Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Starting a Family Before Tenure?

In a recent thread, anon 4:07 asks,

I'm wondering if anyone else would be interested in a thread on the timing of having a family in the midst of a philosophy career. I've heard from many that the only reasonable time for female philosophers to have children is during grad school or after tenure. Is it really death to one's career to have a child after grad school, but before tenure? I can imagine the difficulty of doing so, but would think that it would be highly dependent upon one's personal circumstances.

Anon 1:52 posted the following response:

My spouse and I did when we were both on the tenure track, with enough published and under review to feel fairly confident that tenure was likely. That cuts a few years off the "grad school or tenured" model you mentioned. We both found that there was a relative "lull" after the manias of grad school, the job market, and the early t-track push to develop the portfolio of work that would form the basis of the tenure case. By year three on the t-track, that portfolio was partly published and partly under review.

We had a kid in year four and another in what would have been year six but became year five because the first kid gave us a do-over on year four. We also took a kid-two-driven do-over on year five, even though we probably didn't need to. So the tenure track became eight years, with the second half mainly devoted to placing the portfolio developed in the first half.

As everyone knows, placing pieces of a project -- responding to R&Rs, rewriting from scratch when it becomes clear that an argument doesn't work, etc. -- is just as hard as developing the original ideas. So there was lots of hard work to be done in 20-minute work sessions while the baby napped. (I developed an analogue of carpal tunnel syndrome in my left ankle from rocking the cradle to keep the kid sleeping while I typed.) But, as others have noted, becoming a parent helps provide a focus and grounding that makes you much more efficient in your work. I think I got more work done in early parenthood than I had before despite having much much less time to do it. But it would have been especially difficult to develop completely new ideas in those briefer work-sessions, with so many more demands on my attention.

I think my spouse would make a similar report. In any case, we did both -- one male, one female -- recently get tenure with toddlers in tow.

Of course, it's useless advice to those who haven't yet landed a t-track job. But those starting on the tenure-track may find that they need not put off family till after they're tenured.

I am still pretty new to being a parent and stuff, and I don't by any means consider myself to be an expert on this. But in my admittedly limited experience, taking care of an infant is shockingly, incredibly time-consuming. I'm not sure I'd want to take this on while I was in the coursework phase of graduate school. When you're doing your coursework, you've got a lot of demands on your time, and the demands tend to be somewhat inflexible, and if you're anything like me, anyway, you're pretty much completely broke all the time. That doesn't mean it can't be done--I know it can be done because I saw people do it. But I don't know how they did it.

The ABD phase is somewhat better, I guess. Your schedule is probably more flexible, since you probably don't teach very many classes and you probably don't have to take any classes at all unless you want to, and your writing deadlines are probably more negotiable than they were when you were writing term papers. But you're probably still pretty broke. But then when you get a job, it's a double-edged sword (whether it's tenure-track or not): you make a lot more money, but you have a lot more responsibility. Obviously. I know you know that.

What I'm trying to get at is this: there's no ideal time. There's no time when the responsibilities of caring for a child can be fit seamlessly and without trouble into your already-existing lifestyle. Stuff gets majorly shifted around and reorganized, and nothing is unaffected. Obviously it helps to have access to lots of money, and to have a flexible schedule, and to be able to work from home a lot, and to have other people--spouses, family members, paid staff--to keep an eye on the child/ren while you do other stuff.

And so, at first Mrs. Zero and I wanted to wait until I was on the tenure-track and we were settled in somewhere before we started thinking about Junior. That way we'd have more money and more stability, we'd have a pretty good bet that we wouldn't have to move across the country for at least a few years, it would make sense to think about buying a house, and stuff like that. But at a certain point we started to think that we didn't feel like waiting anymore. We started to think that if it was really important to us to start a family, we should just do it. Not that the problems we foresaw would cease to be problems, or that we just decided to pretend they didn't exist. But we felt that if it was genuinely important, we shouldn't try to wait until we were fully or maximally prepared, because that was never going to happen. But if we're not waiting until we've achieved maximal preparation, what are we waiting for? So we decided not to wait.

And as we were making the decision, I thought a lot about the things people said in this thread from 2009. The things John Turri, Asstro, and others said about how you'll just kind of figure a way to make things work. I guess the thing is, when something is important to you, you find the time for it. (However, the consensus view back in '09 seemed to be that although this is true of one kid, having two is pretty much unmanageable.)

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, there is no best time to have kids as an academic. Honestly, the amont of academic work one has to do is always going to fill whatever time one has to fill. No matter where you are in your career, you will have to carve out time to devote to a family.

There are simply too many examples out there of people starting families at various times, that it's almost meaningless to consider. For every person who tells you X time works best, another will champion Y. Each will have anecdotal evidence.

In my opinion, the best time to start a family would be whatever works best for you and your partner. If you aren't in the right place emotionally/physically/etc., then starting a family just because it's the right time will be disastrous. Similarly, continually putting it off for later, if you are your partner are ready now, can also be disastrous.

One of my good friends claims that every child you have is one book you never write (or the equivalent in articles). Anywhere you are in your career, this remains constant. For many, that book you don't write might end up being the dissertation. Or it might not.

But this I promise you: you don't want your academic life dictating your personal life. You really don't. Not if you want to have a personal life.

Geoff said...

4:01 says: "you don't want your academic life dictating your personal life. You really don't. Not if you want to have a personal life."

This is absolutely true (as is much of the other things that 4:01 says and also what Zero says).

If you and your partner want to have a family and feel you both are in the right place, then do it. Everything else does work itself out.

Anonymous said...

People need to be careful that they don't assume that what works well for a male academic works just as well for a female academic. Having a baby in grad school can kill a female philosopher's career, since in many departments this will be seen as evidence that she is not committed to her work, and she will have a hard time overturning this perception because of the heavy demands placed in her by a new baby (unless her partner does all/most of the baby care, which is very rare). In our little philosophy world, men often don't face this kind of bias--partly because many men have partners that will do most of the baby care, and partly because people simply assume they have such partners, even it isn't true.

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree with 3:28's view. I think having a baby in grad school is just as likely to kill a man's philosophical career. The reason is that a department is more likely to make allowances for a woman with a baby than for a man with a baby. (Of course, if you have a baby and just ditch all of the work on your wife, then no problem!)
In other words, I completely agree that the remaining sexist norms in place are likely to cause trouble, but in this case I think they cause at least as much trouble for fathers as for mothers.

Anonymous said...

It depends where you are. I had my child in grad school in Europe, at a continental department (in both senses of the term!) As you may know, in most European countries one has to have a master's to get to do a PhD, and is already fairly specialized. There is, therefore, no coursework (you're basically ABD from day one, since that's all you need to do, your dissertation, however, you need to do it in 3.5 years). I had wonderful support from my advisor, even though I had the kid in year one of my PhD. Never did he doubt I was going to finish my dissertation on time, which I did. He even contributed to the baby shower. He was unequivocally supportive. I got 4 months of pregnancy leave under the system of the country I did my PhD in, at 80% of my full salary. After that, there was affordable childcare (ca. 200 dollars a month), which I didn't need anyway because my husband was a stay-at-home dad at the moment.
So, if you're in Europe and having a baby, you can better juggle PhD demands and the infant, and you're not broke. However, after that, the problems begin. There are hardly any TTs, only tenured associate and full professorships. So, you're struggling to get one of the very few postdocs with less than 5% acceptance rate, do pro rata teaching (which gives a net pay of less than minimum wage if you incorporate your preparation, grading etc), or work on someone else's project. And this goes on for typically 5 to 10 years. So in Europe, the best time (I found) to have a baby as a woman is as a PhD student. I'm now a postdoc, and at this point, I don't see having a second one. I really don't see how to fit another child in...

Anonymous said...

There is no good time. I think this is one of the biggest problems with the academic life.

Anonymous said...

It also makes a massive difference what sort of department your TT job happens to be in (excuse the grammar). I had an "oops" kid the summer after my first year on the TT, pregnant while teaching a 4-5, and was the only woman in the department. Needless to say, I was terrified. But it turns out that my department & institution are both incredibly family-friendly (with respect to both policies & social norms), so it was a relatively easy experience (as compared to departments that might look upon children as a nuisance, a fatal career mistake, etc.).

Moral of the story: Research the institutional & departmental policies & culture as much as possible. Culture is especially important: even if good policies exist, it's a red flag if no one is taking advantage of them.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be a party pooper here, but in my case the "family starting" thing did, more or less, end my academic career. I went on the market when I had a newborn (I'm female). I guess you can do it if you have an extraordinarily committed spouse who works part-time. I know some academic women/new moms work like hell and do end up swimming with the current. This didn't happen for me...

Anonymous said...

sorry to bum you out, Zero, but I have found that it was much easier to be productive during the baby years than during school age years. In my case, both my partner and I had/have full time jobs. This means the baby goes to daycare from 9-5. That's a lot of time to do productive work! Babies (at some point) go to sleep early. More time to do work. Yes, you end up with no time to yourself, but there is time to work. (Also:babies nap. That is how you can pick up a few hours of work time on the weekends) Things get trickier when kids start to go to school and then need to be picked up at 3:00.

My own take, and I'm sure people will criticize me for this, is that those who find it impossible to work when they have kids are not actually finding outside childcare for their kids. It is tempting as academics to think we don't need to do this, or at least not full-time, but we have full time jobs! Just as lawyers can have children and work, we can too.

Anonymous said...

Having kids is a big excuse to lower your productivity and be a lazy colleague. When the chair of the department has kids research expectations are lowered. Everyone who has kids gets a Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Life is good for the breeders.

Anonymous said...

It is worth remembering that the question of whether to start a family now is not independent of the question whether to start one ever. The reason is that starting a family is difficult; getting pregnant isn't always easy, staying pregnant can be just as unreliable, and having a healthy baby as an end product is almost as chancy. And all these things take time and become more difficult (though still attainable) with age.

So if you're okay with not having kids (I was, for a long time, and so are many of my colleagues), then go ahead, take your time and strategize about when parenting would be professionally ideal. But if you really want the little ones in your future, whenever that may be, start trying now, and F- the timing. Really. Not worth it.

(for what it's worth, I was advised this way by a very prominent female philosopher who was warned against having kids...)

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think my earlier comment didn't go through, so apologies if this shows up twice. The question of when to have kids seems vitally important before you conceive. Once the kids are born, in my experience, it becomes confounded with two other questions: how do you want to raise your kids, and what are your particular kids like? You can make child-rearing choices that work to advance your career, and choices that may harm it. You may not know what you'll want to do until you've spent some time with your child. The roulette wheel of infant and child temperament has a big impact too, sometimes enough to make different people's experiences incomparable.

I chose to conceive when I did because I had a good short-term situation (ABD with fellowship funding), but it has completely effed up my longer-term career change plan. Fundamentally, this is OK, because I think having this child has made me a better, stronger and more humane person, and I love her dearly and all that. I have no idea what's going to happen after I file, though.

I think it is possible to be productive even with a difficult baby, but you absolutely need part-time childcare at the very least, and your work ethic needs to be flawless. Mine is not. I made sure that having a child would not appear to be the cause of my native laziness, however, by basically not telling anyone about the child until it was absolutely necessary. I'm perfectly capable of screwing up my career without breeding, tyvm.

Anonymous said...

"There is no good time. I think this is one of the biggest problems with ... life."


Anonymous said...

Fairly early in my career, I and my ex (note that) decided not to have kids, and I set it in stone (so to speak) with a vasectomy (based on the idea that birth-control should be a mutual responsibility, and given our decision, that was the right way to go).

I'm too old for kids anyway now, and I must say I have some real regrets--not total regrets mind you--that I made that decision. Had I a different spouse, would I have done differently? Can't say. All I can say is weigh your decisions during your child-bearing years carefully, and please include considerations that should you go one way or another, your most intimate relationships might change drastically from what you think they are now.

zombie said...

There's no perfect time, except the time that you're personally ready to start a family. My first child arrived when I was ABD. It took me five years to write my diss after that. Actually, it took me four years to get it together, and one year to write it. Those were four good years with a great little kid, and they gave me invaluable insight perspective while writing my diss. But they were four relatively fallow years, what with the family demands, and adjuncting, and my other two jobs.

I agree with Anon 5:00, however, that the demands of child-rearing actually increase as the kids get older. The childcare years are easiest -- childcare is pretty dependable and scheduled. Elementary school schedules are hell -- it's unbelievable how many days off there are. And then they're out for the summer, unless you can find all-summer day camp or something. Add to that music lessons, and sports, and all the rest, and it gets harder. Plus, when they're little, they nap, and they go to bed early, so you get more bits of time to yourself. But if your kid's no longer napping, and not asleep until 9pm, you've pretty much got no time left to work, and you're tired by then anyway, so it gets harder to work at home.

3:28, I've seen it go both ways with women who have babies in grad school. Some I know just completely dropped out. Others had their kids, did their diss, and got TT jobs (like me). It's going to depend on the individual and on the dept(s). Having kids is not automatic academic death.

zombie said...

And I also know some guys who pretty much disappeared and all but dropped out (ABDO) after their kids were born, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm female. Before my kid was born I had ambitious plans for my writing and just assumed that I would accomplish all that while my kid is in day-care. Then reality set in. I found it psychologically impossible to drop off my kid at an "affordable" day-care (0-3 year old child). Hell, I couldn't afford a nanny or a fancy day-care. So, there. Contrary to what people are saying here, I found it far easier to manage my time and productivity once my child was 5+ years old, in kindergarten and involved in after-school activities.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:07 here,

Many thanks to Zero, Zombie, and other thoughtful commenters for your rich and varying perspectives. All are very helpful.

This may sound silly, but I'm not sure I understand what is meant by gaining "perspective," "focus" or "grounding" when one has a child. Does this mean that one becomes much more efficient with time management, since it becomes a precious commodity? (I think I'm missing part (if not all) of what is meant by such expressions.)

Anonymous said...

i'm not t-t, but i am employed and we (both of us are academics and both of us work full time) will soon have our second child.

so far as i can tell, everything worth saying has been said. and here is what i take to be the most crucial points of this discussion:

1. pray that you have an easy baby.*
2. prepare to have more obligations than you have ever had up until this point. (unless, of course, you have worked full time while caring for a close relative who could not walk, feed herself, wipe her bum, or communicate any of her needs, urgent or otherwise, in any way aside from cooing or crying or having a fit. if you have done this, then you get the picture.)
3. prepare to have less time to fulfill any single obligation than you have ever had up until this point. (unless, of course...)
4. work like hell when you get the chance; and if you get the chance to work, then do solid work.

i think points 2 and 3 tend to be anguish-inducing for many considering whether to have kids.

Anon 4:07 and 11:10, what many parents discover is that 2 and 3 aren't actually that big of a deal. i think this is what things like "gaining perspective" or "becoming focused" mean. another way to put this is that parents discover that 4 is possible. but 4, at least in my experience, also means having next to no social life or personal life or hobbies or anything else. family and work. it's not for everyone, i suppose.

if you think you can hack this (the kicker is that, despite how difficult any of this sounds, you *can* hack it), then have that baby! gradschool, ABD, adjuncting, t-t: none of this matters. just be ready to work.

*but almost none of this, so far as i can tell, holds in the case of hard babies. don't have one of those!

Anonymous said...

3:28 here. My point was that in many (not all) departments, having a kid is seen as evidence that you are not committed to your work, unless you have a partner to do all or most of the work. Women are more vulnerable to this negative judgement. I went to a Leiter top-5 graduate program, and this was the attitude.

So if you are female, and you want to try for a research career and a job at a Leiter-rific school, you take risks if you have a child in grad school. (I think this is a shame, I'm not endorsing, just reporting--don't shoot the messenger, OK?)

Anonymous said...

6:20, I completely agree with you. I too have been there. Talk about perceptions of female grad students with babies... My formerly very supportive faculty mentors simply bailed out once the baby was born. It was tough.

Anonymous said...

4:07/11:10 again,

Thanks for the clarification 1:51 and 3:28/6:20.

3:28, I am female. In a fantasy world, I would love to land a research job, any research job, but I realize this is a lofty and unrealistic goal in this market. I'm ABD and more than half way done with my dissertation, so I don't expect to be in grad school by the time I start a family. I am very lucky to have a supportive partner who is willing to carry a lot of the weight while I attempt to get my career off the ground, so I'm hoping we'll be able to figure it out and find a good balance.

I surely won't shoot the messenger - thanks for the report.

Mr.Zero and Zombie - any thoughts regarding my "perspective" question? (The change in your perspective/focus when you have a child.) Or did 1:51 capture the meaning you both had mind?

zombie said...

"Mr.Zero and Zombie - any thoughts regarding my "perspective" question? (The change in your perspective/focus when you have a child.)"

Certainly your focus changes when you have a child. You have to multitask a lot, and a lot more often. Your time is rarely completely your own. (This is not true just of parents who are academics, of course.) Armchair philosophy is a luxury, and you may be reading Goodnight Moon for the ten thousandth time while the back of your brain chews on a philosophical problem. You have to adjust priorities. (If you want to be a parent who is involved in your kid's life, that is.)

It's pretty easy, when you're a grad student, and all you do is study and teach and chase your own tail down rabbit holes, to lose sight of lots of things. In my case, having a child really helped me find a philosophical focus -- it gave me a particular real world perspective I didn't have before. It sparked my interest in new questions, and approaches I hadn't taken seriously before. (It is sooooo interesting to explain philosophy to a five year old. They are so on it with those big questions. I think having a kid made me a better teacher too.)

Also, do not attempt to do any of this without lots and lots of coffee. I am not kidding. My caffeine intake increased five-fold when I became a parent.

And yeah, I'm one of those people who works and has a family life, and that's about it. And it's good. Hey, I might find some time to go see the Batman movie this week, if I go to a late show, after the kids are asleep, and sacrifice a little sleep myself.

One more thing, speaking for myself anyway. In a real way, being a parent limited my job search. There are places I might have considered going when I didn't have a kid. But a whole lot of places were just out of the question for me as a parent. Places where I wouldn't want to raise my kid, places with lousy schools, places my spouse did not want to live, etc. So big chunks of the country (and the world) just did not exist for me as a job seeker. I guess that's a way that being a parent can change your perspective on the relative value of an academic career.

Anonymous said...

"places my spouse did not want to live"

I don't mean to be a dick; I am quite serious here. Did you only concern yourself with this after the child was born? I ask because I know people who seem to assume that spouses are going to follow academic, but then priorities shift after a child is born, and that's when academic start thinking that they are now dragging "family" with them.

I'm neither married nor a parent, so I don't know. But does having a child force you to consider "family" in ways that having a spouse does not? And if so, why? (That is, if so, why did your spouse's input matter *more* after having a child?)

Anonymous said...

If you were serious about the academy, you'd have been ritualistically sterilized by your graduate supervisor. Just concentrate on publishing. Make sure it's in one of these journals, http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/03/the-highest-quality-general-philosophy-journals-in-english.html so we know it's good since no one has the time to actually read your crap.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:38:

Do graduate student health plans typically cover this ritual? I'm concerned about the trade-off between paying rent and getting the operation.

SLACker Prof said...

I basically agree with everything that has been said, although no one has pointed out that the flexibility that comes with being an academic can make child rearing far easier than it is for people that work 9 - 5. It's far easier for academics to carve out an hour or two during a day, or indeed a whole day, if the need arises (e.g daycare closes or your child is sick etc).

Now this advantage is somewhat mitigated if you have a long commute to work. So one way in which your perspective might change in having a child is that places you thought you might not be happy start to look very attractive. I live in a very small (and very charming) town in the midwest. I walk to work. I can go into the office for an hour and be home to take over childcare when my wife has a meeting. We can afford a fair sized house. Childcare is readily available, of high quality, and very affordable (and let me echo one of the comments: if you can afford decent childcare, take advantage of it: it can allow for a lot of time to get things done if you're focused). All of this makes us *love* the place we live.

A related point is that your career and life priorities may well change. I, for one, simply care less about producing lots of research. I care a lot about having time to be with my family. To be clear: I haven't given up on research (I publish somewhat regularly and in good/decent venues). It's just that making a splash in the field doesn't matter as much to me as it did when I was a grad student (although I was never the kind of philosopher who is likely to have made much of a splash).

I suppose all this is directed toward people who are heading out on the job market without kids, but think they want to have kids: the kinds of places that you've always imagined would be the places you want to be might not be so hot when you have a kid; and the kinds of places you never gave much thought to might end up being dream jobs.

CTS said...

Ditto to SLACker Prof on the location considerations. When we were pre-kids, we lived in a major city and loved it. After the birth of our first child, we saw it with very different eyes: dirty, loud, and dangerous - and with awful public schools. So we moved to a pleasant town and my position at a SLAC. It was not always easy, but I cannot imagine not having had my kids.

zombie said...

"places my spouse did not want to live"
I don't mean to be a dick; I am quite serious here. Did you only concern yourself with this after the child was born? I ask because I know people who seem to assume that spouses are going to follow academic, but then priorities shift after a child is born, and that's when academic start thinking that they are now dragging "family" with them."

Your spouse's post-parenthood priorities will also change, one would hope. I would say that pre-parenthood, things like location are more negotiable with the spouse (depending, of course, on the spouse's employment). Post-parenthood, there are family issues, not just spousal issues. But they're not in conflict, if you and the spouse are on the same page about what makes a location good for the family.

Anonymous said...

To add to what Zombie just said:

Asking your spouse to move to a non-favored location is very different from what you do to your kids by raising them in a bad-for-kids environment. My wife came with me to my first job despite it's being sub-optimal in a couple of important ways. Her work gives her almost infinite flexibility with locations, so that wasn't an issue, but it was a genuine sacrifice. Still, we made the decision together, she was an equal partner, etc. Now (I'm a pretty well established academic at this point) we live somewhere much better for her *and* good for kids (and not quite so good for me, but perfectly acceptable job-wise).

I guess my point is: with a spouse, it may be a sacrifice but it's voluntary. It's much different when you'd be imposing the hardship on your children.

Anonymous said...

I know people seem to be avoiding 7:12's comment, but I wonder if we could discuss it here (or in another post). This will get long, so my apologies.

I cannot produce children. Medical issue, one I've known about for years, and have long since come to terms with. My partner and I live in a state that does not approve of gay couples adopting. We have come to terms with this years ago, and this is no longer an issue for us. We also consider ourselves lucky to live in the same county (one town over) as two of my siblings (I grew up in this state; he moved here for school), with whom we are very close. We are the fun uncles to their children, and we are happy to be so involved in the lives of such wonderful kids. I have recently received tenure at a school where I am very happy, and my partner is executive chef at a restaurant where he is happy. We have careers we love, and we enjoy the life we have made together.

However, it does irk me somewhat that my colleagues who have children are given special privileges with respect to scheduling, committee work, and recruiting (attending university events for incoming freshmen and undeclared majors, selling them on the values of our program). Recruiting affairs always fall on weekends, and those of us without children are always the first to be asked. We have been told that our colleagues with children should not have to work on weekends, otherwise known as "family time." My colleagues with children are never asked to teach at 8:00 am, or after 4:00 pm. I could go on, but I won't. I hope I've made my point.

I love that my department is "family-friendly"; what I dislike, however, is that "family" is defined through breeding. I've mentioned this in the past, and have been told that while it's admirable that I spend so much time with my nieces and nephews, they are not "my kids." As if our emotional bonds are somehow less important or significant. And it's been suggested that my partner and I don't need our time together as much as parents do. That our time together is less significant because we are not raising children.

I want to tell my colleagues that while their kids are certainly important to them, their kids are not quite as important to me. My family - defined how we define it, lived how we live it - as just as important to me as their family is to them. That I have not bred should not mean that my family is less important, or less deserving of consideration.

I have been told that if we start considering nieces and nephews the way we consider children, where does it end? What family members do we not get to claim for scheduling priorities? My answer, of course, is that we consider the needs of those closest to us, those whose lives we are directly and intimately involved with. (I have other relatives, in other states, but I'm not asking for consideration regarding their needs.) I've also been asked what we are suposed to do if we allow everyone to be given special consideration for family allowances? Again, my answer is simple: family allowances should be made for everyone, depending on their family needs. And if two people need the same accommodations, then perhaps they can split, alternating by semester.

This is already long, so I'll end with this: for my entire adult life, I have been told that those I love and those with whom I spend my time are not "real" family. This privileging of heterosexual coupling and breeding exists in law, in various forms of social conduct, and in general practice at my workplace. I don't wish to deny my colleagues any time with or consideration for their families. However, I wish that my family needs were given the same consideration.

CTS said...


It seems to me that what you describe is simple unfairness, and you have pretty effectively explained why it is. I am especially astonished that you should be told (or have it implied) that your partner and you need less time together than other couples.

One reason (no clue if this is operative in your case) for not 'counting' nephews and nieces as heavily as offspring is that they have parents who can care for them. In other words, if we look at it not as a question of your love for the children, but as one of responsibilities, there might be a consideration. On the other hand, it does not sound like anyone has suggested this to you.

CTS said...

As a further thought, it seems to me that a good department is considerate of everyone's needs, not just the parental ones.

I have a colleague who is single and without children. He has a terrible time with focusing on anything for about 3 hours after he wakes up. We don't tell him to just get up earlier; we accomodate his need.

zombie said...

4:20 -- you are right that it is discriminatory to privilege people with children, if it means that people without children are not accommodated at all. And yeah, the definition of "family" stretches and contracts, depending on who is defining it. (As for "breeding," there are plenty of workplaces that don't give maternity/paternity leave to people who adopt their children, as if adopted children don't require just as much care as one's biologically related children.)
In fairness, the needs of all should be accommodated, to the extent possible. But I would quibble with you that, as someone without children of your own, you have no stake in whether or not others are able to parent their children. We all have a stake in that, as a communal, social species. Granted, kids need a lot of time. Parents make sacrifices of their time for their own kids. But parental obligations don't end at one's own kids -- we also have obligations and duties of care for kids not our own. Maybe it is unfair that you are also required to make some sacrifices, but just as you must pay school taxes to ensure that all children have access to a decent education, you, as part of society, and as part of your dept., can be expected to contribute in some way to the upbringing of children not your own. This is not to say that your dept makes an equitable judgment as to what that contribution must be. Of that I have no knowledge except what you yourself describe. What you describe strikes me as unfair.

Anonymous said...


I wonder, does this same thinking that you describe apply to all university employees? If I can turn this discussion in a different direction, let me ask this: do/should non-faculty employees get the same accommodations?

From where I sit (and I don't know you, or 4:20, or your respective situations), I get frustrated pretty quickly when university faculty speak about scheduling needs for their children, and then those same needs don't apply to department secretaries, food service workers, groundskeepers, etc. Why is it important for university faculty with kids to be accommodated for, but it's not important for other university employees with kids to receive the same accommodations?

My department's secretary has 2 kids in school, and has to be at work at 8:00, M-F. If you worked in my department, would you lead the charge to make sure she doesn't have to come in until 10:00? Should our department's early morning business be given to other administrative staff without kids? How would you explain to her that teaching faculty should be given accommodations that the university will not make for her?

zombie said...

4:36 -- I don't see any reason why flexible work schedules would be incompatible with many different jobs, both faculty and non-faculty. I can't speak for every position. I think there are different expectations re: flexibility with different jobs and workplaces. An elementary school teacher, for example, has a very different teaching schedule than I do. (And as a parent, I've had to accommodate the district's many, many days when there is no school for my kid.)