Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Academic Parents Need to Have Fun Too

Similar to many academics, I live in a small college town in the middle of nowhere, or at least that’s how it seemed when I first moved to Lawrence, Kansas. I since have discovered that there are in fact smaller towns that are even more isolated. Nevertheless, one of my primary concerns when I moved to Kansas was the boredom and isolation I anticipated. Five years later, I am happy to say that I have a reasonably full social life and plenty of great friends.

However, it has not always been this way. I first had to learn what did not work. I also had to learn that it is feasible to be productive, spend time with your family, and enjoy life as well. One way I have been able to do this is to seek out other academics with children with whom I can both be productive and enjoy life.

One thing I have learned is that I cannot rely on social events organized by my child-less colleagues for entertainment. My husband is not an academic, so he finds many functions with only academics to be boring. Many of my colleagues would prefer that I not bring my children to their houses. Because my husband would be bored and my children potentially unwelcome, I often go to these events alone. These get-togethers can be intellectually stimulating, but the people involved often end up talking about work most of the time and fail to provide for much relaxation.  I do attend these events, but don’t rely on them for filling my social life.

Another thing that has not worked so well is to try and have a night on the town with my husband by traveling to Kansas City, which is 45 minutes away. This tactic turns out to be pretty expensive, once we pay for a babysitter, dinner, drinks, etc. Moreover, we unfortunately have had little success finding venues that we both enjoy in Kansas City. We still go to Kansas City, but we usually go as a family during the day or alone, me with my friends, or him with his.

One strategy we have found to be much more enjoyable is to invite a few friends over to break bread with us. Our house parties are very informal, and we often organize them at the very last minute. This past Sunday, for example, turned out to be a beautiful early November day. I called a few of our friends who have children and invited them over. Our three daughters always insist that we invite people who have children to our parties. An all-adult party would be very boring for the kids, and they wouldn’t let us enjoy ourselves. Also, parents with young children often appreciate going to parties where they can bring their kids. Everyone can have a good time because their kids will be occupied with playing with our children and toys. Having an informal gathering such as this at our house at least once a month ensures that our social life is never dull. Of course, we are always happy to attend such events at others’ houses.

Another way that we enjoy ourselves is to go out to dinner with friends who also have children. We usually pick an informal place that is more likely to have food that children like, such as pizza, chicken, tacos, or hamburgers. We also had the brilliant idea to put the children at a separate table. This allows us to have an adult conversation while the children sit at another table and have fun giggling and doing whatever kid things they like to do. Because the kids eventually get a bit rowdy, the more informal the restaurant, the better.

As I write these strategies down, I realize that most of them involve hanging out with people who also have children. We do treasure our many childless friends, but have found it very important to ensure that our social life includes other families with children.

In sum, academic parents deserve to have fun too. And, although it would be nice to transform the academy into a more kid- and fun-friendly place, it likely won’t happen before our kids are grown up. So, in the meantime, it is crucial to figure out ways to enjoy life.

I’d love to hear how you find ways to enjoy yours! What are some of the fun things in your life?


  1. Yes! I have been following your blog for some time and as fate would have it the only offer I got for a TT job is from U of Kansas. Even more daunting for me is that I am single (in fact the reason I'm ending my relationship with my musician partner who is adamantly opposed to venturing out of his small town in the UK) and a foreigner. I am terrified that I will feel lonely and isolated in Lawrence. What would be your recommendations for me?

    1. From your comment that you have a male partner, I will assume that you are a woman. If, in fact, you are a gay man, my comments might be different.

      There are a lot of single professional women in Lawrence, and you can find some awesome friends there. My single female friends who were the happiest or most fulfilled seemed to have something that kept them going - salsa dancing, painting, volunteering in the community, etc. Finding a way to explore your passion outside of work will help with some of the isolation.

  2. Tanya, many many thanks. Yes I am a woman and my partner is male:) As chance would have it he is a musician and because he thinks that he cannot find employment in the US, he has chosen to remain in the UK (in fact, it's never even been a debate). I am an avid fitness fan, all things fitness-running, zumba, lifting weights and would like to learn salsa so that might be one way to go.Your comments have really lifted my spirits. thanks!

  3. Hello!
    I recently got accepted to a PhD program and am so excited to fulfill my dream. I am currently pregnant and will deliver this summer. I do plan on having more kids while I'm in grad school. I would LOVE to have you write a post about how to combine grad school and parenting. Thanks!
    A faithful reader

    1. If I could remember any of that, I would! In sum, though, I'd say that grad school is pretty much a full-time job. So, if you get full-time care, it is a lot easier to complete grad school than trying to get by with little or no daycare.