Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

The Trouble with Teens

Here is one more story on kids. Enjoy!

Both of my children were the result of unplanned pregnancies. How two biologists had two unplanned pregnancies I cannot explain. But in retrospect, we couldn’t have planned it any better.

I got pregnant with my first child about 4 months into my postdoc. I was terrified to tell my IvyLeagueWorldFamousAdvisor. But he and everyone else were very supportive. One MaleFaculty told me he liked having pregnant women/mothers work in his lab – they were focused and driven and got more done in 8 hours than many graduate students did in 16 hours. Three years later I had my second child. Yes, having children put a dent in my work output and my postdoc years were longer than the current average. But I wouldn’t do it any other way.

What does it take to be a scientist (or lawyer or Google executive or …) with children? First, you must have a good support system. This includes your spouse or partner, your advisor/boss, and your lab mates. And day care providers. We shared a nanny with another family, and I realized after one week of her caring for my first born that he was much better off with her during the day than he would be with me. She was (still is) a saint. Second, you must be focused and driven. I didn’t have time to hang out chatting in the lunch room. When asked “how do you do it?” I would say “you just put on the blinders and take it one day at a time.” Third, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I often asked my lab mates to fix cells, change the antibody on my western blot, or start overnight bacterial cultures for me. Fourth, take my Mother’s advice: Don’t worry about how clean your house is (play with your kids rather than fuss about such frivolous things). And don’t make a battle out of food (choose your battles).

When my kids were toddlers, I was shocked when our pediatrician said she was quitting her job to stay home with her pre-teen and teenaged children. She told me they needed her more now than when they were toddlers. I did not and could not understand. I said “But the hardest years are behind you. How could you quit your job now?” Ten or so years later, I totally understand. When they hit middle school, they need you in a different way. It’s not “sit on the floor and color with me” kind of needing you, it’s “be near (but not too near) me and/or drive me to soccer” kind of needing you. You can’t just hire a babysitter anymore. And that time driving in the car is so important for conversations! So the really good thing about having kids as a postdoc is that when your kids hit middle school, you will be post-tenure and able to set your work load and schedule. I say no to a lot of things. I often leave before 3 pm to be home after school. I now get a lot of work done sitting at the kitchen table after school or sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice.

Is this a XX thing? My husband does not feel the same need to be there for our kids in their teen years. He also works in industry and his job is much less flexible than mine. So is it that he can’t leave work at 3 pm and thus doesn’t even entertain the possibility of being home for our kids after school or is it that his XY makeup prevents him from feeling that he needs to be home for our kids after school? Maybe we’ll have time to talk about it when the kids are off to college.

How about your story? Post or leave a comment!

Comments on: "The Trouble with Teens" (1)

  1. Robin Selinger said:

    During our boys’ pre-teen and teen years we hired a part-time housekeeper/nanny to keep an eye on the kids after school, 3-6PM Monday-Friday, and drive them to their various after-school activities. She also helped with shopping, cooking, dishes, and laundry. A cleaning service came by to do the heavy cleaning once/week.

    That meant when we were home, my husband and I could focus more of our time on the kids and help them with schoolwork, and spend less time on routine housework duties.

    We also took turns getting up early with the boys before school, and we almost always had dinner together as a family 6 or 7 nights/week. We spent plenty of time together on week-ends, too.

    Of course, we spent a fair amount of our income on hiring outside help, but it was a worthwhile investment. With one parent or the other on travel much of the time, it was **really** helpful to have another adult to share responsibility to meet the children’s needs. Whether it was a ride to band practice, a drop-off at a friend’s house, or whipping up a plate of brownies for a club meeting, having that extra adult on the team made all the difference.

    Now that both our boys are out of the house, the good news is that our former nanny just started college as well with a full scholarship. We are thrilled for her!!!

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