(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)
Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I’ve also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I’m mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I’d love to hear other experiences.
1. Pre-leave ‘make up’ work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get ‘extra’ things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn’t ‘put us behind’ or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that’s ok. Parents don’t need to ‘earn’ their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the ‘finish line’ rather than the starting gate.
2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are ‘away’ are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that’s not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR. Continue reading Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion