Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rare benefit to being crazy and having children while in school

It's pretty typical for people to be all "whoa. You're in pharmacy school and have an almost 5 year old? I don't know how you do it!" when I mention that I do not stay home with the kid and cannot come for mommy and me or whatever it is during the day (why are all child-parent things in this town during the weekdays only? UGH).  I'd say it's pretty typical for people in any professional program to hear that.  The culture suggests the following are a good idea (and in order): go to college, get advanced degree, then get married, start career, have children.  If you aren't doing things in exactly that order, WHOA! People can't handle the dissonance.

I'd say that yes, if you are fortunate to be fertile enough to wait the possibly 10+ years getting an advanced degree (say MD or PhD) takes, that's a nice trajectory.  The trouble is that not everyone has that kind of time to wait or patience to wait (and of course, not everyone is in a serious and committed relationship sooner than that 10+ years anyhow, but since I know a great glut of people who have been together as long as the spouse and me but are only recently/not yet seriously attached and have zero children, I associate choice with waiting to have children until somewhere after the late 20s).  In our case, because we knew we were looking at lower than expected fertility, plus familial autism on both our sides where the only known/proven risk factor is parental age, we figured that we would make children work as younger people.  We decided that the spouse would do the first advanced degree and mine would be second because I'm younger and had more undergrad left when we got hitched.

The whole school/young family balance is not easy or fun.  It just isn't.  It's challenging to have school demanding 15 hours a day, 7 days a week (in a normal semester) and to add a relationship to the mix is hard, let alone adding small people to the mix.  But apparently being a mom in a relationship is hard on your career too (well, duh).  Today I read two very interesting articles about momming and work. 

One was about how long it took women history professors to get tenure and it found that single women got tenure faster than married ones, BUT also that married MEN got tenure faster than everyone (single men and any group of women).  This makes overt sense, even if I don't like it, because men who focus on a career or have the chance to have a spouse stay home and support them have an advantage.  I presume that if a woman has a spouse stay home and support her career, she'd get ahead too but there aren't a lot of chances to see this in action. 

Furthermore, if you have one career among two people, you move when a big opening in that career comes up.  If you have two careers, you have to consider how moving for an awesome opportunity impacts both and if you can have both careers in the new area.  If you add children to the mix, it's even harder to move if something amazing comes up for one career only.

The other article I read was about pregnancy discrimination and how much it winds up costing women to be visibly pregnant.  I'm not talking about the thing that happens where suddenly your every conversation with a new person is exclusively about your impending offspring, but actual dollars and cents in addition to being perceived as less competant, less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative.  (Note: I get that if you hated your job pre-children, at the very least being pregnant makes you realize you are not all that committed to your job, so maybe people see that... but I think it's a prejudice for the most part.)  In dollars and cents, the article points to research showing that the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is BIGGER than between women and men (more than the extra 28 cents per dollar men earn, meaning women earn $0.72 to a man's $1.00).

So how is this beneficial if you're a student parent?  Easy.  Nobody can discriminate against me for being a pregnant student.  Nobody can pay me less or skip me for a raise for being a parent.  If I'm done being pregnant by the time I graduate (and that's out there as a possibility) then I get to start my career without ever having to go through the "oh yeah, I'm pregnant" discussion with my boss.  Yep, I'll have to navigate the balance between parenting and working, and how much to mention or not about my private life, but it's a lot easier to do that with no visible, on my person signs of my family changing.

How sad is it that it's advantageous to torment myself by doing school and having a young family at once to avoid the struggle with discrimination against moms?    How horrible is it that marriage isn't an equally beneficial institution?  On the one hand, I am proud of how far we've come since my grandmother was encouraged to become a secretary and she became a professor instead.  On the other hand, I got the very same talk from a (woman) guidance counselor in high school.

I do, however, someday get to be the boss.  It's in my plan to be the boss, whether that's owning my own pharmacy or managing a hospital pharmacy.  When I'm the boss, everyone gets paid parental leave and is expected to take it.  I will ASK parents if they are interested in a more time-consuming or travel-involving promotion before skipping them.  I will do my best to never talk about my children (whoa. plural children is something that is very likely to be real soon...) more with female than male coworkers.  I won't assume that a pregnant person suddenly wants to talk about family and not work while at work, or that priorities have necessarily shifted toward home and away from work (because I am the boss in this imagined scenario, I expect my employees to TELL ME if their priorities have shifted and they want a different position or responsibilities to match).  I get to pay everyone equally based on experience and whatever salary scheme I come up with around qualifications.  I get to be sure that time off for medical appointments is allowed for everyone in case someone (when perhaps) needs to make lots of trips to the RE in search of a baby.

And as a woman, I have every intention of piping up for other women around me who are new (rookie? prospective?) parents so they don't have to carry the burden alone.  I'll keep conversations with pregnant ladies professional unless they bring up children first.  I'll do my part to keep my family out of the workplace as a bargaining tool ("I need this week off because my kid has a field trip" type deals).  I will demand fair pay and rationale if I don't get an expected raise for something like "lack of commitment to the company."  It looks like we'll be in the unusual spot where my career may be the only career for a year or two, so I intend to work like crazy to get ahead because it makes our lives so much more stable.  Maybe my little family can help pave the way for better gender equity in the professional realm.

(disclaimer: yep, I am not talking at all about the inequity that women choose by choosing lower paid jobs or not working full time or as many hours like a lawyer "only" working 50 hours a week. That's another issue than discrimination against women who are/about to be parents, and warrants its own discussion.)


  1. This is so weird. I posted a mega comment here a few days ago, but it seems to not have posted. Sad. I don't remember what I said except that I could talk about this with you for hours. I didn't have exactly the same experience as you in that I do think I was treated differently sometimes as a pregnant student (and interviewing while eight months pregnant = holy hell), but yeah, just yeah. Regarding your disclaimer: I am in a VERY family friendly job right now, and feel very lucky, but I made a HUGE financial compromise to be here. There's just so much to think about and talk about and work on as a society.

    1. Boo to blogger eating things! I am very lucky in that, since I don't look pregnant, just perhaps like I gained a little weight, only people who know treat me weirdly (and my class has had a huge number of babies so more pregnancies aren't that exciting... I believe we've exceeded 15 in a class of less than 100). I'm also lucky that I get recorded lectures (with some delay) so I only have to be in person for lab every week. It's very cushy and I enjoy it a lot, but I should probably not take it for granted either.

      BUT boo on jobs that ruin families and boo on fields that think it's acceptable for anyone to work 50+ hour weeks regularly. It's good we're making strides but it's hard that it's such slow progress.