First World Problems: Academic edition
June 4, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Academic sabbatical +/- having a baby: how does that work? What is the most "logical" time frame for either of these to occur? Is this a bad idea altogether?

While the idea of parenthood still kinda freaks us out, he's almost 31 and I just turned 29, so unsurprisingly my beloved husband and I are trying to sort out the pros and cons of having kids. He is a tenure-track assistant professor in the sciences at an Ivy League university, and he has a sabbatical year due sometime in the next 3 years, and then another sometime before his final tenure review 7 or so years from now (they cannot be scheduled back to back). We know you can't really schedule kids, but given that he would have to apply for his sabbaticals way in advance, we're trying to figure out the most responsible course of action should we decide to spawn.

Although I'm not working at the moment, we're okay on money, so childcare and dual career-juggling likely wouldn't be an issue, but the sabbaticals would be absolutely crucial for my husband's research and chances for tenure. Husband has also expressed a desire to go someplace else during his sabbatical time, a sentiment that's been echoed by several of his colleagues for productivity reasons. My own interests are geographically flexible, so I'm fine with this, but we just bought a house, so we're not totally clear how uprooting for a year works in this scenario, even if it's just the two of us. Professionally, he has lots of geographic options for a sabbatical. Personally, his aging, but in good health parents are just a couple hours away from us, my family is on the other side of the country, and our closest friends are all scattered to the four winds. We're new to the area, so we don't actually have much of a local support net.

I've always said that if I were going to have kids, I'd rather be done with childbirth by 35, but that doesn't seem like such a big window now that I'm staring down 30, and my husband is justifiably worried about landing tenure with kids and a mortgage on our backs. We both like kids and are open to the idea, but I think we're also okay if they don't end up happening for whatever reason, but waiting until we know if he has tenure to start trying just doesn't seem like a good option.

With that in mind, how do we put this together? Try for kids before, after, or during sabbatical? Does it make sense to start now or hold off until the last possible second? Scrap the idea of kids entirely? We've been talking about all of this a lot lately, and we both read Metafilter, so we could use some outside perspective.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is exactly the kind of q that should be posted on CHE's The Tenure Track forum or Balancing Work and Life forum.
posted by lalochezia at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the academic issues but I know women in your position who have had babies and they're miserable, isolated, and taking a serious career hit because their spouse's career is inflexible and make-or-break. I gotta say, if I was cool with not having a baby, I would not make such an enormous sacrifice.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:43 AM on June 4, 2013

I'm an academic and a mother. I had my child while in grad school. I'm now an assistant professor.

You all need to figure out what the departmental culture is about having a child. I mean INFORMAL. Is it ok to bail on a faculty meeting at 5 for daycare pickup? Will no one care if every once in a while you have a sick baby or child in your office? These things mean a lot.

The formal and semi-formal matter too. Can he get an easy teaching load for the semester when baby is born? If you can time it so that baby is born right at the end of the spring, he can probably be home with you in the summer.

In terms of productivity (I'm coming from the mother's perspective, but know a lot of academic dads too), I had a loss in time productivity. I could no longer pull all nighters or write until 3am if I was on a roll. However, kid made me much more efficient. I no longer screwed around or went down rabbit holes.

Is your husband in a science where there is a lab? I have friends where the wife is a humanities assistant professor and the husband is a science postdoc. He was never around because he had to be at the lab all the time. That sucked a lot.

I think you guys are over thinking this, but if it were me, I'd try to time the sabbatical for MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF WORK to come well after the baby is born. If child is 1.5 or something and he can just go to an office outside the home every day and kick it out, that'd be fine.

If he really wants to GO AWAY for sabbatical, you and baby will be totally portable. You'll sublet your house. If he wants to GO AWAY and leave you and baby alone, IMHO that is sort of shitty and should be done before you have a baby. Or he just doesn't do his sabbatical far far away. This is one of the things you lose as a parent.
posted by k8t at 8:48 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

With that in mind, how do we put this together?

Know that on average, it takes a couple 13 months to conceive. Because my menstrual cycle was like clockwork, and I actually could feel the MOMENT I ovulated, I thought we'd get knocked up the first couple tries. It took nine months. So schedule a BIG window and be flexible if and when you decide to have kids.
posted by Specklet at 8:53 AM on June 4, 2013

May I also add - if I decided to have a 2nd child right now, pre-tenure, I'd probably spend some time FIRST getting some manuscripts submitted and get a big chunky dataset.

I also assume that he has some sort of mentor that might be able to tell him how he is doing right now in terms of getting toward tenure.
posted by k8t at 8:54 AM on June 4, 2013

If you both love kids and want to have kids, then don't wait, do it now. Your kids will be much more important and meaningful to you than any job either one of you ever does. By a huge margin. You might find you want to have lots of kids, so that's another reason to start early. And you never know what will happen later with your health. If you are healthy now, and you love kids, start having kids now. I can't imagine you will possibly regret it, that would be highly unlikely. And don't overthink it. It's not something that lends itself to making an academic-type "rational" decision. Go with your heart on this one. You said you are OK with it not happening, but you know what, after you have kids, you will not be able to imagine not having them. They will change your life infinitely for the better. You will love them more deeply than any love you have ever experienced. You will have more joy and happiness than you have ever had. They will be the most fun "students" to teach that you have ever had. And a few more kids with brainy parents are needed in this world anyway. Just do it.
posted by Dansaman at 8:54 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you wait until the right moment, you'll never have children.

That said, there are better times than others. My wife and I were both academics, and timed things perfectly, so our child was born a week into summer break. It was fantastic having all that time with our daughter, and we were able to work with our chairs so that our fall teaching schedules meshed well. Tons of eager student babysitters after that, too. I was able to finish my dissertation and (successfully) defend it in the meantime, graduating before my daughter's first birthday.

Having an infant around isn't really that big a deal if you have job flexibility, income, and health insurance. Those are HUGE ifs, but you seem to have them covered.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, is there a time that you DEFINITELY DON'T want to have kids? That might be the easiest thing to decide, and then work from there. (For me that would be during the sabbatical--if he's taking a year away in a different location in order to be super-productive that seems like it would be the worst possible time to have the incredible disruption of adjusting to parenthood--in a new location to boot. But that sort of depends on what he does--if he's going to spend a year doing fieldwork and gathering data and the real crunch happens when he gets home and starts writing, that might be a little different)

My guess is that either before or after the sabbatical would be fine. I think most people experience a drop in productivity when they are new parents, but if you're prepared to do the heavy lifting in terms of childcare, he might not have to change that much. I think he should definitely do a little diplomatic sounding-out of how other relatively junior faculty in his department have managed it. The Chronicle of Higher Education forums are also really good, but a lot of this is going to depend on your own personal circumstances and how he does his best work.

Know that on average, it takes a couple 13 months to conceive.
This is not actually true. Specklet may be confusing the average length of time to conception with the datum that after a year, 70-85% of people in their twenties and early 30s will have conceived. For people in their early 30s, the average is closer to 7 months.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This wasn't clear from your question, but are you also trying to establish a career in academia, or any particular career track? Or is the main concern your husband? I think some posters are assuming you're aiming for tenure too.
posted by Anonymous at 12:09 PM on June 4, 2013

On balance, every female academic I know with kids (including myself) has become more efficient with their time after having kids, while at times (especially in the beginning) working less hours, and overall they're more productive. If you want to have kids (presuming you're an academic), the time to do it is now.

If you're not an academic, the big conversation to have with your partner is how he can put limits on his workload so you don't get stuck raising the kids alone. Given how amorphous the boundaries are around work and home lives in the academic world, that can really happen.

Even in the second scenario, it would probably still be best to start trying now, as tenure pressure gets much worse over time, and after tenure he won't have much more free time than he has before. The tenure pressure is hell, but once that is past, the flexibility most professors have over their schedules makes things so much easier as a parent.

Hope this helps.
posted by ravioli at 5:40 PM on June 4, 2013

Your husband should look into the parental leave policies at his university. Depending on the university, he may get a semester of leave if he has a child, and he may also get a 1-year extension on his tenure clock if he has a child. Knowing what those options are may help with your decisions about timing.

You also write a lot about your husband's career, but don't say much about your work/career, if any. Do you have a career that you're passionate about? Do you want to be a stay-at-home mom? Are you interested in being the primary parent+housekeeper+family manager for a husband who works long hours at a demanding job? Have you talked to other moms in similar relationships, perhaps other women married to men who work at the same university? Thinking about this and talking to people might help you get an idea what your life will be like if you have kids.
posted by medusa at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2013

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