The Trouble Maker Mom

So I attended a pedagogy workshop this week and I brought Minnow along. For those not keeping track, she’s now almost 18 months old and still going strong with the nursing (>= 2 x/day, >=2x/night). When I signed up for the workshop, I’d intended her to stay with my mom in Midwest, but in the end she came with me instead. The workshop organizers have been fantastically accommodating, and I want to give a shout-out to the other participants who have been super-friendly and helpful. (Especially, Kim. Thanks!)

But I still feel like a trouble maker. There are plenty of other moms here. Some with kids half of Minnow’s age. And none of those babies are here. I’m the only one who had to miss a plenary session because of a talkative toddler. And I felt like I was making excuses for her presence even with the other moms (sick caregiver, food intolerances, etc.) Why do I feel like I have to justify her presence? Why do *I* feel like the bad mommy for dragging her along *and* the bad professional for having here here?

On the meta-level:
Is there some way that even small workshops can provide childcare? What happens to single moms? How are the left-behind babies and daddies coping? What sort of flexibility and accommodation are other couples making in order to facilitate the child-free attendance of the other mommies here? How do we make the whole business of professional travel and scientific meetings more family-friendly?


  1. #1 DianaGainer
    July 18, 2008

    I’m in my 50s now, so my 2 kids are grown, but I still have nightmares about when they were little and needed SO much constant care. My “solution” was basically to stay home all the time, because of the lack of available daycare that would take children who had ADHD and, usually, a minor cold. Neither of these conditions is all that unusual or that severe but with both to deal with, and 2 kids, it was more than most babysitters or professional daycare centers would agree to handle. Needless to say, my career has a large hole in the center which is not how it should work. YES, daycare should be provided so women professionals do not have to take babies or toddlers with them but also don’t have to leave them at home when they’re away from hearth and home! I would very happily increase seminar fees for that purpose — or let’s hold more of these online, so nobody has to leave home in the first place. AAAS does the latter quite well, so, everyone else, take a lesson!

  2. #2 DRD
    July 18, 2008

    I have to say that we should be able to bring our under 2 yrs babies to all of these professional things as long as we are respectful of the sessions/events (taking a baby out if they are making noise, etc). At my home campus, I take little one to a lot of meetings, just to normalize it a bit.

    How am I dealing with it. Not going to much including missing an extremely informative 4 day training next week directly related to my current research. I just couldn’t leave my nursing 8 month old. They weren’t offering childcare, and frankly I couldn’t see how baby was going to handle 8-6 childcare with strangers (more like 7-7 care since the one contact I felt comfortable leaving him with in the city would require a significant commute) for 4 days straight when baby doesn’t even go 9-5 right now. DH had already committed to summer school teaching. So while I hummed and hawed about how to creatively make it work, the session filled up and that was that.

    An affordable on site care option is the only way I could have made this work. Affordable in my mind <$6 an hour. On site to facilitate feedings and ability to reconnect with child even if that means missing a session. And nobody, not even the big meetings in my field, offers that.

  3. #3 Carrie
    July 18, 2008

    The super big conferences I go to nearly yearly have NO onsite childcare. Guess that’s because there’s generally only about 10% women. Chicken-and-egg? You think? The small ones – no way. It’s a bummer even for those of us with older kids. There are a few locations that I would love to take my daughter to with me for meetings, but she needs somewhere to go while I’m conferencing, and that is generally not an option.

    When my babies were still babies, I’d pay for my sister or my mom’s airfare to come stay with me and be my nanny for a week. That way nursing wasn’t an issue, I got family time, and I could go to the meeting. But that’s not a good systematic solution to this problem.

  4. #4 estraven
    July 18, 2008

    My kids stopped breastfeeding (their choice) around 12 months of age. Until then, I just brought them along, and didn’t travel much. Otherwise, we usually take turns. NO conference I’ve ever been at offers sitters, but we can occasionally manage: last time the secretaries found a SAHM who was willing to get all our kids at 9am and return them at 5pm (they’re school age now). They loved it – experiencing everyday life in a totally different setup (we live in town, the conference was in the countryside).
    We always had daycare _and_ a nanny, who started caring for my firstborn when she was 3 months old.

  5. #5 A
    July 18, 2008

    I’m glad you took your kid(s)!

    I attended a conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. All talks were in one large meeting room. And, all presentations were videotaped and fed live into a large adjoining room. This second room was designed for people who wanted to hold conversations while still paying attention to the proceedings. I thanked the conference organizers for providing such a room, and expressed surprised that they had not informed conference participants of the availability of the room ahead of time, as I had asked about the availability of childcare before I registered. Apparently, the conference organizers had not designed it for parents with children, but it worked very well for that purpose and organizers agreed to inform parents ahead of time next year.

  6. #6 KS
    July 18, 2008

    You were lucky to have the understanding of the other conference participants. Sorry to sound like the sole voice of dissent, but Minnow probably shouldn’t have been there. As an 18mo old, she deserves room to play and an adult to watch her. As participants at a conference, you and the other attendees deserve the time, uninterrupted, to devote to presentation and discussion. A toddler gets in the way of a conference, and a conference gets in the way of a toddler. I absolutely believe there should be childcare options available at conferences, to encourage those with children to attend and not at the expense of the child. But until it is more mainstream, we need to work it out on our own (leave the child at home with others, or don’t attend the conference).

  7. #7 Addy N.
    July 18, 2008

    As I’ve talked about on my blog, my daughter has been to a zillion conferences- her first when she was just under 6 months old! My husband and I are in the same discipline and often like to attend the same conferences, so our only choice was to bring her and take turns. In that situation, we usually didn’t attend many talks (other than our own) and our daughter even had to sit through my own session last year (she was 7 at the time), because my husband and I were scheduled in the same time slot. We are going to a BIG conference next month and they actually offer child care- including a science day camp at a nearby museum. I signed her up right away, but it’s pretty steep ($250 for the week). I’m so glad that she won’t have to be bored at the sessions, though! It’s too bad that there aren’t more options like that. I really like having us all travel together because we always include a “day off” to sightsee in the conference location- for our next trip, we are traveling after the conference instead.

  8. #9 Mommyprof
    July 18, 2008

    I bring the whole family to the big conference in my field, as long as it is in a place they will have fun (San Diego – yes!, Kansas City – no!).

    It is harder with toddler age, but I think Spouse enjoys some time with the girls. I try to skip interesting, but not critical, things like plenaries in favor of the family and find balance that way.

    We have gotten babysitters through the hotel on occaision, but it is usually extremely expensive.

  9. #10 Lou
    July 19, 2008

    No meeting I have have attended has ever provided childcare. I’m taking my 2 yr old to a weeks conference this yr. How am I doing it? Well her dad will be doing most of the care and I will miss less important sessions to spend time with her. Would I bring her into sessions, no way! It would be really distracting for everyone else, but mostly for me. When she was still nursing I just wouldn’t have gone if I had to take her into a session. I think of it as work and I wouldn’t take her there either.

    Would I mind if other people brought there kids? Probably not but I would be thinking how things would look for them in front of all the people in their field. Perhaps you work in a more kid friendly area of science than me?

    The solution is to provide childcare, I often wonder what single moms and dads do in the situations too.

  10. #11 Neuromom
    July 20, 2008

    I’m a single mom with no family to babysit and I have spent an absolute fortune on child care for these kinds of situations – sometimes it seemed like all my income went toward this. I think I tried every alternative. Taking her with me and hiring someone from the hotel. Taking her to some of the sessions, sitting in back and hoping she would sit there quietly coloring. Leaving her with friends at home. Hiring a nanny. No conference I went to ever provided childcare.

  11. #12 Kim
    July 20, 2008

    To KS: Minnow was only there when the childcare option (grandmothers in the area) fell through. On the first and last days, nobody knew Minnow was there – she was with ScienceWoman in the evenings, but that simply meant that ScienceWoman didn’t go to the bar in the evening.

    The parents I knew about (including me) had slightly older children, and we left the kid with the spouse. Not an option for children who are breast-feeding, though. (Some of my friends weaned their children by 9-12 months, which made it logistically easier to leave them.) I think that most women with toddlers simply stay home. And I think that can be yet another way in which young women scientists lose ground on the race to jobs and tenure. I am especially concerned about the mentoring workshops (the one on preparing for an academic career, and the one for new faculty members). They are difficult or impossible to attend for women with babies and toddlers, and if the mentoring is really effective, that means that people without children (or with spouses who deal with the kids) are left behind.

    Maybe I’ll propose that the group has a mentoring workshop that’s specifically designed to accommodate children. Don’t know if that would work, though. So much of succeeding in an academic career involves getting the respect of people who are already successful, and so many of them are either men with traditional wives or childless people.

  12. #13 Mommyprof
    July 20, 2008

    “I think that can be yet another way in which young women scientists lose ground on teh race to jobs and tenure.”

    Ding! We have a winner!

  13. #14 Rebecca
    July 21, 2008

    My toddler (22 months) and I will be attending my first statistics conference (where I will be presenting) in a few weeks. This is only possible because my mother has agreed to come along and take care of him, so I can still see him (and nurse him!) at night. The conference does mention that there are babysitters who will come to your room to watch your kids, but that doesn’t seem like a good option for the whole conference (and they charge extra for kids who aren’t potty trained!).

    There has to be a better way.

  14. #15 mhairi
    July 22, 2008

    i’m a female scientist without kids and don’t plan to have any, but i fully support proper facilities for working people with kids. this is NOT a female problem, nor an individual mum’s problem, but a society-wide problem.

    it makes me so mad that while the human race wants a next generation, much of it isn’t prepared to do anything to support those who are bringing-up the next generation.

  15. #16 AMH
    July 23, 2008

    Interesting to find this discussion as I am currently wrestling with the decision to go to a 5 day mentoring workshop for women that doesn’t support participants traveling with families. In fact, the group suggests that nursing moms apply to the program in the following year. My assistantship will help pay for me to go to this workshop and is encouraging me to go, but I have a 3 month old. DH is more than willing to take care of the baby while I’m gone. I’m worried that in addition to simply missing her, breastfeeding might break down after this long period apart. I hope that if I do not go, this will not significantly impact my assistantship.

    It’s frustrating to be in this situation. Why would a mentoring workshop – where there is a seminar on work/life balance – be so inflexible?

  16. #17 Female Engineering Professor
    July 25, 2008

    I don’t think I’d be comfortable leaving my small child with a complete stranger at a conference that arranged child care. No thanks!

    My husband and I have taken our kids to two conferences where we were both presenting. In both cases, the conference was more his milieu than mine, so I volunteered to spend more time with the kids so he could attend sessions. We had a good time. Other than that, I think taking little kids to conferences is too stressful and I miss out on the valuable networking.

    When my daughter was 9mo old, my mother came to a conference with me to help watch her. And then we took a red-eye back w/ the 9 month old so we could attend my tenure promotion ceremony. That was quite a trip.

    AMH, I think you should give yourself permission to go … you’ll have a good time and your spouse will get in some good bonding time with your child. How wonderful that he’s so supportive. Or … give yourself permission to put it off til next year. Life with a young baby is hectic. Pace yourself. Save your energy for really important things.

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