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Monday, January 02, 2012

Parting Advice on Parental Leave

Thanks to Dan and the other Prawfs for inviting me to blog this past month.  As I sign off, I'd like to share some words of advice that I've received over the past several months from folks at various schools about parental leave.

My husband and I are both academics, and we're expecting our first child in February.  As my soon-to-be-a-parent status has become more obvious (that is, once my stomach got so big that it was clear I wasn't just falling out of shape), I've had a number of conversations about the dos-and-don'ts of parental leave negotiations with other prawfs at various schools.  Here's what I've learned:

1) A school's written parental leave policy may not always reflect their practices.  While I haven't heard of any schools where the practice is less generous than the policy, I've heard of several schools where the leave actually given is more generous than the written policy.  While a more generous practice may be good news, the downside is that the actual practice may be hard to discover.  It's worth asking your colleagues who've recently had children what leave they received, and to have this information at your fingertips when it comes time to talk to the relevant administrators at your school.

2) Think carefully about when you reveal your baby news.  Conventional wisdom tells parents-to-be that they shouldn't spread their pregnancy news until after the first trimester --- that is to say, after the risk of miscarriage has decreased significantly.  While I think that conventional wisdom is generally a good idea, you might want to consider revealing that information a bit eariler under certain circumstances.  For example, when the administration here at Arizona State was setting the spring class schedule, even though I was not yet out of my first trimester, I decided to tell those administrators in charge of the schedule (in strict confidence) that I was due to deliver a baby in February.  Those administrators (who agreed to keep my news secret) were then able to plan the schedule more effectively, and my leave was less disruptive to the school.

3) Be patient and try to stay cool.  Even though law schools tend to be wonderful places to work and law professors tend to be rather progressive, I've heard stories about a number of insensitive comments by colleagues and administrators upon learning the news of someone's pregnancy.  (Full disclosure:  As someone who generally doesn't like children, I've been known to say less than sensitive things about other people's parenthood.)  And while Arizona State has been extremely accommodating to both me and my husband, I have heard stories from other schools about blatantly different treatment for moms expecting a baby as compared to dads.  I don't think moms and dads should be treated differently (and I suspect that different treatment might be unlawful), but if you encounter such treatment, try to address it calmly and rationally.  Your first priority should be to secure the best parental leave you can.  Fight the fight for gender equality after you've secured your leave.

That's all the advice I have.  Others should feel free to chime in via the comments thread.

Posted by Carissa Hessick on January 2, 2012 at 07:36 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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On the subject of insensitive remarks, I'm sure that there are many examples toward pregnant women or those with small children. But, as a woman who is single and childless by choice, I can assure you that there is plenty of insensitivity to go around, particularly in a profession such as ours where marriage and children are the norm.
My biggest pet peeve is the number of blatantly inconvenient things I am asked to do on account of the fact that I "have no family." (which is, by the way, a gross misrepresentation of the lives of single and childless persons).

Posted by: Anon | Jan 2, 2012 7:51:55 PM

I completely agree on Number 2. One of my friends is a chemist and had to reveal her pregnancy as soon as she found out because of the exposure that she would have to certain chemicals that could negatively impact her pregnancy. I myself revealed at between 6 and 9 weeks because I was so sick most of the time and had a lot of doctor's appointments because of my various chronic issues...Of course, I only revealed to my immediate supervisors because there was nothing to tip off anyone else in the office. I then "came out" at around 14 weeks with everyone else. ;-)

Posted by: Melissa | Jan 3, 2012 5:44:02 AM

"My biggest pet peeve is the number of blatantly inconvenient things I am asked to do on account of the fact that I "have no family." (which is, by the way, a gross misrepresentation of the lives of single and childless persons)."

Out of curiosity, are you more annoyed that you are asked to do things that are "blatantly inconvenient," or are you more annoyed that the given reason is that you have "no family"? Or to put it a little differently, would you be less annoyed if the request was phrased as: "Professors X, Y and Z have small children that have a 7:00 PM bedtime, and thus, you should plan to attend the 6:00 faculty senate meeting next Tuesday. Yes, we understand that this will affect the dinner you have planned with friends, but delaying or postponing that is much less of a hardship than requiring Professors X, Y or Z to hire a babysitter to put their kids to bed (and likely not see their kids for the evening)."

(Full disclosure: I have three small children. To use your terminology, one of them was by "choice" -- got to love unexpected twins! Most of the people I work with are childless. I've been in professional environments where my co-workers accommodate my family needs, and I've been in environments where they don't. The latter is invariably utterly miserable.)

Posted by: Curious | Jan 3, 2012 11:15:01 AM

Thanks for sharing such an interesting information.

Posted by: cruise maldives | Jan 4, 2012 9:27:26 AM

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