Would You Trade Your Kids for an Extra 20 Publications?

My kids have been a huge drain on my career, but you know what? I’d have it no other way. The pleasure has been all mine.

I have two little ones, a boy and a girl. My son is in high school and he has always been a handful, bless him. He’s a socially precocious and empathetic young man, and he has a bright future ahead of him. My little girl is strong and confident (thanks largely to rough play with her older brother), yet compassionate and loving. She is, without exaggeration, everything a father would ever want in a daughter. Together, they both bring out the best in each other and the best in me.

I love them more than words can express, but, let’s be honest, they’ve dampened my productivity over the years. Academics without children don’t often realize the career advantage they have. With no child caring responsibilities, they are free to work all the time if they want to. Sorry, but that’s just not for me.

My son was born near the end of my Ph.D., so I’ve never had a career without children. But I can imagine that I would have been much more productive than I’ve been to date.

It really adds up, even more so for women academics than for men. And I’m not just talking about the sleep deprivation of the first couple years of life. That, in itself, will shift your energy (or whatever is left of it) away from work and toward your children. I’m also not just talking about changing diapers and feeding, both of which are 24-hour endeavors in the first two years of life.

Let me tell you a bit about my week. As the only person in my family with a driver’s license, I do all of the driving: to and from the school, to and from swimming practice, to and from the park, to and from the restaurant, to and from the school uniform shop, to and from friends’ houses, to and from literally anywhere the kids need to be. I reckon that I spend 15 hours per week on the road on account of my kids. Then there’s the nightly reading and storytelling, along with nightly help with homework (which is much more difficult than when I was that age!). I also spend a lot of time just chatting with my kids: asking about their day, asking about their friends, asking about their concerns and anxieties (which, again, are much greater than when I was that age!).

I sometimes wonder what my CV would look life if I’d never had children. I suspect I could have generated an extra 20 publications and some more grants. Maybe I would have also won a few more distinguished teaching awards. It’s also likely that I would have attended more conferences. I keep my conference attendance to a minimum out of respect for my wife (who, like me, also works full-time).

“I sometimes wonder what my CV would look life if I’d never had children. I suspect I could have an extra 20 publications and some more grants.”

But you know something? None of that matters to me. The truth is that I judge my success (or failure) much more in terms of my relationship with my family than in terms of my relationship with work. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard. I work very hard, but I do this for my family. And if anyone were ever to ask me if I’d trade my children for another 20 publications, a few hundred thousand in grant money, or some additional teaching awards, I’d honestly laugh out loud. That’s like equating gold with gravel. I won’t ever apologize to anyone, much less to myself, for putting my family first.

Prof. Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

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