What about the work-life balance in a professional job? Is it more realistic to start a family in a profession than working toward tenure?I'm going to throw this one out for fellow postacademic bloggers and commenters to help me answer. Since I don't have kids and have a partner who has a nonstandard work schedule, my concerns over work-life balance aren't going to be the same ones that most people have.
Now, in terms of my own personal work/life balance - making time for a partner and pets and outside hobbies and responsibilities? Well, based on that, I can answer this question ... and my answer is that my work/life balance is much better now than it was when I was in academia. I've always been a worrier with a tendency to overthink and obsess over things, so the constant guilt and pressure of academic work hanging over my head drove me crazy. My schedule was undoubtedly more flexible in academia ... but as I've written many times before, it didn't feel flexible.
Now that I've left, my life feels much calmer. Sure, I have to stay in the office until 5. But when I leave, the next 16 hours are mine. The hours between Friday at 5pm and Monday at 9am are mine. I can go to the gym or run errands or walk the dog or cook a gourmet meal or just sit on the couch eating bon-bons and watching terrible movies 24/7 ... no one cares, and as long as I am back in the office Monday at 9, no one will ever label me a slacker or as being "unserious" about my job.
So my personal work/life balance has never been better.
That being said, I know that's not really the answer this commenter was looking for ... they were specifically asking about having kids. And that's not a question I can answer. I don't have any children, and at this point I am not planning to have any. So the constraints and stressors (or freedoms) of academic v. nonacademic life as they pertained to having children were never something I thought much about.
But they are excellent questions, indeed! I'm just not the one who can answer them. So first, I'm going to ask readers to leave answers/advice for this question in the comments of this post.
However, I can offer some anecdotes I've heard from friends and family who have had kids, both inside and outside of academia:
(1) Almost every academic I knew recommended having your first child in the later stages of grad school. "Don't be pregnant on the job market, and don't be a new first-time parent while you're working toward tenure." In the outside world, there doesn't seem to be a commonsense time to have kids ... I suppose it's a bad idea to time a new job with the birth of your first child, but otherwise babies seem to appear when they appear.
(2) Many people said that the flexibility of academia made it easier to manage kids' daily lives ... but that it was hard to afford child care on a grad student stipend or on a non-rockstar assistant professor salary.
(2a) Speaking of the "academic guilt ... a few friends have told me that it's easier to ignore academic work when it's your kids who need your attention, than to do so for your own needs. So ... take of that what you will, I guess.
(3) Many people have told me that having family and friends nearby makes having kids a lot easier. It seems like academia could hamper that a bit, if you wind up moving halfway across the country for a faculty position or if you are an overworked adjunct.
That's really all I can offer you based on my own knowledge. However, I'd love to hear from others. Postacademic bloggers with kids, leave a comment or link to a post at your own place if you feel inspired. Readers who have kids (while inside or outside of academia), leave a comment. Readers who've gleaned tidbits or anecdotes from others who have kids (inside or outside of academia), leave a comment.
Let's crowd-source some answers to this question for the commenter!