If you have small children you are going to see, you must sacrifice gracious living.

That pithy epigram was the answer of one recently tenured professor and parent of two young children to my question about balancing a successful family and scholarly life. Living graciously appears to have involved, inter alia, hosting dinner parties, writing thank-you notes, reading (not just subscribing) to the New York Review of Books, &c.

She noted further, in response to my question about a fitness regime, that the children have also taken that away.

Having a family, of course, might just be the single greatest challenge to producing scholarship while meeting the other obligations of being a professor. And waiting until after tenure to start a family can be a very risky business, particularly for women, as it will almost certainly require postponing things until what might turn out to be the twilight of fertility.

So what suggestions are there for junior professors hoping to balance work and family? Not many easy ones, I’m afraid:

1. Learn to embrace travel: Several parents told me that they have become incredibly efficient while on the road for conferences and talks, away from their children for a few days in a quiet hotel room with a well-behaved laptop.

2. Cut out the electronic indulgences: One parent told me that she had reduced her web consumption to a diet of “seven blogs in seven minutes” each morning – and applied a similarly ruthless trimming to email checking, headline refreshing, and other electronic twitches.

3. Accept help: If you’re lucky enough to live within striking distance of family, by all means grasp hold of their polite offers to babysit.

Unfortunately, these suggestions aren’t much better than the ones dieters most hate to hear: eat less, exercise more. Here we have the professorial equivalent: dawdle less, concentrate more.

Where is our academic Dr. Atkins who can promise us scholarly success on a buffet of intellectual cheeseburgers?

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3 Responses

  1. jag says:

    lol. Law professors complaining about quality of life.

  2. Rick Garnett says:

    Hi William — as one-half of a prawf-partnership-with-three-young-kids, I appreciate your post. The previous commenter makes a good point: we law-teachers have it relatively good. It seems to me that my wife and I (like other prawf-couples) are *far* more likely to be able to integrate a rewarding and reasonably productive professional life — and tenure — with coaching T-ball, visiting the kindergarden class, helping out at church, having friends to dinner, reading fiction, etc., than are our friends, and students, who are asking the “balance” question with respect to, say, two partnership tracks at a Chicago law-firm. Again, we have it good, and I’m grateful. It’s our students who face the real challenge. What do / should we tell *them*?

  3. David Hardy says:

    Fitness training? Are they nuts? At 3-4 yrs old, my eldest could walk my legs off.

    As far as gracious living … what portion of diapering a child was misunderstood? Kids will usually interrupt a dinner party, and the sun will rise in the east.

    Bottom line: if a person doesn’t want to have children, they shouldn’t do so. Then they can write all the thank-you notes they desire. And avoid the rest of us if they find children so upsetting.