Reader Query: Children, Work, Best Practices

A regular reader writes: “Many of us have at one time or another brought our kids to work. Arguably, a university that aims to be inclusive of women needs to support this option. However, kids in the workplace can prove
distracting for colleagues and students. How do we appropriately
balance these concerns? I’m looking for advice on best practices with
respect to kids at work. I’m especially keen to read readers’ examples
of practices and policies that are already working well at their

Your thoughts and suggestions requested. Thanks!

10 thoughts on “Reader Query: Children, Work, Best Practices

  1. I brought my son to work at a university for his first four months, and he was an angel child and I am pretty sure didn’t disturb anyone. I can’t imagine bringing him around now that he is two, but in desperate circumstances, there is always the iPad to keep him occupied if I have to!

  2. I think we ought to act as though there’s nothing out of the ordinary about bringing kids into the classroom, for both men and women (as long as it doesn’t inhibit us doing our jobs). Even though it’s not ordinary now, our students won’t know that, and they’ll think it is. Eventually it will become ordinary.

  3. That’s just not true. When I was a student, a professor brought his child with him to class, and I distinctly remember thinking that it was not ordinary.

    I’m also, perhaps unfairly, skeptical that you can bring a child into the classroom without it inhibiting the work to be done, if only for two to me fairly likely effects: 1) you will have to compete with the child for the students’ attention, and 2) you are likely bringing the child because it cannot be left unattended, and so the students will have to compete with the child for your attention.

    This does not mean that you should not bring the child into the classroom – just that there better be benefits to doing so that outweigh the almost certain interference the child brings.

  4. As a primary parent, I’ve brought my kids with me from time to time to the classroom, both as a professor and as a student (I’m pursuing yet another degree). My kids are very well behaved and love seeing what dad does, and have even contributed in very meaningful ways from time to time.

    My contribution to ‘regular reader’ is that if a child is sitting quietly and not disrupting the class and as long as the content of the class is not inappropriate for children, then let them come. However, places of employment and especially classrooms are rated PG since we know, a priori, that there may be bad words from time to time. If a parent wan’t to shield their children from that, then work might not be the best place for them.

  5. I like what B says–we ought to act like it is not a big deal–but I think our students do know that it is unusual. I work at a regional state university that serves a relatively low-income area. I have several students who are single parents. Over the past three years, five students have asked me if they can bring a child to class (four women and one man). My students were embarrassed and apologetic when they asked. I said “of course you can!” and tried to make it easy for the students. I really don’t mind this at all. Each told me her/his child would behave and that they would take them out of class if they got fussy. I said that was fine, that I didn’t mind, and that I wasn’t worried. Stuff happens. The children ranged in age from infant to teenager (who got himself suspended from his own school; mom did not want him home alone, so she had him come to school with her!). Anyway, I think we should act as if it is not a big deal. I think that is part of turning it into a less big deal than it is now.

  6. I think this is something male faculty can do without penalty. Female faculty cannot do it without being framed as a mommy instead of a philosopher.

  7. My college has a policy of no non-registered people in class, and they specifically discourage the bringing of children – ostensibly for liability concerns. When asked, I usually allow it, as I’d rather have the student there than not. However, it’s important to note that there may be legal and job-security issues for faculty in such cases.

    Additionally, it certainly can be a distraction for the rest of the students – depending on the behavior of the children. And it also can affect teaching. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to dramatically (and unexpectedly) change lectures on sexual ethics, abortion, etc., because the material was not age appropriate.

  8. I am uncomfortable with the disjunction in Anon’s post: philosopher or mommy. I want to model both roles for my students. When Wisconsin teachers protested a draconian bill stripping collective bargaining rights, the schools my children attended were closed. My daughter and husband made their way to Madison to protest! My son (age 11 at that time) attended my political philosophy and intro courses, and was focused on the material. I gave him an extra text to read follow along when parts of the text were read aloud, and he contributed to the discussion.This made some students think, if this kid can do this, so can I and made philosophy less intimidating for a few students. I also welcomed other parents in the class to bring their children when necessary provided that they did not have a contagious illness (and I ask all sick students to stay away from class.) Students bringing their children to class has happened from time to time, and the presence of the children often makes the class better. In contrast to Mail UCSD, I don’t see the children as competing for scarce resources (my attention) but as a useful distraction, the way I tell stories as thought experiments for the theory at hand. As for best practices, perhaps putting whatever policy you have in the syllabus is a good idea as it would prevent the horrible experience a friend of mine had, whose daycare fell through at the last minute, when she brought her 4 year old child to class, the professor roared “get that thing out of here.”

  9. Ajkreider makes a good point. Part of the liability issue likely stems from the simple fact that our college classrooms are not designed with small children in mind. There may be many hazards that I’ve never thought of. (My wife and I do not have children.) I might ask Risk Management about this.

    I haven’t had children become a distraction in class so far (admittedly small sample — 5 cases). One infant cried, but the mother simply took him outside into the hallway.

    I haven’t had to change the day’s topic, but I can imagine this happening. But so far, none of my students have brought a child without asking first. They also have the syllabus, so I guess they can make a judgment about whether the topic is appropriate for their child’s age.

    A male colleague sometimes brings his daughter to his office when he works. As far as I know, he does this only on his non-teaching days. His daughter sits in his office with him, usually drawing pictures. She’s 4, I believe. Every once in a while she brings a picture to my office. I tell her its great and then she goes back across the hall. When my colleague brings her, he usually spends half a day in the office.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I am getting married soon, and both my wife-to-be and I are pursuing academic careers. We will be trying to conceive right around the time I’ll be on the job market. She’s a few years behind, but when she gets the PhD we’ll be hoping that she gets a job where I am (if I’ve gotten one), or we’ll be back on the market together. I hope that there will be a university that wants both of us, and that they will be excited to help us figure out the best way to be full-time professors and full-time parents. I also hope and expect that we’ll get the same treatment with respect to this.

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