Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to "leave" gracefully? Or, maternity leave - how DO women do it?

I continue to be somewhat amazed by how blurry the idea of "leave" is - I don't know that I'm really "leaving" except that I don't have official teaching classes this semester.  I know that people say the key to leaving is just to refuse to participate - easier said than done.  Besides which, maternity leave is a bit different.  I'm having a good time so far hanging out with the baby but I do have to go back fairly soon so it's helpful to keep up with things.  Consider what I've got going during my "leave":

  • Continued issues with grades from last semester.  Hope to have this one done this week if possible!Can't just drop the students who protest grades from a previous semester; can't hand this off to someone else either.
  • Directed reading with master's student (meets once a week online during leave, in office once I'm back).  This is from a student who originally was a master's thesis advisee, then decided to do the work in a directed reading instead.  I agreed to be her thesis advisor; don't feel like/don't want to drop the directed reading now...
  • Honors thesis student advising - review and grade thesis writing; agreed to this 1.5 years ago and need to honor that...
  • Masters' thesis students - I have two current students - meet and revise writing as needed; agreed to do this at least a year ago; need to honor that...
  • Possibly 2 more letters of recommendation, depending on whether said students decide to apply or not
  • Presentation at the Symposium on The Powers (a la the books by Walter Wink; I'll be writing about him more in the coming days) - agreed to do this a while ago; could probably miss if I HAD to.
  • 6 more chapters to write on The Book - 4 of which are partially written in some form, phew
  • Proposal for a conference paper on children and moral formation - could sidestep this one if necessary, though that would "put me back" in terms of having research to do next year. 
    • NB: Actually this relates to one of the key problems pre tenured academic women find they have if they take maternity leave.  Their research goes way down, and that's because a lot of academic conferences/publications/etc. require the foresight of a year or two of advance planning.  That's why insitutions with good policies stop the tenure clock, to allow women to jump back in to things after they've returned and "make up" some of the "lost" time.  (I'm a bit loathe to call spending time healing from pregnancy and labor, and raising a newborn "lost" though)
  • Continued work on a collective theology blog in progress for the past year.


  • Department chair seach, involving attending the public and departmental presentations.  I COULD argue to sidestep this one, actually, but that's probably not a good idea all in all.
  • Assistant professor search - same as above, but this one I may actually sidestep; depends how baby is.
  • University wide committee I'm on - need to continue to participate in once-a-month meetings even through maternity leave because of the topic and its relationship to other things I do at the uni.

I do actually have a point to saying all this beyond a kind of "hey look at all the stuff I do" ego statement.  Several studies have suggested that untenured women with children have a more difficult time getting tenure (the opposite is true for men, apparently!)  This really interesting 2010 study suggests some of the same thing I've experienced - the never ending nature of the job affects the way one understands family once children are in the picture.  While academia has the BIG advantage of being flexible, its very flexibility is also perceived as a liability for women with children.  Flexibility means one has a bit more control over time during a typical 9 to 5 day; it also means that there are often required events that happen outside a typical day.

But unlike the article I've linked, I think that non-acadmics face some of the same issues that academics do.    What say you, other women out there? How do you manage being on "leave" while also knowing you'll be back in a pretty short amount of time?  How do you manage the mommy track issues faced by women who have careers and children?


  1. Ihave no idea! Being a no-academic male disqualifies me from any reasonable discourse on the subject! But I enjoyed the read, and agree with your premise. Good luck going forward!

  2. Obviously, I'm not a faculty member yet. But, I can say that I've noticed the disparity between myself (with two small children) and my male colleagues who have children of similar ages. I find that consistently I'm getting less reading done, I'm less involved with "extra" university events (like conferences, lectures, etc.), I'm less involved (=next to nothing) in conferences and other events outside the university, and I'm proceeding at a much slower pace in the program. Part of this is related to the fact that my husband is working a job in addition to doing the primary childcare, while my male colleagues have wives who are stay-at-home moms (by and large). But, the other part(s) of it I can't really figure out. Why do they seem to get so much more done while I seem to struggle to get the basics done? I know you're not addressing this. Its just the question I'm left with every semester. Thanks for talking about this issue!

  3. Emily - I wonder, too, if there's kind of a "coolness" factor for male grad students who take their kids to work (among those whose wives DO work), in a way that is not there for female grad students? Thinking about all the institutions I've been at, I think there's a difference between the way men feel able and willing to bring kids to conferences, and how they're perceived, versus the ways women feel able and willing to bring kids to conferences and the ways they're perceived.

    Regarding conferences, publishing, etc: don't worry? I didn't give a paper or publish till my fourth year in doctoral studies, and I turned out fine ;-)