Can We Have It All? The Challenges of Grad Student Parenting

by Kate Raphael, Erica Kocher, Wayne Zhang, Chase Reeves
(Feature Image photo: Graduating Yale University post-baccalaureate students. Credit: Wikimedia Foundation https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yale_University_Commencement_Procession_2007.jpg)

The question of “having it all” has long plagued parents (mothers in particular), becoming increasingly salient as parenting, work, and education opportunities conflict. Student parents are forced to navigate a difficult balance between academic and parental responsibilities in university institutions that are not designed for their needs. This matrix of competing demands necessitates a negotiation of labor divisions at home, but in our study of post-bac Yale parents, parental responsibilities are (no surprise!) unduly placed on women. So, in a society where more mothers are entering/re-entering the workforce after pregnancy and the attitudes of parents about home and workforce roles have become increasingly progressive in recent decades, can parents really have it all? Our small study suggests no, as our female participants still bear the brunt of childcare—a trend echoed for household labor in larger research studies. To better understand this continued gender imbalance, as well as the demands faced by student-parents regarding “fair” time/labor-allocation, money, and social connection, we examined the specific challenges faced by Yale University graduate and professional (Law and Medical school) school parents and how these challenges influence their childcare practices.

We conducted an online survey of current Yale graduate and professional students with children under 5 years old. Twenty-one respondents (recruited through personal student connections, Yale graduate/post-doctoral student Facebook groups, and Yale law student daycare services) answered multiple choice and open-ended questions about household divisions in labor and childcare.

Respondents voiced many student-parent challenges: moving away from family and friends to attend school, diminishing support networks that alleviate childcare responsibilities; navigating financial pressures of financing school and childcare while subsisting on a small salary/stipend. But the biggest challenge of all? Resoundingly: time allocation—respondents simply did not have enough time to be both students and parents. Partnered respondents expressed that it would have been almost impossible to parent alone, and the two single respondents confirmed the difficulty of single parenting as a student, voicing frustration that the university had few resources and programs to support them. One single mother explained that, despite Yale’s purported commitment to diversity, single parents aren’t set up for success here, saying, “I don’t know anyone else here with an older kid, let alone a single parent grad student. I sound bitter…. I am. It says something about who gets into Yale and who doesn’t and I’ve often felt extremely alone here because of the uniqueness of my situation.”

Even partnered parents said that parenting in graduate school could be incredibly isolating, when most students fresh out of college life are forming close bonds with their childless peers with no associated parenting limitations.

With respect to division of labor, respondents in professional programs were twice as likely (80%) as those in graduate or post-doctoral programs (40%) to report that their partners were primary caregivers. This discrepancy may reflect greater schedule flexibility of graduate and post-doctoral students. However, the majority of professional school respondents were men with female partners, while the PhD and post-doctoral students better represented an even split between genders. It is possible that the observed difference in who identifies as the primary caregiver is more attributable to traditionally assigned gender roles than to the specific demands of different Yale programs. Across both types of programs, female respondents were more likely to identify as primary caregivers of their children.

We did not have a large and diverse enough sample to draw conclusions, but we suspect that the occupations of respondents’ partners may have further factored into the division and negotiation of labor. For example, the three respondents in student-student households who were primary caregivers, or had an equal division with their partners, were also all women with male partners. It remains unclear whether having a student partner provides increased flexibility in dividing childcare responsibilities, and/or if female student-parents are more likely to enroll in graduate school if their partners are also students. It’s also possible that female professional students might delay childbearing until completing school, further reducing the number of women in professional school with children, and possibly skewing our gender ratios. The partners of professional school respondents who were primary caregivers all held occupations other than students, and were all female. We didn’t see a similar correlation in a mixed gender sample of graduate and post-doctoral students whose partners held occupations other than students.

In undertaking this project, we expected more professional students than graduate students to report that their partners did the majority of the childcare, due to the less flexible schedules characteristic of Law and Medical School. To some extent, we did observe this pattern, although it was not clear if it was attributable to differences between graduate and professional school. In fact, several respondents reported that Yale Law School’s many parenting resources for students created an environment that made parenting and academics relatively compatible. Graduate students also reported accessible support and resources, but medical students did not highlight this aspect of their experience.

Throughout this project, it proved difficult to tease apart gender and the associated “traditional” roles of mothering from other factors that also likely contribute to domestic divisions of labor. Still, it is important to understand why parenting and education opportunities are not made available to everyone. Even in 2017, we are far from a progressive world of egalitarian childcare responsibilities, especially when additional educational responsibilities are in play. We believe this egalitarian world is possible, but we have work to do. Let’s get started.

The authors are seniors at Yale College studying Anthropology, Sociology, and American Studies. The research project discussed in this post was completed as part of an Ethnopediatrics class, taught in the Spring of 2017 by Dr. Claudia Valeggia and Dr. Melanie Martin, Yale University Department of Anthropology.

 

Job Position — Bowdoin College, cultural anthropologist

Bowdoin College’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology invites applications for a tenure-track faculty appointment in Anthropology at the Assistant Professor level beginning fall 2018. We seek a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on issues of indigeneity, sovereignty, the environment, and/or media in Native American or other indigenous communities. We are especially interested in candidates whose areas of geographic and topical specialization complement and broaden those now covered in the Department.

Continue reading Job Position — Bowdoin College, cultural anthropologist

NEW BOOK RELEASE: ‘Care Across Generations’ by Kristin E. Yarris

Re-posted from Stanford University Press.

Global inequalities make it difficult for parents in developing nations to provide for their children. Some determine that migration in search of higher wages is their only hope. Many studies have looked at how migration transforms the child–parent relationship. But what happens to other generational relationships when mothers migrate?

Care Across Generations takes a close look at grandmother care in Nicaraguan transnational families, examining both the structural and gendered inequalities that motivate migration and caregiving as well as the cultural values that sustain intergenerational care. Continue reading NEW BOOK RELEASE: ‘Care Across Generations’ by Kristin E. Yarris

CfP—Migrant Illegality across Uneven Legal Geographies: A Two-Part Convening

University of Colorado-Denver, April 6-7, 2018 and Brown University, October 26-27, 2018

Given the current political climate, there is a crucial need to examine how illegality is experienced across geographic contexts for undocumented immigrant communities. According to Hiemstra (2010), “labeling a person ‘illegal’ is a subtle yet powerful tool for creating, marking and magnifying perceived difference and exclusion” (p. 78). While the federal political and legal landscape is characterized both by enforcement through a record number of deportations andinaction on comprehensive immigration reform, states and localities have also begun to engage in their own vastly different immigration policy making and enforcement (Zuniga and Hernandez-Leon, 2005; Martos, 2010; Varsanyi, 2010; Varsanyi and Provine, 2012). Some localities have expanded rights for undocumented immigrants, as is the case in states like California and Illinois, both of which are traditional immigrant gateways. While others have become much more restrictionist, as is the case in places such as Tennessee and Georgia, which are considered new immigrant destinations.

Continue reading CfP—Migrant Illegality across Uneven Legal Geographies: A Two-Part Convening

From Mogadishu to Istanbul: An auto-ethnography on childhood, migration and education

By Eda Elif Tibet
(Originally posted on August 7: reposted here with permission from Youth Circulations)

Prior to a radio broadcast, I asked youth residing in a shelter for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Turkey to draw his dream of an ideal life. Showing them the outline of a world map with no country names and no borders, I asked them to draw their dreams of living any place they wanted. Below is an excerpt from my conversation with Caadil.

Elif:          Caadil, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Caadil:     My name is Caadil, I am from Somalia. I came in 2012 into Turkey. I am living in Istanbul and I am a student. Would this be enough?

Elif:          Sure, thank you. Today, I asked Caadil to draw his dream. Could you tell us something about what you drew?

Continue reading From Mogadishu to Istanbul: An auto-ethnography on childhood, migration and education

The Social Fact of Racism Persists, Even if Racial Categories Aren’t “Real”

By Elizabeth Chin

In the current context of the United States, it is more important to talk about race – and to deconstruct it — than ever.  Our culture, unfortunately, is dominated with “common sense” notions of race that owe much too much to eugenicist thinking, false biology, and plain old wrongheadedness.  These notions of race are, from a scientific point of view, incorrect.  However, their clear social power is undeniable.  Just a few months ago, one study documented that a startling proportion of white medical students hold spurious ideas about biological differences among races, including the ridiculous notion that Blacks feel less pain, a belief that has had direct and measurable implications for how the medical profession has responded to the physical pain reported by Black people – for centuries.

The social reality of race, then, is inescapable. For me and for many others, it is also terrifyingly personal.   Continue reading The Social Fact of Racism Persists, Even if Racial Categories Aren’t “Real”

CfP — Youth, Inequality and Social Change in the Global South

For the Springer series Perspectives on Children and Young People
Dr Hernán Cuervo & Dr Ana Miranda (Eds.)

This edited book addresses a gap in youth studies by focusing on young people’s experiences in the Global South. It draws together a scholarly range of international and interdisciplinary work on young people’s lives in an incredible diverse and rich but unequal global region. This edited book aims to expand our thinking on youth experiences by linking theoretical and empirical perspectives to regions in the Global South; questioning the Global North domination in the social sciences and in youth studies.

Continue reading CfP — Youth, Inequality and Social Change in the Global South

CfP — Latin American Studies Association 2018 in Barcelona, May 23-26, 2018

Panel organizers: Fina Carpena-Méndez (Oregon State University)
Aleksandra Wierucka (University of Gdansk)

Youth making and unmaking hope in Latin America’s New Ruralities and beyond

Climate chaos, ecological disasters, failed rural livelihoods promoted by neoliberal models of development, exclusionary and authoritarian politics are the conditions in which peasant and indigenous youth in Latin America give meaning to their daily experiences and shape their life trajectories. Both schools and migration that were imagined as sources of hope have often had contradictory roles or failed to deliver on their promises for a better future for rural populations. Facing Euro-American modernity’s imperative of severing the threads of tradition and the constant emergence of new forms of practice and knowing, we explore ethnographic work on peasant and indigenous youth’s struggles to produce spaces of hope through the active generation of alternatives to a consumer-dependent society, new livelihood strategies, sustaining inter-generational relations and cultural identities, migration, social justice advocacy and beyond.

Please send abstracts to Fina Carpena-Méndez ([email protected]) and Aleksandra Wierucka ([email protected]) by August 25th 2017.

https://lasa.international.pitt.edu/eng/congress/

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