns and doing the dishes, but to each his own I guess.

Anonymous said...

i think there is very little anyone can say about this issue that will actually prove helpful to you, but here are some thoughts.

being a parent can be extremely difficult unless you have one or more of the following: (a) lots of money; (b) a network of family and friends who are both willing and capable when it comes to helping with basic daily chores and caring for a child; (c) the option of childcare (this is an issue since many daycares and preschools, at least in major cities i'm familiar with (LA and Boston), are incredibly expensive *in addition* to having waitlists over a year long); (d) a partner, au pair. or nanny who is willing to do the work of parenting; or (e) tremendous fortitude in your work and a heroic devotion to your family.

if you have one or more of these things, then concerns about parenting (and many remain) are negligible by comparison to the concerns that arise when you have none of them.

lacking all of these, there are two realities that need emphasis. the first is the familiar one. you will have to handle your current workload with a significant reduction in time. sometimes, and not infrequently, there is a significant reduction in the ability to think clearly (physical exhaustion, sleeplessness, etc.) at the same time as there is a general increase in the complexity of life's daily demands (more loads of laundry, more trips to the grocery store, hospital visits, etc.). this draws deeply on a person's psychological reserves. (and i'm setting aside entirely what it is like to have a child with acid reflux or colic.)

this brings me to the second reality, which is more difficult to explain. the relationship you have with your child can be wonderful and, strangely enough, can sustain you through very difficult times. but this too will depend on you.

asstro is right when he suggests that you just have to do it, or just make it work. and how in the hell you'll manage that is anybody's guess. but chances are that you *can* do it.

Anonymous said...

As someone who now has *two* small children without either parent yet having tenure -- both were born while both parents were on the t-track -- let me chime in with the observation that I could still get a considerable quantity of work done when I had only one child. In fact, I don't think the first child impaired my productivity much at all (beyond the sleep-deprived blur of those first couple of months). I learned efficiency and how to have no life whatsoever apart from work (teaching plus research) and childcare. But the work -- I mean, the research -- didn't really suffer.

The productivity problem came with child number two. Unless you rob yourself of sleep and slowly drive yourself (and those around you) insane, neither parent can expect to get much work done the first year of child number two (even with number one in fulltime daycare).

These observations depend on the background assumptions (i) that no child goes to daycare the first year, (ii) that both parents are putting equal time into their careers, and (iii) that there are no grandparents or other surrogate parents eager to pitch in. If you have that sort of help -- alas, we don't -- the ordeal could be much easier.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this issue up. I'm in the same boat, wondering the same things. It's nice to hear from people who have experienced it.

cross the breeze said...

I completely agree with Anon 4:04 about the difference between having one kid and two kids. Having one baby was easy; I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. When we had a second, though, things became nearly impossible.

Anonymous said...

Crossthebreeze, I suspect Gilbert's research is much more reflective of the loose use of "happiness" in the English language. Watching TV is easier, and probably "feels" better (in a certain sense) for a lot of people. I haven't met a single parent, though, (and of course I'm sure there are the outliers I just haven't met), who would actually trade an interaction with their children for any more time watching TV or doing housework.

Popkin said...

"I haven't met a single parent, though . . . who would actually trade an interaction with their children for any more time watching TV or doing housework."

Isn't a parent doing this every time he/she watches tv or does housework when his/her kids are around and available for interaction? Isn't it more likely that every parent you've ever met has done that?

John Turri said...

Hey Mr. Zero,

I guess I'll thrown my experience into the mix.

We had our first when I was still an undergrad, our second when I was in grad school, and our third in my first year TT.

I wouldn't trade or change any of that for any job or any number of publications. Not even close. But oddly enough, I would trade it for an enormous amount of more time to watch television!! Oh, wait, no, I wouldn't.

In any event, we've done alright even though we never put any of them into child care and, for most of the time till now, didn't live near family. But there's no denying that it's time-intensive and challenging.

It's interesting to hear others discuss the difference between one and two children. For us, the difference between one and two seemed minimal, although the fact our first one was five at the time probably made a difference. It was the difference between two and three that was very noticeable -- sleep, spare time, etc. all dramatically decreased. Our second was only two when the third came along. So I'm thinking that it's the spacing that makes the difference.

In the end, I think that if and when you have a child, you'll find a way to make it work.

Best of luck sorting through it all!

zombie said...

My daughter arrived the summer I started working on my diss. Did it make it harder? Somewhat. But what really made it hard was that in addition to being a parent, I had three part time jobs, including an adjunct job. A VAP job would have been a cakewalk, comparatively speaking. I made a deal with the husband that I'd finish my diss before the second child, and I did. We're waiting for her now.

Not everyone wants kids. That's OK. I didn't, and then I did. I was 40 by then, and wish I had done it earlier. But then I wouldn't have my kid, who is just a great kid and I wouldn't trade my life with her for anything -- not even more TV time.

When I went on the market last fall, I decided not to apply for any VAPs. Moving my entire family for one year, for a job that wouldn't do much for me, just didn't appeal. OTOH, I'm about to move to Canada to start a 2 year fellowship. I guess 2 years was my minimum. And the kid can't wait to go!

Rabbit said...

Asstro said: "I'm now several years into my TT job, and it really doesn't get any easier. The stability is here, yes, but the pressures to publish are much greater, the service requirements are overwhelming,..."

As a grad student, I often wonder what it might be like to actually have a TT job. Any chance of hearing from readers who have graduated, but have yet to receive tenure, about the pressures of such jobs and how they differ from those of grad school?

sweater said...

This is probably a topic that's more suited to one of the feminist philosophy blogs, but I frequent this blog, so I'm asking it here.

Are people familiar with Martha Nussbaum's now-pretty-legendary essay "Don't Smile So Much," from the collection called _Singing in the Fire_? She argues (or so it seems to me) that there's some social injustice arising from the fact that women in the profession who are raising children are unable to attend colloquia (sp?), department lectures, etc., since they are usually scheduled after 5:00 and you have to pick up the kids from daycare or whatever. I've also heard this from women in my own department. As someone who is simply uninterested in having children, I have to admit that I just don't see what the inequity issue is. Should invited speakers be scheduled around daycare hours?

All of this is completely public (it's in Nussbaum's essay), so it's not a big deal to mention it here. But she even suggests that the invited speaker/daycare conflict contributed to her denial of tenure. I certainly don't think that being a parent should factor into someone's rank and tenure evaluation. But I also don't understand what would be a viable suggestion for rectifying the inequity. Or even what the inequity is, to be honest.

I know it sounds cliche but I'm asking this question in total good faith. I just don't understand the ethical argument in this familiar situation. I'm ready to be chastised and, hopefully, enlightened.

Anonymous said...

Let me confirm John Turri's suggestion that the age difference between your kids can play a big role role in how manageable it is to have more than one. I can well believe that having a second when your first is five is not (as Turri attests) a big additional train. But our first was not yet two when our second came along -- a much bigger challenge! It was primarily that (e.g. the need to keep the first from killing the second, as part of the first's still overwhelming need for parental attention) that prevented us from getting work done that year.

--Anon 4:04

Anonymous said...

I just finished my diss. and got a TT job (though not in a philosophy department - my degree is from a "committee style" interdisciplinary program but my work is squarely philosophical), and we had all three of our kids during five years of grad school. (You may not believe that's possible, but actuality proves it.) There were several factors making this possible: my spouse's heroism first of all, in being an incredible full-time stay at home parent; a great graduate family housing community that substituted for family support (we were far away from the latter); an area with low cost of living; a university with generous support for grad students. That's not to mention the good luck involved in actually landing a TT job. So I'm not going to say that anybody can do it, no matter their situation, or any nonsense like that. But as far as taking care of small kids close together in age, you can use my case at least as some kind of outer boundary to the space of what might be possible for you if certain things are in your favor. For what it's worth.