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Distance motherhood and academia...

(20 Posts)
chchchcherchanges Tue 25-Oct-16 19:44:29

Read an interesting article the other day...wondering what others make of it?

Mothering, long-distance: There are no models for women who parent from hundreds of miles away

My daughter and my dissertation came into this world at about the same time. Then, I got divorced [and moved 200 miles from her for a tenured job]

www.salon.com/2016/07/31/mothering_long_distance_there_are_no_models_for_women_who_parent_from_hundreds_of_miles_away/

milkjetmum Tue 25-Oct-16 19:57:27

Uncomfortable reading I found. Aware of how 'lucky' I am to have dh who a sahd, giving me great flexibility in my working hours. But I didn't job hunt more than 1hr commute from home and like to be there for school pickup and drop-offs on working at home days.

Does remind me of the way I overcompensated after mat leave, felt I had something to prove? With dd1 it was taking on a significant 'extra' project alongside my postdoc with a view to enhancing my cv. With Dd2 I went nuts and had 3 jobs, 2x0.8fte at two unis + 0.2FTE consultancy. Was I mad? Yes. But it felt right at the time and undoubtedly got me where I am now, no major regrets just some bemusement at how on earth I did it!

SoftSheen Tue 25-Oct-16 20:12:44

[Dons hard-hat]

I think that she's being very selfish. Nothing wrong with working full-time but in this case the work/life balance is seriously unbalanced.

I wonder how her daughter feels about this situation. I think she may well grow up to see her mother as a kind of benevolent Auntie rather than, well, a mother.

chchchcherchanges Tue 25-Oct-16 20:14:00

Yes, it would be really interesting to hear her daughter's take on things (now and in the future...)

user1474361571 Wed 26-Oct-16 08:40:40

I think that she's being very selfish. Nothing wrong with working full-time but in this case the work/life balance is seriously unbalanced.

Lots of divorced fathers live miles away from their children and don't see them very often. Some even choose to move to other countries for work, and then don't see their kids outside holidays. Would you have the same reaction to these situations?

chchchcherchanges Wed 26-Oct-16 19:53:39

Lots of divorced fathers live miles away from their children and don't see them very often. Some even choose to move to other countries for work, and then don't see their kids outside holidays. Would you have the same reaction to these situations?

I would. My basic reaction is that it's crap when they do it - don't emulate them. It's not a new parenting model, as you say...

Bountybarsyuk Fri 28-Oct-16 23:32:18

I know lots of female academics with children, none who do this, not at least when the children are little. If anything they tend to make career sacrifices, so sitting on less than satisfactory pay, contracts, short-term work and so forth because they don't want to move the family.

I think the author is trying to convince herself this is a good idea, I wouldn't say it is over the longer term. My husband has worked away over the years, and when he does, it's inevitable that the relationship with the children is less close. I'm really glad he is not away at the moment as it gives them an opportunity to rebuild that closeness. Older children don't need so much entertainment as emotional stability and support, I also find they want to talk at strange times, late at night, in the car, sometimes not for ages, and I think by being physically present a lot, it allows those opportunities. If this was two or three years with the aim of reuniting the family at the end of it, it might be ok, but long-term Disney dad parenting, even if done by a mum, is less than satisfactory I would think. I can't personally imagine entertaining it for a second, and I have accepted that my lack of ability to move will (and has) hampered career progress at times.

user1474361571 Sat 29-Oct-16 09:12:49

But in some fields it's not just a case of hampering career progress - it might be that moving away is the only option to not destroy your academic career after 15+ years spend trying to build the career.

I am very reluctant to condemn a woman for making choices that many, many men make routinely. I haven't done what she has done but would have at least contemplated it, if this was the only way to retain an academic career. I do spend time away from my family for work (although never more than 2 weeks at a time), which many female academics would not do.

user1474361571 Sat 29-Oct-16 10:08:45

BTW if I had contemplated spending time away from DC, it would only have been as a temporary option i.e. I would have wanted to find another option asap, not stick with it indefinitely as this author is doing.

fluffikins Sat 29-Oct-16 21:50:19

I have male and female colleagues who have children in the Far East and only see them once or twice a year, young children too (toddlers), I asked a female colleague about how she did it and she just said she Skyped a lot.

Not my idea of parenthood, but then having a child I've given up any illusions of being a top academic because in my field you get there by moving universities at each stage. Staying at one or two for your career is never going to get me anywhere, but I like where I live and work and need my dd to be stable so I've compromised.

I don't see it as much different to all those people who put their children in boarding school

ferrylifeisfun Sun 30-Oct-16 17:12:55

This is why I was clear that I wouldn't have children unless/until I got a permanent post. Fortunately, I did so after just 1 temporary contract and when I was still 'young' at 27 and was already married. At that point, I was so focussed upon my career that I was willing to not have a family in order to get a job. I'm so lucky it worked out. I don't know if/when I might have changed my mind. I'm so glad, of course, that it worked out.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 30-Oct-16 17:48:13

ferry, I know you acknowledge you might have changed your mind and that you were lucky, but wouldn't it be more than 'luck' for someone in the US system to have got tenure at 27? Their PhDs go on longer than UK ones (and even in the UK, I am so impressed you did that at 27, as I would think that must be quite unusual nowadays).

fluffikins Sun 30-Oct-16 18:58:04

I got a full time permanent lecturer post at 26 i think. Ferry, we're not lucky, we're just awesome grinwink

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 30-Oct-16 20:39:54

Sorry, I don't know if you think I was being snippy?

I wasn't (I hope), but the thing is that the woman in the OP is in the US, and PhDs last a lot longer, don't they? So a lot of people will be that bit older, and I do think it probably makes a difference to the way you might make decisions.

user1474361571 Mon 31-Oct-16 08:38:43

Wouldn't it be more than 'luck' for someone in the US system to have got tenure at 27?

Yes. I have never known a single case of anybody in my area getting a tenure track position without at least one postdoctoral position. (The norm, even amongst those at the very top universities, is two to three.) And once one gets a tenure track position in the US it almost always takes 4-5 years to become tenured. So if you finish your PhD at 25 or 26, you're looking at a minimum of 10 years before you have tenure in the US... i.e. 36+.

I have known one person get tenure within 3 years of PhD, but then again he did win the equivalent of a Nobel Prize .... he was already 30 at the time of tenure, as he didn't finish his PhD until 27. Other people working at the very top levels at Ivy Leagues still don't get tenure until their mid 30s.

In Europe it is a little "easier" as the positions are permanent rather than tenured. However, throughout most of Europe it is increasingly common to be appointed on permanent track positions, which only become permanent after 5 years of satisfactory performance. To get such positions you still need 4-6+ years of postdoc, so again no permanent position until mid 30s.

For those of you in fields where it is still possible to get a permanent position in the UK after one (short) postdoc and without moving several times around the world it can be hard to understand just what a struggle it is in other fields...

Bountybarsyuk Mon 31-Oct-16 09:20:08

I didn't get a permanent position til about 40 in the UK, as I didn't go straight into academia after university, and then had children during the PhD stage, then post-docs. In some areas with a surplus of students, many people are never getting permanent positions. In shortage areas, it's still around 30 for most.

I think it would be very foolish in the current climate (where the majority of PhDs don't end up academics, and with short-term contracts very normal) to leave having children til after having a permanent lectureship, unless you are not that fussed either way!

user1474361571 Mon 31-Oct-16 09:33:39

No woman in my field who had a child before getting a permanent position has managed to stay in academia. (Or at least, none that I am aware of.)

So women do wait. After all, having moved country for the PhD, moved country again for a post-doc, moved country again for a second post-doc, and so on, they have already invested a lot into their careers. While indeed most won't get academic positions (only a small fraction of top Ivy League/Oxbridge PhDs will, let alone those from other institutions), each hurdle passed makes you closer to getting a permanent position. Many women will spend their 30s pushing for a permanent position, even if that means sacrificing having a family. Women who do get a permanent position often have to live away from their partners and end up raising children with their partners based in other cities/countries.

It is in this kind of context that the linked story should be viewed. Academic careers are really screwed up in competitive fields, but while they are so over-subscribed nothing is going to improve. Athena SWAN and related initiatives are just a joke for fields that insist on several international post-docs before getting permanent track positions.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 31-Oct-16 10:26:32

It shouldn't be like this, though. <wins award for stating the obvious>

Having children seems to improve men's career chances. I agree the situation with postdoc expectations is a problem, but so is the surrounding context, where a man who has children is often given allowances and a woman who has children is seen as a slacker (and that's before you get into thinking about what's happening in the home in terms of who does what).

user1474361571 Mon 31-Oct-16 14:51:29

Having children seems to improve men's career chances.

Indeed there are studies which show this. In my field, however, most ambitious men also don't have children until they have a permanent position. The difference is that they can of course have children in their 40s.

I also agree that (amongst those who have got permanent positions) more allowances are made for men who have children. Maybe Athena SWAN type stuff will have an effect on this, even if it can't really help with the ECR mobility issue.

milkjetmum Mon 31-Oct-16 22:58:03

Dangerous game, waiting for the right moment to plan a family. I have a colleague who waited for a lectureship before ttc then unfortunately it wasn't as easy as planned. I didn't wait and have got my permanent post after 2dc (but did I make other sacrifices by working flat out when the children were babies?).

But perhaps we academics define ourselves too much very strongly by our working life and so are willing to risk other areas for the sake of that?

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