Sciparenting and expectations

Apr 22 2011 Published by under LifeTrajectories

Jade has a post up over at LabSpaces about why she isn't a parent and views a career and being a mom as mutually exclusive activities. It's a personal and subduedly emotional post that I would bet a lot of people can identify with. On the other side of the coin, you can also find posts on being a scimom by Dr. O, Janet and Gerty-Z, as well as other links within those referencing the #scimom hashtag started at It's Not a Lecture.

In Jade's post she indicates that it was growing up in her household and watching her mother deal with the stresses of parenting is what convinced her that motherhood was not for her. Unlike the Jade's commenter who goes all self-righteous about parenting, I don't think the kinds of things you have to do to be happy as a parent with a career is something that everyone needs, in order to fulfill their lives. The guild of parenting is not unlike that of academia, where the default assumption is that if you do not conform to the in-group measure of "success" then you have certainly failed.

Balancing careers with kids while maintaining a good relationship with your partner is way harder than you might think before plunging in. It's easy to get selfish about accomplishing your own goals and we all fall into that trap at times, putting huge strains on our relationships. No one can be everything to everyone at all times, we all make small sacrifice everyday in some aspects of our lives. The key is to rotate those sacrifices so that you can give more to what is most critical on a given day. Some days you need to get things done at work that can not wait. Some days you'll need to miss a deadline to be with your sick kid or help out your partner or just to spend time with both because it's important. As a result, you're gonna miss somethings at work or at home that you really don't want to, but that's the game. The perfect parent who can do everything rides a unicorn to work and never has to sit through a meeting that wastes their time (The latter being the more rare of the two).

But why is this the pinnacle of success? Whereas I agree that no one should ever feel like they can't have kids for career reasons, there are plenty of people who actually don't *want* to have children just like there are a ton of people who don't actually want a tt position (shhhhh). The default opinion expressed by Jade's commenter yannisguerra is the same bullshit that PIs so often spew onto their trainees, but sometimes not wanting something is a feature, not a bug.

I forget who said this or where the conversation happened, but a recent parent mentioned that they were never so avidly pro-choice until they had a child. Wise words.

18 responses so far

  • Ink says:

    " No one can be everything to everyone at all times, we all make small sacrifice everyday in some aspects of our lives. The key is to rotate those sacrifices so that you can give more to what is most critical on a given day" = wise words indeed!

    Now I want to ride a unicorn to work...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Ink, I just assumed that's how you get to work.

  • Dr. O says:

    I'm asking for a unicorn for my birthday. I'm just curious how I'll strap the carseat onto the damned thing.

    And your last statement - spot on.

  • Jade says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this subject, PLS. Question: Do
    you ever feel like, on the days when work has to take a slight
    backseat to home issues, that you feel judged by others? How do you
    handle that? Or because most everyone has kids anyway, is there a
    mutual understanding among co-workers and no one cares? Maybe
    academics is different because no one keeps track of your time
    anyway.

  • CoR says:

    I wanna jump in here. I do not think people care enough to know where I am on a day to day basis. I there is a conflict, I do not let people know it was a conflict w my home life. No one's damn business.
    I started new job w one kid and another on the way. Most people are completely cool, some gave me disapproving looks when they found out I was preg. I was nervous about showing up preg but so far all is good--I am making progress, things are moving along. It's no one's business at work what I chose to do w my uterus. IMO, there are those that will judge you no matter what you choose for yourself. Because they are assholes. And insecure. So make the best choice for you.

  • CoR says:

    And usually I ride a broom to work. It's true.

  • Jade says:

    I agree that what people have to do is no one's business. People are nosy.

    At some jobs I've had it's worse than others. With my current job, I can pretty much come and go as I please as long as I'm there every day.

    For the people I manage, one of them struggles much more with needing to take time off to take care of home issues. I put in extra effort to make sure she knows it is ok, but she still feels guilty about it.

    Friday I had to force her to work from home so that she could be with her young daughter after she was getting 8 shots in preparation for kindergarten. She kept asking me "are you sure?" "really?"

    I can't imagine not being with my kid after a day of that. But then I felt bad that she felt that she had to keep asking me "really?"
    Like I would change my mind.

    So maybe I could be doing more to ease her mind about her work life balance. I don't know what else I could do. I think because I don't have kids, people assume I won't be understanding of their needs. That's true some of the time, but not all of the time.

  • Jade says:

    Oh, and I ride a Toyota Echo to work. Best car ever made :-).

    My boss keeps asking me why I drive a "piece-of-shit" car. I guess he expects me to buy a Mercedes or BMW like everyone else in California. (Or a Prius). Because I have nothing else to do with $500 a month?

    I am so attached to this little car. I'll keep her until she can't run anymore.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    This is one major benefit to academia. I have no boss per se and my evaluation is results based rather than hourly monitoring. All told, I work a LOT of hours, but I may not be in my office. My Chair and the Dean see grant application, publications and my contact hours. Other than that, they don't care if I work from India. So no, I don't feel judged. I also try and pass this on the the people in my lab by holding them accountable for their work, without caring about their hours (unless they are falling behind).

  • Nicole says:

    Nobody was upset when I showed up to work my first year 5 months pregnant. No maternity leave! No skin off their noses.

  • I still have few years left to decide on this one; but I have a feeling even when it's coming down to the wire, I still won't know. Oh well. Cross that bridge...

  • [...] have been several good posts about being a scientist and a primogenitor (e.g. Gerty-Z’s and PlS’s), also a integrate of good posts on being a scientist and selecting not to be a mom (Jade’s [...]

  • Cloud says:

    This is a great post. (I wandered over form somewhere- I don't hang out on the academic blogs that much, but I've dropped in here before a few times, and I have to say PLS- I always like your blog whenever I drop by.)

    Anyway. I completely agree that parenting is not for everyone. I whole-heartedly support people who decide that parenthood is not for them. All I ask is the same support in return, because frankly, our society needs some of us to choose to have kids. Children are a choice for individuals, but they are essential for our society to continue. (And if anyone wants to argue that we should all just stop procreating so that the earth can revert to a people-free state, I will just roll my eyes and walk away. We have so little common ground that a discussion is pointless.)

    And I am tired, really, really tired, of being told that my life is not possible. I.e., that it is impossible to combine a career in science with motherhood. Or, in fact, to have any sort of career success while also being a mother. That is utter crap. I am here. My kids are just fine. My career is just fine. I am tired sometimes (ok, a lot of the time), but I'm actually pretty damn happy and wouldn't have it any other way. Which does not mean that I judge people who look at my life and say "hell, no!" but I hate the implication that I must be miserable. I'm not.

    OK, end of rant. @Jade- in answer to your question about whether people resent it when I have to miss a work thing for my kids- no, not usually, because my husband and I trade off so I am not missing a lot. Also, life happens, even to people who don't have kids, and most places I've worked have been supportive of their employees having lives. Actually, the one person who gave me grief for missing more time than usual when my second child needed some tests done later had to miss even more time than I had when his cat got quite sick. I'm not sure if he learned from that experience or not, but in the end, it didn't impact my career, so I don't really care.

    Eh, and I ride a stereotypical mom-mobile to work most days (i.e., a minivan). But some days, I get to drive the Prius. What? I live in SoCal. They're standard issue.

  • No one can be everything to everyone at all times. So true, its an interesting juggle.

  • [...] have been several great posts about being a scientist and a parent (e.g. Gerty-Z’s and PlS’s), also a couple of great posts on being a scientist and choosing not to be a mom (Jade’s and [...]

  • (another) former academic says:

    I know I'm late to this, but 'I don't care about your hours, as long as you get the work done' really bugs me. It's meant to be broad-minded, but it's really hard-hearted. You can't choose what kind of pregnancy you have, or the temperament of your baby. Sometimes your health means you just can't work as much as you used to (and will do in the future).

    I'm sorry to single you out, PLS, because I'm sure that you're really supportive of your students, but some variant of the statement turns up whenever discussions of (female) scientists having children comes up.

    It's closely linked to the idea of constant publication rates - this idea that no matter what you were actually paid to do since graduation, all job applicants should be held to one un-varying standard.

    The ability to combine family and a career, as long as you behave at all times as though you have no household responsibilities at all, is not, IMHO, much progress.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    You're misreading my statement and making a leap that indicates that I have the same expectations of all students, regardless of their life stage or what is going on at home. That is not the case and would be akin to expecting first year students to be just as productive as senior grad students. I don't believe in across the board expectations, so I'm not sure how your point applies.

  • (another) former academic says:

    I'm glad to hear that you don't apply across-the-board expectations to your students, techs or post-docs.

    Other PIs are not so sensible and they cover themselves by piously proclaiming 'I don't care what's happening in your personal life, as long as you get the work done'. and expecting to get pats on the back for being so tolerant and understanding.

    I think it's worth thinking about how to push back against the 'st. kern's of the world while also acknowledging that productivity is not constant and life sometimes intrudes on work .

Leave a Reply