Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Academe and kids

Dean Dad comments on the IHE article from yesterday about studies showing that academics have fewer kids than other professionals. Dean Dad asks specifically how we make this work. Honestly, it's gotten easier as the kids have gotten older, but it's still hard. I especially feel guilty that I can't be here when my kids get home from school to help them with their homework. I have taken a flexible schedule myself to be here a couple of days a week to meet my older son after school, but it still doesn't feel like enough and there have been more than a few times when I've stayed over to finish something. The school schedule doesn't help parents in any profession. I've discussed this many times before. I really wish the school schedule meshed better with the work schedule. It would go a long way to help many parents. It doesn't do much for those doing shift work, but often those parents juggle anyway.

Something no one brought up was the fact that most academics find themselves far, far away from family, making it impossible to rely on them for childcare, especially for conference trips that are often a necessary part of the job. I see many of the friends in the neighborhood who have kids have family nearby. We went to grad school near my inlaws and I remember when Mr. Geeky went on the market, they did not understand why he didn't just apply to his grad school or to another school nearby. They didn't get that a) most people don't get to work at a school where they went and b) you apply for jobs that are open. And the market's just weird, anyway.

I'm actually grateful I'm not a lawyer or a doctor. I have one of each in my family. And while the doctor is on for a few days in a row and then off a few days in a row, he often can't set his schedule (he works in an ER). He has to get people to fill in in order to take the vacation he wants to. If he needed to take care of a kid suddenly, he couldn't just call in sick as easily as I might. My father, a lawyer who worked for himself, went in early and came home late while I was growing up. He seemed largely absent, which he says he now regrets. We kid him now about how he used to say at the dinner table "time is money." We'd roll our eyes and tell him he'd lapsed into lawyerspeak and to get over himself.

The pressures that academics feel and especially the discrimination felt by many women is real and of a slightly different kind than that of doctors or lawyers. Some of the pressure is self-inflicted, a feeling that one wants to not just do okay, but do really well. But much comes from the tenure guidelines or course schedules, etc. Institutions could go a long way to alleviate some of those pressures by reducing some tenure guidelines or course loads--for everyone. Does every humanities department at every type of institution really need to requie a book for tenure? I've often said that maybe people could focus on what they're good at instead of all having to do the exact.same.thing. Maybe you have a research star who doesn't teach as well, but she's balanced out with a teaching star who doesn't do as much research. Because as I said in an earlier post, we all work too much. Life balance is good. Fine if there are a couple of stars who want all the rewards. The rest of the crowd may just want to be home in time for dinner.

Truthfully, no one tells you how hard and how much work it's going to be to raise kids or to have a successful career. Doing both is not impossible, but it means giving some things up. I don't have my kids in a million activities mainly because I don't have time to cart them around. So maybe they won't get into Harvard. I also don't have a lot of extracurricular activities myself. Most of my "hobbies" are related to my work. I don't have time to exercise. But I think we're reasonably balanced--at least for now.