Bitch, Ph.D. recently responded to a reader’s question about the feasibility of getting a Ph.D. while raising three children—LOTS of discussion there. Academom and Geeky Mom have also responded on their own blogs.
To add my two cents, of course it’s hard to get a graduate degree and raise children. It’s hard to have any career and raise children. Some people will succeed as if they don’t even have children while others will not finish their degrees. That happens among people who don’t have children, too. I do think that in some places women can be taken less seriously if they have children, but I have not experienced that in my department.
The problem is not just with academia but with the general expectation in most careers that employees will be ideal workers who can devote almost unlimited time to their jobs without interference from family responsibilities (read Joan Williams’s Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to do About It). If you’re a mother who performs as an ideal worker, then you must be neglecting your children. If your family responsibilities interfere with your work because you have to take off when kids are sick or you can’t work after five because you have to be home, then you are not committed to your career and you don’t deserve rewards like promotions or fellowships. Some of these considerations come into play in grad school, with course work and deadlines, others come up in the job search (who has time to publish when you’re doing all you can to meet your degree requirements?), but I think it is even more intensified on the tenure track (but I can’t personally attest to this yet).
I think that I have done well raising one child while in grad school—we’ll soon see how I do with two. It is doable. But I expect that my responsibilities as a mother will effect my career in the long-term. I am on a race to finish my dissertation before my funding runs out, hopefully publishing something along the way. But I’m certain that I will take a year longer than I would have without kids. And when I look for a job, I am not hoping to end up at a major research university, especially if that means moving multiple times to get there. I don’t want to the intense pressure of two books for tenure because I don’t want to put in the hours for it. I want to be with my family and I want to be happy when I’m with them, not worried about my job. That is my choice, you say? Well, maybe, but what kind of choice is that? My career OR my kids? I have adapted my notion of success in this career to something that allows me to teach and do my work and have plenty of time for my family. I don’t believe I can find this ideal at an elite university, so I do not aspire to work at an elite university. I know that you can probably name me some people who have done it all, but I don’t see that in my life. So I intend to accept the glass-mommy-ceiling, but that doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it.
For more on the effect of motherhood on academic careers, see Mary