Friday, July 24, 2009

Relying on the childless

Back to schoolImage by lorda via Flickr

Dr. Crazy had an interesting post the other day on how she's finally decided to put her foot down and not take the crappy time slots just because she doesn't have kids. I've been sitting on that post since I read it and then Wendy at Outside Providence responded and that prompted me to open it up again. My initial thoughts on reading Dr. Crazy's post were about all the times that I never said anything about needing to make accommodations for my kids even when a meeting was scheduled inconveniently. Like someone in the comments said, I felt it was inappropriate to even mention my kids. I needed to fit the "ideal worker" mold, suck it up and just figure things out. Of course, I was in a 9-5 job where I was expected to be present during all regular work hours, unlike a faculty member. So when the kids were little, we put them in full-time daycare, and when they got to school, we signed them up for after-school programs. I eventually quit sucking it up so much and asked for a flexible schedule where a couple of days a week, I came home at 3:00. Of course that meant I showed up at 7 a.m. So, a different kind of sacrifice.

Daycare, full time or otherwise, is expensive. Faculty salaries are not so great. And I'm sure that what goes through a faculty member's mind is somewhat about trying to save some money by doing part-time daycare or handling after school on their own. I've seen a lot of faculty do this, in fact, though I don't know if the reasons are financial. So, one solution might be to help faculty financially or logistically with the daycare situation. Have a drop-off service or have a list of students available for babysitting.

In general, I like the idea that Wendy raises of creating a culture that's more cooperative. One of the commenters at Dr. Crazy's mentions the whole "you chose to have kids, so suck it up argument" which always bothers me. Yes, I chose to have kids, but no, I had no clue how much time and money would be required to deal with raising them. And many parents didn't choose to have kids with disabilities or health problems or mental problems. And shit happens. Your kids get sick, get depressed, have accidents, etc. I agree that people who seem to be clueless about the fact that taking a kid to gymnastics is not really a good reason to be accommodated should be reined in. But shit's going to happen to childless folks too. A friend or parent will get ill, will want you to help them move, will get depressed, will have an accident, etc. Or you might be the one that gets depressed or ill or has an accident. And you might need to adjust your schedule. Or, on the more positive side, you might choose to volunteer somewhere or take up a hobby that means you can't make a 7 p.m. or 8 a.m. meeting. And, in my opinion, that should be accommodated just as much as needed to drop off a child somewhere.

Largely, I think it's up to a department chair or dean to create a situation where accommodations are equal. Faculty parents can start by assuming their jobs are 9-5 and making arrangements for their kids during those times. Yes, I know one of the greatest benefits of a faculty job is the flexible schedule, but if your colleague is having to teach the 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. class every semester because you refuse to find a babysitter, you're probably creating some resentment. If you don't want to invest in full-time daycare, then at least make arrangements for scheduled meetings. And, to help out, chairs, deans and colleagues should provide plenty of notice for those meetings. Course schedules could generally be done through a combination of requests and random assignments. In many departments, these kinds of things are the norms.

One commenter said that the key is to simply say what you want. I think honesty is a great thing here. Wouldn't it be great if everyone understood where everyone is coming from?
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