Leave of care

September 24, 2015

I note not a single comment from an academic taking leave to spend time with their children in the feature about summer holidays (“Lazy, hazy, crazy days”, Features, 17 September). The smug “look how successful I am because I take the least leave” culture in academic life is very unhelpful to those who have no choice but to do so.

We all know that we must “make arrangements”; that’s what you sign up for as a parent, and we make good use of our university’s excellent summer childcare. But my six weeks of leave can only be used in the summer because of teaching, marking and exam commitments at other school holiday times, and my children can only spend longer quality time with me in their six-week summer holiday. Some of my senior colleagues suggest that I can work with the children around, surely? Or that “they must be old enough to entertain themselves by now...?”

Do the kids of academics deserve less time with their parents than others? What about others who, year round, depend on carers to take their annual leave in full? Can we ever have this conversation in public without feeling that we jeopardise our position or incite the blank faces, minor revulsion or ridicule of those who don’t get it?

Outsourcing caring is not fair, desirable, affordable or possible for everyone. Pretending that caring does not affect work will not make the social requirement go away. Ignoring it will just perpetuate the (gendered) inequalities within higher education.

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