Where Motherhood Meets Higher Education

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Mother and Daughter Ashford University

Have you ever wondered if a professor juggles grading papers with raising children? Now be honest, did that question only conjure up the vision of a woman?

According to the recently published book Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family History in the Ivory Tower, we all have some thinking to do when it comes to accepted mindsets regarding women and parenthood in academia. If you are an adult learner who has children, these issues can directly affect you or your spouse or co-parent.

As summarized in an Inside Higher Ed article, the aforementioned book’s research shows that graduate students and those in academic careers often must choose between having either a thriving family or a professional life – but only if they happen to be women. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be able to have both. Further, post-motherhood, many graduate students drop out, and those already in academic professions end up having to leave them due to a lack of support and family-friendly services. Those few women who do become tenure-track professors are much more likely to have sacrificed marriage and motherhood than men in those same roles – all while being generally paid less and receiving fewer faculty grants.

Although these disappointing findings are specific to higher education, they are all too common in many professions. Although modern women’s roles have changed, society’s prevailing mindset largely has not. Study after study shows that many women now end up working full-time jobs in addition to being responsible for the majority of child-rearing and home-making duties. This phenomenon is so common there is a Wikipedia page for it: “double burden.” It seems that “having it all” has somehow become doing it all. Throw the huge time commitment of being an adult learner on top of that, and something is bound to give.

Tangible evidence of the complicated nature of keeping up with these multiple full-time roles comes in the form of the scores of emerging blogs and articles penned by women who are (or were) pursuing their graduate degrees or working in academia while raising children. In many, mothers who work in academia express frustrations at the roadblocks they face, and in others, women who have PhDs but spend their days driving children to and from soccer practice instead of pursuing the career they trained for are infused with emotions from pride to guilt to uncertainty if they have made the right choice.

But that’s the thing – why should women have to choose at all? What is the solution that can work for everyone?

I believe that in this day and age in which both parents often work full-time, every business and institution with employees on-site should have a day care facility on premises. This convenience would free up lots of time for parents in the mornings and evenings, and they could visit their children during the day and be minutes away in the event of an emergency. Working mothers should not have to take a break to pump breast milk when they could simply take a break to actually breastfeed instead.

As the Higher Ed article points out, there is no point encouraging women to pursue and spend money on higher education if they graduate into a world that doesn’t make it possible to work and raise children simultaneously. An unused PhD simply amounts to a huge debt burden for already overextended families. What else do you think higher education institutions can do to better accommodate their students and professors who are mothers? How can we change our own mindsets to encourage positive change?

Written By: Lorelei Plotczyk
Lorelei is a regular contributor to the Ashford University blog.

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