The Covid-19 pandemic has led to many useful discussions about public health, social responsibility, and tips for online learning. See the many great posts that have gone up here. One thing that hasn’t been discussed enough, in my opinion, is work-life balance. Given all the pressures of the modern University, how do we ensure the expansive demands of remote learning don’t swamp us and–for those of us with families–undermine our commitments to our kids or an equitable marriage?
I’ll start with my situation. My wife has been home with our kids (2&4) and was actually planning on going back to work outside the home this spring. So technically I could be working full-time, but out of recognition of the difficulties of never leaving the house, and to be there for my family, I switched to a 1/2 time schedule. I work 10-3 with a break for lunch, so I can help get the kids ready in the morning, put them down for nap, and play with them in the afternoon. It’s stressful, and I feel like I barely have time to get work done even as I barely have time to be with my family.
The following is a guest post by Leah C. Windsor and Kerry F. Crawford. Windsor is a Research Assistant Professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at The University of Memphis. Crawford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at James Madison University. To take their survey, visit: https://tinyurl.com/drparentsurvey
This is the first in the series on changing the field of international relations. #IRChange
Academic families – especially dual-career spouses – with young children are struggling in more specific and remediable ways than we thought when we first launched our “Bias in Family Formation in Academia” survey last year. As parents of young children ourselves, we have a front row seat to competing demands of the early career and early childhood years.
We vastly underestimated the pervasiveness and ubiquity of obstacles, and the repetitive nature of the stories other academic parents wrote. We kept encountering the same problems: departmental and institutional refusal to accommodate legally-mandated family leave requests; hostile and toxic work environments for parents, especially mothers; and the unobservable emotional and physical toll of becoming parents, like fertility challenges, tough pregnancies and post-partum phases, and complicated adoptions.
The survey is part of a larger book project that recounts personal narratives of parents – mostly mothers – in their full-time roles as doctor and mom. Much has been written on the “leaky pipeline” whereby women exit the profession at higher rates than men, and on the “work-life balance” with competing suggestions of leaning in, tenure time-outs, and the (in)ability of women to “have it all.” We think of the pipeline as more of a “chutes and ladders” board game, where benefits of mentorship and supportive institutions can improve gender parity in the profession, elevating parents up the tenure-track ladder.
While there is good
reason to believe that overall the situation is improving, what we find is that
too many of the solutions focus on individual-level fixes, rather than
addressing the systemic origins of the problems. Policies about family
formation should be ubiquitously, transparently, and equitably communicated to
faculty, and FMLA provisions should be considered the bare minimum in order to
achieve a culture change of supporting academic families.
The following are themes and lessons – generally about U.S.-based institutions – we have identified through the 100-question survey of academic parents:
With all of the recent essays on the Duck this summer about the job market, citation indexes, and lack of confidence, there seems to be a brewing undercurrent about the anxiety of another academic year. Some of us maybe facing down a PhD defense and the job market for the first time, some of us compiling our pre-tenure review files, and some of us just generally feeling uneasy about a new area of research or a class we’ve never taught. Some maybe anxious about a new job they’ve recently arrived at. I can feel the collective tension reading through the posts and their comments.
I’d like to add one more perspective to the discussion in a hope to ease this tension. Much of what has been said before is from well within the “traditional” view of academia; a view where one has a tenure-track job or where one is attempting to get a tenure-track job. The reality is that getting or keeping these jobs is very difficult, and I cannot rehearse the myriad of factors that go into each. However, what I do think is important to note is that in these previous discussions there is a working assumption that once one is offered or has a tenure-track job, one will do anything to take or keep it. The Holy Grail must be achieved at all costs.
In between making organic cupcakes for my daughters’ school, completing a grant application, tending my organic vegetables, and finishing an R&R for a journal, I came across this little gem of a working paper (thanks to Freakonomics Blog). This new research shows the following:
“Couples where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband” (abstract).