• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Most Important?

The costs of child care.

October 27, 2016

In my Calculus class, we recently studied the rate at which the volume of a pyramid changes as the base changes. To do this, we used a technique of relating the change in volume to the change in the base of the triangles that make up that pyramid. I found myself thinking of this recently when I read an article in a recent edition of Time magazine discussing child care. Without mentioning it by name, one comment in the article brought back memories of the “hierarchy of needs” proposed by Abraham Maslow. In this pyramid of needs, he proposes that people are driven to first meet their basic needs, such as for food and shelter, before they can go on to higher needs, such as those that lead to “self-actualization.”

In many ways, I am a blogger for Inside Higher Ed because of issues with child care. When I was in the process of adopting my daughter many years ago, I faced the issue of how I would care for a tiny child who might well come home with little prior notice and at an academically inopportune time, such as October or March. Knowing that child care can be very expensive, I began to look online for ideas of different ways to handle maternity leave, and came across a request for essays for the book “Mama, Ph.D.,” for which I wrote an essay. Years later, I began writing this blog, under the same heading.

I managed to use a “paid personal leave” benefit along with moving some of my classes to the evening (and the assistance of my husband) to make it possible to continue working with an infant. I must confess that, through all of the negotiations and struggles to make being a working mother a reality, I never seriously thought about quitting my job as a professor, despite the encouragement of many around me to do so. After all that I had been through to earn my degree and to get tenure, I was just too selfish to make the decision to stay home full time. I decided to continue working, and I believe that we (yes, even my daughter) are better off because of that decision.

I was reminded of my reluctance to quit my job and stay home full time when I read one line in that article on day care from Time last week. In it, someone notes that “I recognize that most women are working not because they have some intellectual itch to satisfy. It is because they have bills to pay.” It seems that, to them, meeting the basic needs (the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) is acceptable for women, but meeting “self-actualization” needs are not. While recognizing the importance of meeting financial needs, this struck me as particularly alarming, especially in a world where we can now imagine a woman being elected president of the United States.

I teach in a women-focused college where “our goal is to help students succeed in life.” For some, this involves staying home with young children, but for others, it might mean working in the paid labor market, perhaps juggling working hours around time spent with young children. I struggle every day to help my students discover that “intellectual itch” that the person in the article brushes off. I make sure they can arrive at the solution to a math problem two or three different way, and ask them to think of the economic implications of public policy. Yes, I, and many of my students, want to be paid for the work we do in the paid labor market, but the joy in doing what we do is still certainly central to our time here. Why should we apologize for that?

And so, readers, how did you handle juggling child care duties when you first became a parent? Did you take time off from paid labor, and if so, when (and why) did you return to the paid labor market? And what effect do you think your decisions had on your children’s wellbeing?

      ….Wishing the Cleveland baseball team more luck as they pursue their first World Series victory in almost seventy years….



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