Children are miracles, in more ways than one

I still consider us quite newly-married, and I don’t anticipate us having kids just yet. So don’t get your hopes up or start to worry, depending on your disposition.

But I am a planner, so I have spent some time recently inquiring into kid issues, particularly as they relate to the academic lifestyle. At the Philosophy departmental holiday dinner, there were a number of kids around, those of grad students and faculty, both young and old. At the English holiday luncheon, however, I saw only one child. This, despite the fact that our department is 2/3 women, and roughly three times the size of the philosophy department. Part of this may be due to the fact that, in Sydney’s department, it’s the men who are subject to the academic lifestyle (which is not particularly friendly towards kids) and their wives may not be in positions that so clearly deem kids “detrimental to one’s career progress.” In my department, it’s the women who are coming up against those roadblocks, and who apparently have, at least in large part, decided that kids will need to be postponed until they are at a more stable time in their lives. Is that more stable time signaled by a real job? tenure? retirement?

And yet, I recently went to a class dinner at a professor’s house, only to find that she had three beautiful (seemingly normal) children, all nearly full-grown by now. So, if very few grad students seem to have kids, none of the young faculty have any (most of them don’t even have partners, much less kids), and all of the established professors’ kids are grown, when and how did they have them? Kids are starting to seem more and more miraculous the more I keep my eyes open.

Heidi’s inquiries into mothers in the law profession, David and Lisa’s recent juggling with twins and grad school, and some discussions with friends here in Ithaca have gotten me thinking about this topic. A lot of the general advice seems to be that having kids right after grad school, when you’re in your first job, with publishing pressure and your heaviest-ever teaching load, is not a good time to try to make a home for a child. Many people tend to wait, so that it’s common for the first child to be born in the woman’s early- to mid-thirties. But, to put it bluntly, Sydney will be edging toward 40 if we waited that long. The other idea is that the end of grad school may not be such a bad time: you have a pretty flexible schedule, a great deal of time at home, and you are less accountable for your income than at any other time in your life. So far so good.

But writing a dissertation either pregnant or with newborn? Are you serious? Having assisted a new mom recently for a couple of days, I’m sceptical of the idea that it’s possible (or at least humane) to expect to get anything done that resembles a coherent, sustained thought, much less a dissertation. I mean, thinking requires sleep! But let’s table that topic.

Something else that really bothered me, once I started paying attention, is the idea of being pregnant in the academic community at any point. Never having had any professors who taught with an ever-expanding belly, or had any fellow grad students announce that they’re expecting, it seems that attempting to have kids around here might be a somewhat lonely activity. Despite having a very family-loving church, where there are pregnant women galore, the situation up the hill seems to be quite different. I’m guessing a number of peers and professors write you off: “Oh, she’s going the family way. So much for her career.” If push comes to shove, family comes first. But I don’t see any reason why someone outside our family should be deciding that. Another thought: going on the job market while visibly pregnant? Yup, those interviews could be quite interesting . . . or quite short.

Guess I’d better do a bit more inquiring, as this particular aspect of the “miracle of children” is something I will eventually need to know more about. Kids do interesting things to lives in any context, but I find it particularly interesting to consider them in light of an academic lifestyle, where every year in graduate school is planned out and every year in your first job is one that is used to ensure your tenure a few years down the road. Where is there room for kids? It also seems to be something most of my female colleagues have been thinking about, although they have kept it to themselves. Apparently it’s not one of those issues you drop in on your Graduate Director to discuss!

Thoughts? Comments?


P. S. If you find the above situation a breeze, put your brain to work in figuring out how you not only produce and care for a child, but perhaps also provide him with sibling(s)!

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7 Responses to Children are miracles, in more ways than one

  1. Lisa says:

    I think the child-friendliness of academia really varies from school to school & dept to dept. I remember when I was going to BU for my grad school visit, the head of my program made some comment about a baby-friendly dept & telling stories about how her infant used to come to work with her when she first started there, etc. Of course, when I was 21, this freaked me out. But sure enough, I’ve met a few students in my program that have taken time off for babies, or whose wives are pregnant, etc. It doesn’t seem so ridiculous now.

    So what does this mean? Well, maybe just that Cornell isn’t the most baby-friendly environment. I’ve had pregnant profs @ BU & Yale – no one seems to think anything of it. So maybe you try to find a first job after grad school at a place where they do accommodate pregnant/new mom profs, or maybe you brave having kids soonish & then be able to send them off to daycare when you start working.

    I don’t know. Clearly you’ve thought about this more than I have, and it’s a lot more relevant for you. If I have any children in the next couple yrs, it’ll be purely unintentional…
    But good luck w/all this. And I expect baby pictures. Lots of them. Lots.
    Miss you! *hugs*

  2. fustianist says:

    The funny thing is that Cornell is actually rated really highly by some “Mom” associations. They subsidize child care quite heavily, particularly for grad students. They’re apparently at the forefront of some of this stuff. It’s just that some facts about academic “career development” remain that make having kids difficult, and my own department (and possibly field) aren’t helping to assuage my worries.

    And let me emphasize: this is not an imminent problem for us. You will need to wait awhile for those pics! You know me, I start worrying about everything way in advance, just to get a head start on the rest of the world! And I am really curious about women-in-workplace issues in general.


  3. Heidi says:

    Interestingly enough, you say its something most of your female colleauges have been thinking about… why haven’t your male colleagues been thinking about it! Pregnancy is temporary, taking care of kids is for life. 🙂 If men were more involved and their employers were more receptive to them utilizing their requisite leave time, men and women would appear much more equally committed to the workforce.

    Enough feminist ranting… I did have an American Women’s History professor who taught while she was very pregnant and still very prone to morning sickness at our 9am class. She just informed us at the beginning of the semester that occasionally, she might need to leave classroom for that reason. It really wasn’t a big deal to the students.

    As for job interviews while pregnant… yikes… they sort of encourage women to refrain from even discussing relationship status (boyfriend = marriage = babies = maternity leave) at our interviews.

  4. fustianist says:

    Perhaps male colleagues do think about this, but are less apt to talk about it to other people. That is, one can’t infer from the fact that they don’t talk about it that they don’t think about it. Such inferences would certainly lead to a rather misleading picture of Sydney’s mental life!
    – Sydney

  5. Lisa says:

    I’m still sort of mystified at academia’s relationship with parenting. On the one hand, many of the academics I’ve known and worked with are very encouraging about being a parent–and about doing it while also pursuing a career. And, of course, academics also tend to be sufficiently aware of society’s pressures on women. But women in academia are still at a serious disadvantage in that provisions are generally not made for part-time work. Very frustrating. I *do* think, obviously, that it can be done. The first year of graduate school is certainly not the best time to try, but the idea of writing a dissertation with a baby doesn’t sound so bad to me (especially if it’s just *one* baby). Some people wouldn’t be able to do it, but if you can force yourself to be efficient and organized, I think it would be a fun combination.

  6. Mother of the bride says:

    I work in an entirely different field where it is assumed if there are married young people, the status of parenthood can change overnight(most of the pregnancies of my co-workers are married couples).

    From an employer’s point of view, you are hired to do a job and expected to do it well. When pregnant, you prepare in advance for your absence and give plenty of advance notice if you are taking extended leave. When you return to work, you are expected to slip back into your PK (pre-kid) schedule. Sometimes you may be late or need to leave early for doctor appointments, pre-school consultations and all the other things that any one of you in your household needs to do.

    Children are like rainy days and beautiful springs – they are a natural part of life. You fit them into your life like everything else. If you don’t make a ‘big deal’ about it to your employer – your employer should have no qualms about hiring/promoting you. After all – they have children too.

  7. fustianist says:

    That’s the funny thing: many of my employers either a) don’t have kids of their own or b) seem to have forgotten that fact. I like how your work takes things, Mom, but I’m afraid that my mostly-female environment is not built like your mostly-female environment. More’s the pity!

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