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06/24/2021

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ItsFineEverythingsFineWhyAreYouAsking?

(1) The moment you're more than merely thinking about having kids, get on the waiting list for *all* of the nearby childcare facilities that you are comfortable having your child at. These waitlists are sometimes *years* long. If you wait until you're expecting to get on the list, you may end up not having childcare until your kid is almost two years old.

(2) Yes, you need childcare. I don't care that you worked at home during the pandemic. Nobody, nobody, nobody---not you, not me, not that one person you know who seems to be able to do everything---nobody can do actual work while watching a kid. I cannot tell you why, because there's not a unique reason. But they will, for sure---no matter how smart, good at multitasking, prepared, patient, and good at operating without sleep you are---find a way to prevent you from doing work. Doing work while watching a kid simply cannot be done. So you need childcare.

(3) Your colleagues will not understand. I don't care if your colleagues have kids, had kids, are your age, are super understanding, whatever. There are things that, given who you are and who your kid is, are stupidly obviously impossible that, from anyone else's perspective, seem totally reasonable. Since your colleagues don't understand, you have to be forceful about things sometimes. You can be nice still, but also say, quite forcefully, that no, we cannot schedule the seminar for 4:30pm; that's impossible for me (or whatever).

(4) Learn to evaluate your mental state and do work appropriate to where you're at. Did you get a good night's sleep? Do creative, difficult work. I don't care if that's not what's pressing; you probably won't be able to do that sort of work tomorrow, so do it today. Did you not sleep at all? Do rote work/grading/whatever takes little brain power.

(5) Become ok with asking for help. People who tell you they raised kids on their own are (mostly) lying. They had family around or very good friends around. You moved to take your job. Your parents are a two-day drive away and your nearest friends are in another country. So when your colleague says their fourteen-year-old can babysit, say yes and get to work on making that a reality.

(6) Read books on parenting. They're mostly garbage. But they're garbage that can help you frame conversations with your partner/give you vocabulary for those conversations, and they do occassionally have ok ideas.

EuroProf

I have three kids, first was born when I was still doing my MA, last was born while I was a PostDoc. I love them and I hate to say this, but in general having children makes nothing easier (career-wise) and everything more difficult.

Having children takes time and energy. It increases the pressure to be succesful (because now you'll have to provide for a familiy, not just for yourself). It makes it difficult to move some place else for a new job or fellowship (this becomes way more problematic once your children are beyond the toddler stage). I could go on: conferences clash with family vacations, you catch the flu from your kid right before some big presentation, daycare is closed when you have classes to teach... You get the point.

What helps? Here are few things that I found useful:

Have a network. Having grandparents nearby or good friends makes things easier. Honestly, if both parents are working full time, it's virtually impossible to have a family without the grandparents in the background pulling some weight.

Be efficient. Find out which tasks you really need to do and do them. It doesn't need to be good, just good enough.

Be organized. This applies to everyone in academia, of course, but it's way more important for parents. Your time is much more limited than that of your childless colleagues. If your child is in in school from 9-5, then this is as much time as you have to get your work done, so use it.

Be tough. Having children will always mean that it'll be harder for you to work on your career, so just accept it, roll up your sleeves and carry on.

Jeffrey Kaplan

Everything that said above by ItsFineEverythingsFineWhyAreYouAsking? is correct, in my experience. Point (2) cannot be overemphasized. There is one and only one solution to the problem of having children while needing to accomplish all of the tasks required to succeed on the tenure-track. And that solution is: having someone else care for your child for significant portions of time. If you don't have tons of free childcare provided by a partner and nearby family, then you will need paid childcare. Paid childcare is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It is *the* thing. Slash every line on your budget so that you can allocate all excess funds to paid childcare. This is the answer your are looking for. This is it.

Rosa

I had a kid on the tenure track, but intentionally waited to get pregnant until I was confident I had enough for tenure - and honestly, it's been a big struggle to get work done ever since. I'm deeply, deeply glad I waited, and I strongly, strongly second what others have said about childcare. I'm sorry this isn't more hopeful/helpful!

(Although to be fair, I changed jobs when my kid turned 1, then had serious medical issues in my first semester in the new job, and then the pandemic hit in my second semester, so trust other parents on whether/how quickly this gets better.)

Al

Yes to everything here. Get childcare. Get a student or two who you trust and who can come in and hang with your kid while you work at home. Realistically, many of us live far from family so relatives may not be an option. I had two kids under 4 when I went up for tenure (had them both on the t-t; mom here, if that's relevant). I did manage to get several articles and a book written between the first ands second, but only by getting up between 3:30 and 4am every morning to write. So I guess I would also add, you can have a social life or a research program but not both.

I'd like to conclude with a plea: those who get parental leave, course reductions, whatever-- please *use it*. By which I mean, don't keep showing up at the office, doing extra service, etc. It creates unrealistic standards and expectations and it's bad for everyone. (I've had this experience where several (male) faculty at my institution got parental leaves and used the time to be super! productive!)

grymes

As somebody who, due to a combination of overconfidence and the pandemic, kept their kid at home until they turned 2, I heartily agree with everybody above about child care. My partner and I both have flexible schedules compared to people in most professions, so we thought we could make it work. We could--if I did next-to-no research (I'm at an R1). Kiddo number 2 will be entering daycare as soon as both of us parents run out of paid leave.

I have yet to read a book on parenting that I would recommend. Various developmental milestone breakdowns you can find online are handy though (the NYTimes has a fine one).

Mom of 5

‘It’sfine” is correct that very few will understand your unique situation. Sometimes other parents are not understanding, since they think that what works for them will work for you. (My favorite is “hire a college student” — um, maybe that works if you live close to campus AND you only have one or two well-behaved kids ... but if you have four or more, or a kid with special needs, or simply a difficult child, or a home that’s not nearby, this is impossible). Others (older parents or the childless) are even less understanding. They just have no clue, about stress and illness and time constraints etc. that come with being a parent. They think of it like a hobby, and may even resent you for any reasonable accommodations that you ask for or receive.

While I don’t feel like I’m in a position to give advice, I will say that graduate school was a really nice time to have kids. There wasn’t the pressure of the TT, and I and my partner had time to adjust to the total change in lifestyle that came with having kids. You get used to it. It would be much more difficult to do that adjustment on the TT. Having more kids on the TT was much easier than having our first kid on the TT would be. But also, as someone told me once—there’s no good time to have kids, so anytime is the best time. If you want kids, have them. I’ve regretted relationships and friendships and career choices, but I know I will never regret a kid, even if we end up out of academia because of them.

I have no “tips” but am looking forward to hearing more.

Mom of 5

This is an addendum, and I’m not sure how to say this without sounding incredibly arrogant, but I’ll try—these comments paint a nasty picture and all of it is true. The job market and TT are grueling and demanding, and having children in the midst of all that makes success less likely, not more. You will be competing with people with fewer constraints on their time. But, all that said, I feel terribly sorry for people
without kids, or people who have clearly waited until tenure and then can only have one or two, or have opted for one or two. Their lives are easier, sure, but (here’s the maybe arrogant part) their lives also seem ... emptier. As thrilling as professional success might be, it doesn’t hold a candle to devoting yourself to these tiny people, and learning how to sacrifice for others in the process. And I think people realize this when they get older. I’ve had many older professors say to me that they with they had more kids, or had kids sooner so they could have more. Careers are meaningless when compared to family. Sacrificing family for career is to have one’s priorities backwards.

Sorry to offend, I’m sure this is offensive to some, but it’s worth saying that what’s at the center of this is something that is incomparably worthwhile.

New Father, Regular Poster

I'm a new parent. The baby was born with one month left in the virtual semester for both me and my partner, and it was a rough month--even though the baby pretty much sleeps through the night.

Now that we're not teaching or grading, and now that we've had a few months to adjust, things are a little easier. I can even manage 15 minutes to an hour of writing every day, while the baby naps or feeds, and in between all of the household tasks (which now never end). It's still hard, though, and there are days when it just doesn't work out.

I kind of dread going back to work in the fall, even though only half my load will be in person (not least because I don't want to be away from the baby for that long). My partner will almost certainly be staying home with the baby, which I'm sure will be exhausting to do all alone, even just two days a week.

Child care is the factor you just can't get around, and it makes things quite hard. I expect it'll be easier once we get off the waitlist for care, although at that point almost half our monthly earnings will get poured into part-time childcare. =/

It would be nice if our families weren't both 3000+ miles away.

Parent

I’m a father with a few kids & am very active with them. Some tips:
- read-to-write
- keep 2-5 papers under review
- have 3-7 under review 2 weeks before any due date

RJM

A lot of the above is good advice and I agree with it. One thing to add: you need to learn to work smart. You will have very limited time to do anything. Try to develop the mindset of asking "is this good enough?" rather than "is this as good as it could be?". If you don't need to publish in Nous and the like to achieve your career goals, just don't try. If you're writing for an edited volume and you know the referee process will be fairly minimal, don't spend days perfecting your piece. Be very selective with referee requests. When it comes to teaching, worry a lot less about mastering the material and think about teaching strategies you can then use in all your classes. And be selective about service: do what is expected of you, but don't be a martyr.

Dennis

This is an answer to Mom of 5. I do agree that a life entirely directed at one's career might start to feel empty at some point, and that deep relationships to other humans/relatives is a likely a necessary condition for a fulfilled life. Maybe it is easier to reach this level of emotional depth with one's children than with other relatives/people, but having children is not the only way to have a fulfilled life. One can, I think, have an equally deep relationship to one's brother, nephew, decade-old friend or spouse, and have them be part of one's daily life. Maybe it's easier to develop a relationship of maximal emotional depth with one's children. But I know a 70 year old childless couple (not sure whether this was a choice or something that happened to them) who light up so much when they see each other that I would never think of thinking of their life as empty.

Overseas Tenured

One thing I'd add to all of the above: make it your second nature to streamline things so as to free up as much time for research as possible (assuming you're in an institution that cares about research). When teaching a class, always ask yourself: does this class exercise outsource some of my work to the students, or does it create extra work for me? Is this going to be quick to grade? If it sucks up extra time, just don't do it. Accept referee requests sparingly. And so on.

Also, I'd add that while it's absolutely true that you can't get serious work done with a baby or toddler that you need to care for, you might be able to get some of the brainless busywork done during that period. So it's a good idea also to make it your second nature *not* to do brainless busywork during the precious window when you do have time - treat your research time as absolutely sacred and off-limits. Learn to make necessary phone calls and answer student e-mails (from your phone, even) while you're spoon-feeding.

happy parent

Just to add a different voice, as a parent on the R1 tenure track, with 2 kids, who has the more flexible job of the two of us, no grandparents nearby, BUT full time daycare, I don't think I have things much tougher than my childless colleagues. Yes, I only work during regular 9-4 work hours, and many times have to take care of an ill child or deal with their vacations, but I work during those work hours and find it is sufficient to get the work I aspire to done. Of course everyone has different experiences, I just want to add an experience that doesn't find child raising on the TT onerous. My main advice is to REALLY work during 'work hours' (so posting here now is me failing my own advice).

Mom of 5

Dennis—sure. That’s a better way of putting things. Not everyone needs to have kids to have a fulfilling life. What I mean to be responding to is the notion that having kids hampers one’s career, and so one ought to put it off, or limit the number, or something. If a person is sacrificing kids/family life for their careers, then they are sacrificing something incredibly worthwhile for something uncertain and less worthwhile.

So, one might get the notion reading these comments that having kids is a bad idea, all things considered. But that idea is toxic and baseless, as pretty much anyone who has kids will tell you.

Mom of 5

(Sorry for double post) However, I don’t think that what makes raising kids worthwhile is the emotional bond or fulfilling personal relationship. Like it or not, parenthood is a unique relationship that comes with its own duties and goods—some people (the childless couple) do not experience those goods. And so they are missing out on something. That doesn’t mean that their lives are completely empty or meaningless, but rather that there’s some central human good that they’ve foregone, either by misfortune or choice.

And it’s misguided to do that intentionally, for the sake of a middling career in philosophy. Other ends may be worth the sacrifice. Tenure, definitely not.

DS

I have to agree with happy parent. I essentially work 8:30-5 every day while my kids are at daycare (including summer, even though I am off the kids go to daycare and I go to my office to write/research/etc) and find it is enough time to do what I need to do to be successful. Yes, your kids will inconvenience you in many ways, primarily through them getting sick or them getting you sick, but in general I can't say they have affected my career all that much--if anything they have made me work harder/pursue opportunities for advancment I might not have otherwise pursued in order to earn more (daycare is expensive).

However, as a man, I was not the one getting pregnant, having the children, and going through that whole process physically demanding process!

Mom of 5

I do have to wonder if “happy parent” is a man ... I would say that pregnancy and childbirth takes an average of 6 months to a year off of research productivity each time.

It’s quite different once they reach toddlerhood, then I feel like a human being again .... Women don’t talk about this much, but I wonder what others’ experiences are here. It’s not just the getting up at night etc. but the hormones and physical symptoms of the whole ordeal, from morning sickness to pregnancy brain to post-partum depression and anxiety, the physical and sometimes emotional trauma of childbirth, then being tethered to a breastfeeding baby (or feeling guilty when not so tethered) ... and so on. It’s a little different than just “wow a baby!” Which is how most men experience this, I think.

confession

I am on the tenure track and my partner works part-time. We had our first kid right before the pandemic. We both feel odd to think of our child as some kind of obstacle to our success, and we also value our time with our child. So, we decided to try our best to take care of our child by ourselves. This is also partly because of the expense of childcare and the long waitlist.

One thing I learned is not to be ambitious. I am "lucky" to not be at an R1 school, and my research load is not very heavy. I usually keep only one or two papers under review. For a while, I had none paper under review at all. I am not too worried about meeting the tenure standard, but I also know that I do not have a good chance to move. I accept it. At the same time, I enjoy my busy time with my kid.

Parent

Another tip from an involved parent of a few kids: be "scrappy."
Shorten emails.
Skip social media.
Try to edit or grade in the cracks, rather than surf the web.
And: if it's your first kid, give yourself permission to be behind on things and not worry too much.

Mom of 1

This is a fascinating thread - my takeaway is what it is in most parenting articles/comments: everyone's experience, reasons, and values, are different.

I had a kid in grad school (got to ABD while pregnant, wrote my dissertation with an infant) and don't want more (I love being a parent, and could balance more kids with my work if I wanted to, but I prefer a smaller family).

I am not in the OP's situation as a solo parent since I have a partner who is now the more primary parent once I started on a TT job, though we do not have a "village" so to speak (to the first commenter: we aren't all lying when we say we don't have help from family or friends!). When I have reflected on what I would do if thrown into a situation of solo parenting my young child I would likely hire an au pair through a reputable agency because it would be structured, vetted, (relatively) affordable, but allow for more flexibility with child care by having someone in-house all the time rather than having to rely on fixed daycare hours and commuting to and from daycare. But that is just me.

Having a child in academia has made me much more productive. I focus more on what I want to get done and how best to get it done. I recognize what I can accomplish based on my available resources (like someone else said above, realizing if I tired or focused, if I have 20 min or 2 hours, etc.). I am better about setting boundaries and saying no to what doesn't interest me or isn't important and having a kid helps me recognize what is and isn't important (in life and in work - not that this is a reason to have a kid, it just is a byproduct for some people).

One thing I will say is that people can think they are being accommodating of your family life by not asking you to do things - and this can be a benefit and a risk. In grad school I realized I wasn't getting asked to go to the dinners with visiting guests because it was assumed that I wouldn't want to spend my evening time on a work thing. This is partially true, I don't like having work obligations during my family time, but I also did want to network with people in other departments and benefit from these informal connections. So I had to assert my desire to be asked or to have opportunities with certain guests, and that was fine. I relate this story just because I find having kids can be an exercise on asserting boundaries in all sorts of directions - setting them, but also making sure other people don't set them for you.

not certainty

Mom of 5,

Having a kid is also uncertain as a route to happiness. I know several parents who explicitly admit that their kids are a source of unhappiness for them, and not just in the sense that they ruin a night's sleep or something. Rather, in the sense that they would be happier without kids, though they wouldn't do anything about it now that they have them. Given the pressures not to admit this kind of thing, it's probably more common than we think. Let's not pretend there are certain routes to meaningful/happy lives. It's a risk either way.

Mom of 5

not certainty, first, Meaningful ≠ happy ... More generally, I don't assert the things that you attribute to me. Did I assert, "if you want to be happy, have kids" or even "one failsafe trick to leading a meaningful life is having kids" ... no, I didn't say that, because I don't think that.

I do think that one failsafe trick to leading an empty life is to sacrifice everything (kids included) for a career in philosophy. That's more what I was saying.

not certainty

Mom of 5,

I know there is a difference between happiness and meaningfulness. I alternated back and forth because I weren't sure what you meant when you said that "I feel terribly sorry for people without kids" and that their lives seem "emptier." Now perhaps you only meant to refer to people that sacrifice their desire for children for their careers and that the view you described as 'arrogant' was merely the that one (rather than the more general one). But I don't want to proceed any longer with a back and forth about what was said or meant. I have no doubt that you feel your life with kids is both happier and more meaningful compared to the life you would have led without having kids. But we must resist the temptation to take our own lives as examples of some general truth because we find them agreeable in some way (a temptation I fall prey to sometimes too). The inference rarely holds. While having kids can make lead to more happiness and to more feelings of meaningfulness, it can also lead to more unhappiness and to more feelings of meaninglessness.

Mom of 5

not certainty: while I did mention meaninglessness, I didn't mention happiness (or unhappiness) at all, because I think personal subjective feelings of wellbeing, while useful in some contexts, is not at all an appropriate measure for a life well-lived. So we may just be talking past each other here. The best way of thinking about this is in terms of human goods and ends. I think having children is one of these things—a paradigmatic human end that is simultaneously a good. People might forego it for all kinds of reasons; some of those reasons are better than others. So here's what I mean to say, as clearly as I can say it, since you still seem to be attributing to me views I do not have and an argument I do not make (i.e., my experience having kids was great and made me happy, therefore you should have kids too. In fact, having kids has probably made me less happy. But one nice thing about having kids is that it disabuses one of the notion that the purpose of my life is to make me happy.) So here's my argument, succinctly:
1. Having kids is a paradigmatic human good.
2. Delaying or foregoing kids for the sake of one's career is typically to forego a greater good for a lesser one.

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