Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for post-maternity leave

Slightly Anonymous asks:

My department is writing a policy for what they do to support new parents post-parental leave.  I’m on the committee that is supposed to come up with this.  I think this is great:  if somebody misses a year or a semester with a new baby, then it makes sense that they might need some time or extra support to come back up to speed.  But what should our committee recommend?

I’m wondering if you or any of your readers have ideas?

I’m at a UK university, which means that academic staff at my university are either on short-term temporary contracts — think postdoc — or have permanent positions.  In most UK universities “lecturer” is the equivalent of “assistant professor with tenure.”  At my university there is a 1 year probationary period before your job is officially permanent, but passing probation is pretty much a formality.  There is still stress about being promoted, but much less than what comes with trying to get tenure in a US university.

Being in the US and not having been at coastal or ultra-prestigious schools, our own experience is pretty pathetic.  That whole “missing a year or a semester with a new baby” thing … not something we’re used to.  In my department we’re still trying to get something consistent in place that doesn’t involve begging other people in the department to cover your classes for a couple of weeks after the baby is born.

Off the top of my head, all I can think of is adding a year to the tenure clock for those without tenure, but that is mostly irrelevant in the UK context.  Surely someone out there has a better idea of what best practices are?  #2 has only seen terrible practices.  My poor poor colleagues.

Grumpy Nation, please weigh in with your suggestions!


12 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for post-maternity leave”

  1. B Says:

    Hi NicoleandMaggie

    First time here to say hello :)

    I am actually pretty surprised that the UK policy allows room for corporate negotiation when it comes to maternity / paternity leave. I come from the Asia so it’s mostly the government who sets things up and every company just need to follow, no changes allowed or intended. That can be bad some times.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think she’s not talking about changes to the actual leave policy, but how to help parents transition in after coming back from a leave. Since we’re still fighting about having an actual leave policy, it’s really difficult for us to think a step beyond that. You can’t transition from coming back from a leave if you never left to begin with.

      Maybe on-campus daycare? Or a service for when the kid is sick? Or help finding childcare?

      • Leah Says:

        I will say that on-campus daycare would have been a huge help for me in transitioning back to the workforce. I’ve had some work commitments that took me away in the evening, so I took time mid-day (during my preps) to drive 10 minutes each way and spend a little time with my kid. On-campus daycare would also make nursing so much easier. I’m actively jealous of friends who have daycare even just really close to their place of employment. 10 minutes isn’t bad, I suppose, but that’s almost all the way across town where I live.

  2. Mimi Says:

    Academics (mostly female) have been collected various standards across universities in the US so that there are policies to point to when lobbying for a more appropriate leave policy. I know Sara Mitchell has a long list on her website ( – click on Parental Leave policies). Perhaps that might be of use? And maybe there is a similar collection effort in the UK?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Interesting list, though she’s wrong about our university actually having a policy. It looks like she’s either taken a department policy or the policy that the faculty senate keeps voting on but has never been instated.

  3. xykademiqz Says:

    This is so different than the US that I can’t even begin to think about it. Not only to people have leave, but someone is actually thinking if they are able to ramp up successfully thereafter! This is so humane… Can’t. Take. It… It’s too much!

    Joking, of course. I know anything to support parents coming back would be really frowned upon here. I have old male colleagues who clearly communicated that taking the extension of the tenure clock after having a baby means you are a weak link. Interestingly enough, I have reviewed plenty of tenure cases with young men taking the tenure clock extension post child birth, and it’s always “Aww, what a great father!” while women either don’t do it at all (like me) or someone looks at the record funny and examines it for signs of weal-linkedness.

    Anyway, back to the topic. In my universities there are small 1-year grants for people undergoing personal turmoil, basically the equivalent of 1 grad student (presumably to help with the gap in funding stemming from turmoil).

    If I didn’t have to worry about tenure or what colleagues thought of me or gaps in productivity that would screw me over for tenure/grants/Nobel prize, I guess this is what I would have ideally liked:

    1) Daycare subsidies
    2) Establish short-term ill-kid daycare on campus so people can keep up with teaching their courses and other obligations (when the regular daycare won’t take the ill kids). Daycare kids are sick non-stop the first year or two, which is the period of interest here. Then their immunity gets pretty good!
    3) Reduced teaching load in the first 1-2 years
    4) Lactation room and diaper changing facilities
    5) Small institutional grants to cover 1-2 years of a student or partial postdoc or technician to ramp back up research program. Presumably postdocs could apply for those as well?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Absolutely on your first paragraph. On top of that, everyone assumed I’d gotten time off for my first kid (I DIDN’T) and many people assumed I’d taken an additional year on the clock (I didn’t!). That helped me to demand a course reduction with my second.

      Great point about sickness. DC1’s sickness during that first year of daycare really threw me for a loop. Least productive semester ever and horrible teaching evals. I was always sick, as was DH (and, of course, DC1).

      Excellent suggestions.

      • becca Says:

        Because I was working at an academic medical center, my building had two lactation rooms with commercial grade pumps where we could put up pictures of the babies and write little notes of support to all the other Moms that were using the rooms. It was a huge help, and represented a minimal cost to the institution.
        I also used to take my infant into the non-biohazard lab/lunch room and set him up with the infant monitor and go do my tissue culture.
        In a perfect world, there’d also be a place to nap. Because that first year is pretty sleep deprived.

        In a best-practices-for-an-imperfect-world way, I think I’m in favor of mandating a minimum for paternal and maternal leave in terms of tenure clock stoppages.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    There are great suggestions here but they all seem to center on the child. :-) Not being a parent, I read the query as “how do we help the adult teaching professional come back to work as if he/she had never left.” So what *I* thought in response was along the lines of …

    keep the instructor on all institutional mailing lists
    notify the instructor of all departmental meetings (so that they have the option to attend) and curriculum/policy changes
    (maybe) inform the instructor of enrollment statistics – some people might like to know if there is a surge or a drop in enrollment in their field
    provide the instructor with updated “best practices” and notice of new library acquisitions relating to their field

    Not a professor either, so there is undoubtedly much I am overlooking, but those things bubbled up pretty fast as “things I would want if it were me.”

  5. SP Says:

    My opinion probably is not helpful here given my lack of qualifications, but…

    The setup at my husbands university is “reduced duties” (partial or full relief from teach duties for up to a year), without a need to make them up later.

    Pausing the tenure clock. In practice, the tenure clock pause (at least for men) is not considered to be that valuable as tenure weighs on reviews, and reviewers often just consider your productivity over time and don’t consider the “pause” in their evaluation – but that sounds like it could be corrected for. (I think what my husband was really saying was that he’d rather not pause his tenure clock if it can be reasonably avoided.)

    Emergency 24/7 “backup” child care is available, at a center or even in-home (mild illnesses allowed) for a very low price. I don’t know how easy this actually is to schedule and make happen, just that it exists. That would hugely helpful if it works as intended.

  6. OMDG Says:

    It’s hard to make a “policy” that covers this, but mostly, I think avoiding making assumptions such as: 1. the new mom will want to mommy-track, 2. or focus primarily on her kids rather than her career, 3. or that she will want to scale back her work life. And then telling her these assumptions in the form of running commentary about how surely she wouldn’t want to pursue [difficult but rewarding path now] because she has a child for years following the emergence of the kid.

  7. Revanche Says:

    We have access to back up care through PiC and tried it recently. It was a huge help! Everyone should have this. Basically you register for it and then have the option of a spot in a local daycare or they’ll send an in home caregiver, especially if the child is sick. Both options are very reasonably priced as it’s subsidized. There’s a fairly low cap on ours though and given how often daycare kids seem to get sick, not capping it so low would be helpful.
    I’d also suggest subsidized local or on site child care options (that don’t do midday activities with peer pressure for parents to take time off to attend!). This frees the parents up to focus on work and other family care rather than wasting way too much time on day to day childcare issues.
    Have the option for the parent to transition back gradually, from part time up to full time, increasing their work load incrementally over the course of several weeks or months depending on their responsibilities.

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