Having Children and Getting Tenure Discussion
Query: From Sharon Wright firstname.lastname@example.org 07 Dec 1995
I have recently discussed the difficulties of having children and getting tenure with some of my colleagues at the University of Toronto. We were wondering what the general wisdom was among those of you who are not signed off for Christmas already.
Questions pondered the longest were:
Is there ever a good time? What are the long term results vis a vis tenure? How does extending the length of your Ph.D. due to maternity leave or leaves affect your future career?
>From Pamela E. Mack Pammack@clemson.edu 08 Dec 1995
I got pregnant around the time my book passed the last hurdle of acceptance for publication. Even then there were some uncertain moments--I was in late pregnancy on 100% bedrest (and that plus medications put me into a pretty nonfunctional mental state) during most of the period when I was supposed to be reading proofs and indexing, and I ended up paying someone to index for me and asking my mother to proofread. Due to the vagaries of our system I did not get tenure until a year later, but I didn't worry about the tenure process because my book was out.
My thoughts would be that it is safer to either have a child in graduate school or to wait until you have met the key requirements for tenure at your particular institution. I wouldn't worry about waiting until you actually have tenure unless you expect to be a marginal case. My main reason is not that it is impossible to have children and move at the necessary rate towards tenure, but that having children increases the level of unpredictability in your life tremendously. I certainly didn't expect to spend 7 weeks on total bedrest during my first pregnancy to avert a premature birth. I breastfed(one child for 9 months and one for 11 months) and went back to teaching, and loved living both roles at once, but it doesn't leave much energy for anything else. And I didn't expect the medical and developmental problems that my children have faced, which took almost all my energy for two years. I had promised to finish revisions of a book the summer my son turned out to require major surgery, and instead I got almost nothing done.
But don't take any of it too seriously, because family life is unplannable. I tried to have a second child when I had a sabbatical and took a year at half pay, but instead it took a year to get pregnant.
>From Nina E. Lerman email@example.com 07 Dec 1995
Please add another topic to the mix on this topic: maternity leave policies.
The question has arisen here because our apparently progressive "family leave policy" (varying percentage pay cuts for course reductions) works very nicely if a moderately reduced load solves your problem, but not so nicely in the (existing) case of a primary breadwinner trying to feed the family and deliver a child in the same academic year.
This is my first year here but as I understand it, the argument in the past has gone something like "paid maternity leave under a sick leave policy medicalizes pregnancy--you don't want that, do you?--and besides it isn't fair because men can't get it."
The college is willing to stop the tenure clock for pregnancy, though--yet another issue for comment?
>From Lynn Japinga JAPINGAL@HOPE.CIT.HOPE.EDU 09 Dec 1995
I had my first child after I had finished residency and three comprehensive exams. It took five more years to finish the comps and write my dissertation. I also did some teaching and miscellaneous church work in the meantime. I tried to be home 2-3 days per week with my son and really enjoyed that time. It stretched out the dissertation process which was frustrating, but I had the luxury of a working husband and I appreciated the opportunity to set my own pace.
I had my second at the end of my first year of full-time teaching(was off a week, then back in the classroom to finish the semester!) I had the summer free, then taught two classes the first semester and three the second. I've been full-time ever since and worked both summers. I am wishing for a little more time at home right now, but feel the pressure to write and be full-time for the tenure process. So, I'm not sure there is one best answer, except that I felt much more freedom having a baby during the dissertation process.
>From Sharon Wright firstname.lastname@example.org 12 Dec 1995
I have had so many replies to the woman, children and tenure question that I can't begin to thank you all individually for answering. So--here it is THANKS.
I asked the question on behalf of a friend who is planning on delaying her defence by a year to have a baby. The general consensus seems to be do it before you have to start teaching and trying to publish. There were lots of other opinions, though.
For myself the test is yet to come, since I already have two children (4 and 18 mos) and both my husband and I are graduate students. I guess we are just the sort of people who really like to be the underdog---unless there is anyone out there who knows of a university that would like to offer two tired parents/historians a couple of tenure stream jobs in the same department(fortunately e-laughter is not audible!)
>From Susan A. Holton email@example.com 13 Dec 1995
I admire all of you who are trying to "do it all" and integrate children and tenure issues. I was quite fortunate. I graduated(Ph.D.) on June 11 and Christopher was born June 19(at the end of a week-long conference where I was a daily presenter. But then I took time off and worked only part-time for the next 8 years. I wrote a book on the emotional aspects of pregnancy (called _The Mad Madonna_), did some part-time teaching, and spent the time at home with him. Why? Because a friend once said to me that no one would ever remember I taught an extra class or attended an extra meeting...but that Christopher would remember if I missed the first t-ball game, or play. And that has been something that has helped me balance my perspective.
Am I behind in my academic career? Sure. While I was at home for those 8 years, others were climbing the ladder, getting the bigger jobs and bigger salaries. Do I regret my decision? Not at all. Out of it I have a son who is a relatively well-adjusted (he's 19 now...so no one can be totally well adjusted at 19!), charming, loving person. And I have a job I love, have had a shot at administration and decided to teach instead, and am satisfied with the path.
>From Claire Garcia firstname.lastname@example.org 14 Dec 1995
All of these stories of good timing with deliveries, books published while on the externally or internally imposed "Mommy track", etc. I find somehow deflating rather than inspiring--between the smugness of those "doing the right thing" and the anxiety of those doing the right thing more awkwardly, or wondering if they are doing the right thing---!! How many stories of those women who have remained quiet as this thread is being discussed have stories similar to mine? I started grad school when my twins were 11 months old, adopted a son almost on the spur of the moment when I was still in the masters program, conceived a "surprise" baby during the summer after my first year in the PhD program, and landed a tenure-track job on the strength of my teaching. I started grad school in 1985, started working at my small liberal arts college in 1989, full-time in 1991. I have presented a paper once, published one non-academic article in the Chronicle, and two articles in a literary journal. I love my work(teaching literature.) I also love being able to tell my class: work on these discussion questions in small groups--I need to go up the street for 45 minutes to watch my son's mother's day play. Although I work hard and think that I have the respect of most of my colleagues, I live (thank God) in a different world than most academic women, it seems (even those at smaller, less-elite institutions.) Of course I wish I had more time to write, but Henry James and the other works which I am involved with will always be there.
My college (both departmental and institutional structures) has been supportive of my approach to my career. I am up for tenure year after next and next year is my sabbatical year--so I hope that I can find homes for three papers in time to have a little more to put on my vita and show that I'm not just treading water as a scholar.
I feel that mothers in academia have to take responsibility for changing institutional structures and expectations so that we are not put into impossible "either/or" positions.
>From Joan Gundersen email@example.com 18 Dec 1995
Mixing kids and tenure isn't always so easy. It very much depends on the culture of the campus and the individual woman's situation. For example, if you have colleagues who are sure women are less serious about their careers, or who assume that all women are good at teaching, but not research, slowing the scholarly output to be with kids is riskier than it would be for a man trying to spend more time with his kids because it confirms their stereotypes. Many years ago, my husband and I decided that given the uncertain job market we couldn't wait for the tenure line job to have kids. So I ended up interviewing for my first full-time(sabbatical) position while 9 months pregnant, and for my first tenure track jobs with a new baby in tow. (I even had to bring her on one of the interviews.) Once that job appeared, I found myself in a game of musical chairs given that the department didn't think it could tenure all its new people. The result? We have an only child. I kept pushing on my writing by hiring half-day summer help, writing in the mornings and spending the afternoons with my daughter. My husband picked up many of the household chores. During the school year, my writing began after the 10:00 p.m. news when my husband went to bed. It was an exhausting pace. I would look longingly at the NEH Summer seminars and realize that it was six to eight weeks away from my family-something I just didn't want to do. They were designed for single people or single-income families. I deferred applying for Fulbrights until last year when my daughter was in college.
So what's the solution? Leave and research money for women (or men) who don't want to travel (or can't due to family), campus childcare (my daughter came to campus two days a week once in school and played in the trees outside my office building.) Recognition of a broader range of scholarship (as recommended by the Carnegie Commission) to include scholarly reflection on teaching and course construction, part-time tenure. In an ideal world we would stop creating pecking orders that reward faculty who already had major opportunities for research when awarding grants,etc. The ones who NEED the fellowships are the ones who had had more trouble finding time to publish. I'm sure others can add to the list.
>From Joyce A. Berkman firstname.lastname@example.org 18 Dec 1995
Such an interesting and important topic!
I have little to add to the comments that others have made. My two children, one born in the early 1960s while I was working on my dissertation, the other in 1971 after I had been teaching for five years but still untenured, certainly steered my career in an idiosyncratic direction. The major sacrifice, in addition to delaying publication of research, was the nature of my research. Travel to archives posed a serious problem, so I chose topics that I could manage from home and through arranging for the photocopying items(often costly) from distant holdings. In addition, the community activist side of myself restricted its work to local and K-12 school politics, a mixed blessing. Through complex negotiations in which after my second child was born I taught full time but was paid 2/3 and later 5/6 time so as to be technically part-time, I was able to avoid a tenure decision until my youngest was in school and I had some published work and then became formally full-time. Without question I worked too hard. I gave my all to teaching and to the development of women's studies on campus. Campus and even community service in some respects was easier, since its tasks could be managed with less concentration and shorter spans of time than historical writing.
Reflecting over my career I have benefited immensely from my choices. Both sons now have careers, one a family, and I have the pleasures and incomparable learning that parenthood offers along with the opportunity now to engage in research and writing impossible earlier. My slim publication record at the time I came up for tenure caused difficulties at the provost's level, but my years of service to the department, the profession, and to the development of women's studies on campus, combined with my teaching reputation to assure a positive outcome.
I champion the decision to have children early, in your 20s and early 30s. At the same time I agree with others that colleges should provide various incentives to men and women to enable them to combine work and family, from subsidized day care to flexible timing for tenure decisions. My heartiest support to all of you, male and female, who strive to "have it all!"
Some New Issues:
>From Lori Ginzberg email@example.com 19 Dec 1995
I don't usually get involved in these H-Net discussions but I feel I have to put my two cents in this one about tenure, babies, etc, because I'm feeling increasingly annoyed by it. While I support institutional flexibility around all kinds of "personal" and lifecycle experiences (and have enjoyed them myself in several respects) I can't help but feel depressed by a decision that assumes that childrearing is entirely women's responsibility. If many or most of the women in this discussion have male partners, I wonder why no one thinks any demands should be placed on THEM. Surely that's supposed to be a feminist goal, that men too can (and have to) change? As employers men may be having difficulties with policies that make women's traditional responsibilities easier, but I suspect that as husbands and fathers these same men are complacently enjoying a discussion where no one seems to be struggling with or making demands on them.
>From Marian Neudel firstname.lastname@example.org 19 Dec 1995
I have concocted a really weird scheme which I am convinced would solve a lot of the problems at once. Begin with what studies indicate pretty clearly about academic ability in young children, which is that girls develop reading and verbal abilities at least a year before boys of the same age, sometimes more. And that many of the "learning disabilities" boys tend to have more often than girls are actually the result of being forced to start school before they're ready for it, just because the calendar says it's time. Why not let girls start school at 5 or even 4, and boys at 7? This means, of course, that girls will finish college at age 18 or 19, and boys at 22 or 23. Which gives a young woman a 3-to-5 year window of opportunity to have children and stay home with them, and then start her career on a par with her male age-mates. (The other argument I've heard is that the ten years more of life expectancy that women have is "meant" to serve that purpose.)
>From Julian Carter email@example.com
19 Dec 1995
I have been reading the posts on tenure and having children with fascinated and excited eyes: my partner has recently begun to articulate her wish to get pregnant in the next few years! I want this very much, but since the child will be born of her body I have not wanted to stress my eagerness lest I imply that her sense of timing is less important to me than my own. In any even, I am a little nervous about our projected schedule, and beyond that, about the feasibility of the whole thing.
My partner is in the third year of her PhD program--is preparing for her comps in the spring--while I am in my fifth, and will be done with my dissertation in the next calendar year. By the time I will be on the market she should be far enough along to be able to follow my job prospects without harm to her writing. Is it crazy for us to wait until I'm a lowly lecturer, or at best assistant p., and til she's on the job market? Has anyone else out there tried to plan for not only parenthood but the complexities of getting a university to deal with lesbians as spouses? It seems incredible to me that I might be able to bring her and our child with me as I establish my career, then let me be the primary care-taker and have a child from my body while she publishes and ratraces and so on. Am I nuts to imagine this could work? Thanks, all, for a very interesting and informative thread.
>From Angus Johnston firstname.lastname@example.org 20 Dec 1995
Well, I guess it's time for me to pipe up. I've been intermittently frustrated by the conversation for a related reason---I'm a male just-married grad student trying to figure out when kids are going to enter the picture---but I've interpreted it a little differently.
I've been assuming that the reason there's been little discussion about the role of male partners in the process was that, well, that wasn't the question that was asked. The original query set the tone, and since for whatever reason the first poster didn't raise the question of men's roles (she implied in a follow-up that both she and her husband are taking on substantial parenting as grad students, but said she had asked the original question on behalf of a friend), others have generally followed her lead. I haven't seen anybody suggesting that no demands should be placed on the fathers.
At any rate, I would love to see a broader discussion of parenting questions. One of the many reasons I'm a grad student is that my wife's an almost-lawyer, and we've figured that the more amorphous schedule of grad school/ dissertation/teaching would be well-suited to letting me take on the primary caregiver role. When this will happen is still up in the air, though we're leaning toward earlier rather than later in the process.
>From Leigh F. Kirkland email@example.com 20 Dec 1997
Why do we assume that women will be taking the primary responsibility for children? Well, for the first nine months (pregnancy, I mean) that's the only real option. And in more places than we like to admit, no one will believe that the father/ a man would be a child's primary caretaker. But there are worse times than graduate school for having children: the kids don't know about money yet, and you have more flexible time that you might at other times.
Actually, the best time for me would have been those teenage years when I didn't have anything going on anyway. And now the kids would be in graduate school.
>From Charlotte Borst firstname.lastname@example.org 20 Dec 1995
I have followed the very interesting discussion on having babies, getting jobs, getting tenure, etc., but have been to busy to respond. Like many respondents, I had my children while I was in grad school (there must be some really good stories we should amass on how we all did it--my stories relate to carrying breast pumps around to job interviews, discreetly tucked in my oh-so-professional-looking briefcase...escaping to the women's bathroom to pump was a fine art learned while job hunting, certainly something I had to learn on my own!). But like Lori Ginzberg, I have been a bit dismayed at the price some of you have paid--I guess I'm very lucky--my husband agreed to follow me, so that my career was not unduly affected by having children (though I am very glad I had children in graduate school, not when I was working hard to get tenure.) I cannot say that he was unsupportive, or that I had to give up the idea of a full-time career. What was hard, however, was the balancing act--writing a book, teaching a lot of courses, taking care of small children, and trying to be a good colleague in a dept. where I was the only person(male or female) with small children--was a lot of hard work. I felt that I had few other choices--my conservative institution would never have considered other than the traditional paths to tenure(and the women physicians who constitute the largest percentage of women on our campus never got(or get) breaks either.) My latest concern, though, relates to this question, only a level higher--now that I have tenure, I find myself suddenly catapulted into part-time academic administration--where the hours are truly awful. As a faculty member, I was able to schedule classes and writing time, keeping tightly organized, and find time for my family. I like doing administrative work, but it's in addition to teaching part-time and working on my next book--but administrators here pride themselves on hours that seem to preclude any family life. This is a problem I don't see talked about anywhere--how do women with families who would like to break that "glass ceiling"(and have been given a chance), do it?
>From Theresa Kaminski email@example.com 21 Dec 1995
Lori was right to interject feminism into this discussion. I had initially replied privately to this query but I think it's time to weigh in publicly.
I had my son two months after I defended my dissertation and just six weeks before I moved to a new town to take on this job. Much of this was made manageable because of my supportive spouse. We made our career decisions based on who finished first, not on gender. During my first year of teaching my husband stayed home, took care of Sam, and finished his dissertation. We both made sacrifices, but there was no expectation that I would sacrifice everything simply because I am the mother. In fact, my husband has put his career on hold because there isn't much in the way of academic employment here for him and he is very reluctant to turn this into a long-distance relationship because of his attachment to Sam. I have delayed extensive research trips, applying for grants that would take me away from here, and not gone to many conferences because I don't like being away a lot right now. But had I chosen to do any of these things, my husband would have supported my decision.
>From Sharon Wright firstname.lastname@example.org 28 Dec 1995
Just before the holiday Lori Ginzberg wondered whether we women were losing sight of what men ought to be doing around the child-rearing years. Since I seem to touched off a lot of debate by asking about tenure and children I ought to add that I did not intend to leave men out of the picture. Both my husband and I are graduate students and both of us took parent leave. His thesis has been set back a hundred times by our children's' colds and flu, and by the need for higher income and hence a part-time job. On the whole, we find it harder for his supervisors to comprehend the amount of time that young children demand. While I won't go into the infuriating nature of what this implies for my role, I have to say that he gets very little credit outside this relationship for the fact that he does as much work at home as I do. In the end his career may suffer more than mine since it seems there is little sympathy among the establishment for men who actually take their responsibilities to their partners seriously and shoulder the work equally.
In the long run I think this simply demonstrates that Lori Ginzberg is probably right...that the tenure and child-rearing question needs to be blown right open because gender constructions make it difficult for parents of both sexes to function in an academic setting.
>From Susan Yohn email@example.com 3 Jan 1996
I too would like to thank Lori for her posting--I had begun to think that there were a disproportionately high number of single mothers out there! And a distinction needs to be made between the experiences of real single mothers and those who are married "single" mothers.
My daughter was born the year before I came up for tenure. The timing was great--I had basically fulfilled all the necessary criteria, book was in the works, articles and teaching,etc. My partner(who is my daughter's biological mother) was finishing up her dissertation. Between fellowships and sabbaticals we were able to schedule our lives so that one of us was with the baby until she entered full-time day care at 18 months. Certainly we get less done now than before our daughter was born, but I am forever grateful for the flexibility of the academic's schedule(especially when I watch friends in other kinds of work try to make more time to spend with their kids.) The real issue for us was not when to have a baby but that having a baby entailed "coming out" to colleagues and administrators. For me this did not prove to be a problem--my colleagues are a very amiable group--but I'm sure for others at other institutions there are substantial risks.
For the most part this discussion has focused on issues of gender construction--as if we can simply rearrange ourselves and make things right, if not better. But there is another issue that hasn't really been addressed here-what about the construction of the academy? After reading many of these postings, I'm not convinced that the tenure system serves any of us. First, there is the issue of whenin the process to have a child with the demands of biological clocks and careers coming at the same time. Perhaps tenure is better coming after 20 years instead of 7? And then there are those who tell of husbands/wives/partners following them to jobs that require they put their careers on hold. Yes, there is security that comes with tenure, but it also cuts way down on job mobility. It's fine if one partner is willing to make all the compromises (this is what my mother's generation did), but shouldn't out partners be able to build their careers as well? We all know colleagues whose personal lives are marked by complicated and convoluted commuting patterns. Wouldn't we be better served in a profession where there is more job mobility?
>From Debbling3@aol.com 8 Jan 1996
I have enjoyed reading about the experiences of so many women and me re: tenure and having children. It brings to mind my own situation. I work full-time in a teaching job(middle school) which requires a 120 mile RT a day commute, was taking classes working towards a Ph.D. and am sole support of my family(husband and baby girl.) My husband is the primary care giver and does virtually everything related to housekeeping. We have only one car, which puts an enormous time-consuming burden on me to ferry people around to appointments, grocery stores,classes,etc, in addition to my commute. My husband(being an immigrant) has just become a CA resident so he can finally begin his studies(full time) on the college level. However, he will have to take all his classes nights and weekends.
I spend every free moment I can with my baby but often find myself too exhausted to interact much with her(during the work week.) I only see her awake between 1-2 hours a day and it breaks my heart. As it is, I do not have sufficient time to prepare for my job, let alone read and study for my classes. I began resenting every second that I was not with my baby(outside of work) and although I love my classes, they do not pay my bills so it was a matter of giving them up until I can find the time and energy to continue them. Actually, the point I wanted to make has to do with my husband. He totes our daughter around in a backpack all over campus and is constantly stopped by well-meaning women who comment on "how cute" they both are and what a good father he is for taking care of his child! He has even been asked if he is a single father(more than once!) When I am out with my baby(which is often) nobody ever comments on "how cute we are" and NOBODY has ever offered that I was a good mother(or single mother, for that matter) because I am taking care of my child! While I am the first to agree that my husband is a wonderful father, I resent the fact that he gains recognition only because he is a male who is home watching his child only because he is currently unable to earn money to pay for day care!
I would much rather have him take care of the baby than some stranger, but it's ironic that a stay-at-home dad is considered noble while a mother(sat-at-home,outside-work or whatever) is simply expected to do it all and receives no recognition for it whatsoever! In fact, I have had a number of problems at work because of my responsibilities as a mother and face the chance I won't be rehired! Anyway, these were just thought and feelings that needed an outlet!
Return to H-Women Home Page.