I am a finalist for a tenure-track job about two hours away from our current location. And I am about six weeks pregnant for the first time. I’ll be 33, we’ve been married for six years, and we’re a two day drive from both our families.
I’m not sure how I feel about the job. It’s not my dream job (my field wouldn’t even have its own program – let alone department – and I’d have a higher teaching load) – but it is my dream career. I really enjoy research and teaching, and they are a huge part of my happiness. The job market in academia is really tight, and I feel lucky that I even have this dilemma.
Admittedly, I haven’t done the interview yet. They may not want me. Or I may realize we’d be a bad fit. Or we might lose the baby and the situation would be very different. But I want to start thinking about what to do now as we made a rushed decision the last time we were in this situation, and we often wonder if we made the right decision, even two and a half years later. (I turned down a tenure-track job eleven hours away from my spouse’s job offer, and for security reasons we moved to a state neither of us likes.)
I know having a kid means making sacrifices. But I also know people who manage to have kids and tough jobs. Or people who have a long commute and kids. Or, people who live apart from their spouse/kid(s) for a time. Or, single parents who have to work long hours. Or people who travel frequently for work and have kids.
I can see the following possibilities if I were to take this job:
1. I commute two hours each way when I have to go to campus.
Pros: it disrupts spouse’s life minimally, we still live together
Cons: long commute and spouse would be fully responsible for child on those days.
2. We live halfway between each institution – in a town of 7000 with 10 restaurants (including fast food).
Pros: we each split the commute
Cons: Still long commutes, town is not great, and our friends would live far away.
3. Live apart (part of the week)
Pros: small commute times
Cons: don’t want to be a single parent or barely see child
4. Keep the status quo (don’t pursue job):
Pros: live in same house as family, have friends near by
Cons: Not have a “real” job with some security/“throw away” education
5. Spouse moving to new institution is not a possibility. It’d be a downgrade for him — a higher teaching load and harder to secure grant money. And he’d have to leave his PhD students behind, since the new institution doesn’t offer a PhD in his field.
I’m writing to you because you often see what people can’t see for themselves when they are in the middle of a situation. And you often see a situation as gray rather than black and white. — Status Quo or Not?
First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! The coming months (and years) will be exciting and exhausting, regardless of where you live and what job you have. But you can bet you’ll be a hell of a lot more exhausted and stressed out if you pursue most of the scenarios you’ve listed above. The only one I see even remotely possible in the long run is the second scenario, where you and your husband each live an hour away from work, and even then I think the only way you’d be able to sustain a functional and happy lifestyle is if both of you commuted no more than three days (per week) each.
What I find puzzling is that the possibility of your husband looking for a new job isn’t even open for discussion. You seem to think he would be limited to jobs at the same institution where you’d be employed — if you even get the job! — and that he would face restrictions within that university that would basically ruin his career well-being. But, you know, maybe there are other jobs — for both of you! — outside academia that would be equally, if not more, rewarding, intellectually and financially. There are plenty of jobs outside university life that utilize the teaching and researching skills you possess. And, if your husband is set on academia as his life career, he can certainly try to negotiate for a good deal at a different university than where he currently is. A higher teaching load and difficulty raising grant money doesn’t have to be a given. And even if it is, maybe that sacrifice is worth it to sustain balance in your family life.
But maybe the answer, since neither of you is crazy about the town where you currently live and you’re both far from family and this job — that you haven’t even interviewed for yet — isn’t even a dream gig, is to focus on searching for jobs in cities that are a little closer to family and where there are a plethora of academic and non-academic jobs that utilize your skills and degrees. Since you’ve been worrying for two and half years that you made a wrong decision moving where you did, maybe this is a good time to look for new opportunities across the board that would keep you together in the same town and provide a lifestyle balance that would allow you to enjoy parenthood and keep your marriage intact, because let me tell you: Having a baby is a huge stressor on a marriage even when everything else is relatively simple. Throw anything into the mix that complicates the tender balance — super long commutes, a parent who’s only present on a part-time basis, unsatisfying work, financial stress — and you disrupt family harmony.
The catch is, whether intentional or not, your family harmony will be disrupted plenty as it is. There will be crises you can’t predict that will throw monkey wrenches into your life. Why set the family harmony, right out of the gate, on a course of disruption that you can already predict? Why not protect the harmony as much as you can so that the balance isn’t thrown out of whack even more than it has to be when unplanned disruptions arise?
Bottom line: Decide with your husband what your priorities are, and then work together to support those priorities, while protecting your family harmony as much as possible.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.