Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Child-friendly Sabbaticals?

I'm the kind of gal who likes to plan for the long haul. This is part of why being a postdoc was so wearing, because I could never plan more than a couple of years in advance.
Now that I have a tenure track position, I can daydream about things like getting tenure, sending my kids off to college, retiring someday... Okay, maybe not retirement quite yet.

Anyway, it occurred to me the other day, that someday I might want to go on sabbatical somewhere. But how would that work, given my family situation? Just as others have discussed both here on this blog (see also this post) and elsewhere, there are real challenges inherent in academic life that those of us with families have to face. Going on sabbatical is one of them.

Traditionally, a professor would decide to go on sabbatical some place, and he'd tell his wife to pack up the kids and the household and the family would move someplace exotic for a year, and it would be a grand adventure. Even if the wife had a job, presumably she only had it for a little extra cash anyway, and it would be no big loss to the family finances. The professor could go off and do professorly things while the wife took care of everything at home. It would be great for the professor's career, and so what if it inconvenienced the rest of the family a bit?

In my situation, both my husband and I share childcare and household duties. I can't just say to him, "Honey, we're going to California for a year!" and expect him to happily pick up and go. I'd have to do my own share of packing up the house and kids, too. Not that my kids would be particularly happy about it either -- they'd probably be in high school by then, and changing schools for a year would be really disruptive.

And even if I waited until the youngest was in college, it would mean either living apart from my husband for a year, or finding him a new job in a new city, neither of which is a terribly good option. My husband is the primary breadwinner of the family and has a great career of his own, so it would be a big deal to ask him to switch jobs for a year, and there would not necessarily be a guarantee that he'd get his job back.

Now, I know several people who have gone on sabbatical within commuting distance. I distinctly recall telling at least one of them how lame that was. However, that might end up being the right option for me should it become available. I don't know that there's a good solution to fixing the logistical problems involved with sabbaticals for professors with families, but it's yet another insitution of academic life that works best for men in traditional households and not so great for the rest of us with families and working spouses.