One of the difficult things about postacademia is all the explaining we have to do about why we are leaving academia. See, we go to school for about a million years and then, when we get to the end, we a) can’t find a job, b) decide we don’t want a job or, most likely, c) a combination of a and b.
Many people do not understand how all of that happened, so we end up explaining ourselves over and over again.
In my postacademic experience, I have noticed various similarities between the kind of explanatory work one must engage in as a postacademic and the kind that accompanies the decision not to have children. It’s like those two life choices are exactly the same, but different!
Here are some examples of things people have said to me over the last few years, as I have advanced into my late thirties, regarding postacademia and/or childbearing. I think you’ll agree they have a kind of eerie similarity.
“You say you don’t want to have a baby/apply for academic jobs, but you might change your mind. You still have time!”
“If you don’t take an academic job/have a baby, won’t you always wonder what it would have been like?”
“What if someday you regret not becoming a professor/having a baby?”
“Who will take care of you when you’re old if you don’t have a child/an academic retirement plan?”
“But you’d be such a good professor/mother!”
“It’s smart people like you who really should become professors/parents.”
“I didn’t think I wanted an academic job/baby either, but now that I have an academic job/baby, I can’t imagine how I ever spent my time before.” [This is my favorite because what this person is really saying is ‘people who don’t have kids don’t know how meaningless their lives are!’]
“Isn’t it selfish of you not to want an academic job/baby for your parents, who really want to be the parents of a professor/grandparents to a delightful grandchild?”
“Being a teacher/mother is the most important job in the world.”
“Being an academic/mother is grueling, but it’s all worth it!”
“You say you don’t want to be an academic/have a baby, but if you do decide to stay in the academy/have a baby, I think you’ll like it.”
“If you didn’t want to be an academic/mother, then why did you get a PhD/get married?”
“What if more people thought like you? Then we wouldn’t have any children/professors at all, and the human race/academia would die out!”
“Aren’t you curious to see what your children/students would be like?”
“If you don’t have children/make a name for yourself in academia, how will you live on after you die?”
“There’s nothing better than that new baby/new office smell.”
“What’s the matter, don’t you like researching and teaching/children?”
I am not exactly sure why these platitudes are so interchangeable. I think it has something to do with the fact that parenthood is considered a really big achievement, just like becoming a professor. It’s like, “why wouldn’t you want that because obviously it is the best thing ever!”
I don’t buy it. I think there’s a lot of myth-making about how awesome parenthood is just like there’s a lot of obfuscation about just how much academia sucks. So, as always, you gotta go with your gut and know that, either way, you’ll be just fine.