Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 24:

“My childcare responsibilities are preventing me from writing.”

Interestingly, academics with children are often the best practitioners of writing in small time segments.

Caregivers simply do not have big blocks of time, so they get used to working in time-bound segments of one to four hours. They cannot make writing their number one priority, so they do not fixate. They cannot stay up all night writing and then take care of the baby the next day, so they plan ahead. Some have told me that their relationship to writing changes after having kids; what was a burden becomes a treat. They look forward to writing as a treasured quiet time away from the demands of family life and with more intellectual rewards than doing laundry.

For those of you who don’t have kids, no, I’m not recommending that you adopt! But if you have friends who are caregivers as well as academics, you might want to study how they get it all done. You can learn good lessons from them.

If you are a woman with young children, and are struggling to get any writing done, the research shows that you are not alone. In the past, research showed, being married with children increased men’s tenure and promotion rates, while lowering women’s, presumably due to gender gaps in labor at home (Bentley et al. 2003). More recent studies have found that effect diminishing, however, with marriage alone having no negative affect on women’s advancement (Rudd et al. 2008). Indeed, having children over the age of six was correlated with advancement for both male and female faculty (Wolfinger, Mason, and Goulden 2008; Mason, Wolfinger, and Goulden 2013).

Nevertheless, it remains true that women parenting preschool-age children “still suffer a parenting penalty” in getting jobs (Morrison, Rudd, and Nerad 2011), spending time conducting research (Misra, Lundquist, and Templer 2012) , and publishing (Hunter and Leahey 2010). (Although, any US parent with pre-teens and teenagers will tell you that the amount of time spent driving them around and cooking for them also has high costs.)

The good news is that women can be more efficient, producing the same amount of writing in less time: among men and women with the same publication rates, female faculty did more work around the home and spent fewer hours per week on writing and research than male faculty (Sax et al. 2002).

If you are not getting writing done due to childcare responsibilities, you already know the answer: getting others to care for your children several hours a week.

Many academics would love to have such help, but are far from family and cannot afford to pay someone.

Perhaps you might look into a shared childcare arrangement. Find another academic who is a caregiver and arrange to trade baby-sitting so that each of you gets time for writing. Or, if what you really need is some sleep, exchange for that as well. If you have trouble finding someone, maybe ask your university’s writing center if they can facilitate connecting parents for such.

If none of this is possible, focus on working with the small amounts of time that crop up. Write for half an hour after you put the kids to sleep and before you start cleaning up.

Works Cited

Bentley, Jerome Thomas, Rebecca Adamson, inc Mathtech, inc Westat, and National Science Foundation . Division of Science Resources Statistics. 2003. Gender differences in the careers of academic scientists and engineers: a literature review: Division of Resource Statistics, Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation.

Hunter, Laura, and Erin Leahey. 2010. “Parenting and research productivity: New evidence and methods.”  Social Studies of Science.

Mason, Mary Ann, Nicholas H Wolfinger, and Marc Goulden. 2013. Do babies matter?: Gender and family in the ivory tower: Rutgers University Press.

Misra, Joya, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, and Abby Templer. 2012. “Gender, Work Time, and Care Responsibilities Among Faculty.” Sociological Forum.

Morrison, Emory, Elizabeth Rudd, and Maresi Nerad. 2011. “Onto, up, off the academic faculty ladder: The gendered effects of family on career transitions for a cohort of social science Ph. Ds.”  The Review of Higher Education 34 (4):525-553.

Rudd, Elizabeth, Emory Morrison, Renate Sadrozinski, Maresi Nerad, and Joseph Cerny. 2008. “Equality and illusion: Gender and tenure in art history careers.”  Journal of marriage and family 70 (1):228-238.

Sax, Linda J, Linda Serra Hagedorn, Marisol Arredondo, and Frank A Dicrisi III. 2002. “Faculty research productivity: Exploring the role of gender and family-related factors.”  Research in higher education 43 (4):423-446.

Wolfinger, Nicholas H, Mary Ann Mason, and Marc Goulden. 2008. “Problems in the pipeline: Gender, marriage, and fertility in the ivory tower.”  The Journal of Higher Education 79 (4):388-405.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 24, one of the distraction obstacles listed on page 32 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).