Monday, February 14, 2011

family togetherness

When Dr. Mr. Palimpsest and I first got married, we decided we would rather live in the same home than both be employed. We reaffirmed that decision when Bunny was born.

We thought we would eventually find a university willing to hire us both. We knew it would be difficult to find two tenure-track jobs, but since were were willing to be flexible (by sharing a position, for example), we thought it would work out, somehow, and we would both be fully, fullfillingly, employed.

Fast forward five years. It hasn't worked out.

So now we're considering the unthinkable: should Dr. Mr. Palimpsest take a job elsewhere, while I stay at Tiny U? Neither of us is thrilled by this idea, but neither of us is willing to settle for the status quo, either. Staying here, without reasonable employment for my husband, is no longer an option.

If we were separated, it would be for no more than one or two years. But what a difficult time to be apart! Pumpkin will turn two in the Fall. Bunny will be starting kindergarten. Kids change so much during that period, and parents need so much support from each other. It's no wonder that Dr. Mr. Palimpsest is incredibly reluctant to leave.

On the other hand, perhaps a difficult year or two now would lead to a much happier family for years to come. Surely Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's life-long career, and our family's long-term happiness, are worth a year or two of sacrifice?

I've discussed our options at length with a colleague in Chemistry. When her husband was unable to get a tenure-track job here at Tiny U, he applied for jobs across the country. They've only lived in the same house for one year out of the last seven. They have two sons, aged ten and two, who hardly know their father. My colleague wishes her husband was willing to do what my husband has been willing to do: stick around, even if that means significantly fewer professional opportunities. When I asked about the advantages of separation, she strongly argued against it. But is that just a case of the grass being greener?

This is not a discussion that I'd ever hoped to have. Anyone out there with experience? Any advise?


  1. I don't have any advise for you - a tough situation that I am not looking forward too. Although I do appreciate you sharing your experiences with us. My co-academic husband and I always said that we both don't have to have a tenure-track career. We would be willing to do anything, so long as we are personally happy which means being together. The problem is for academics is that "personal" happiness is so closely tied to "professional" happiness. Maybe it is not so different for non-academics but the line between the two gets blurry. On the other hand there are so few good jobs to come by - financial considerations may need to have a strong role in your decision. Good luck with your decisions.

  2. Ugh, very sorry. I wish I had something useful to say. I definitely foresaw leaving my own T-T job had things not worked out for my spouse. It seemed like a real lose-lose situation at that point: very hard to leave this job I had so wanted, but even harder to risk this relationship. Over the last couple of years, it has been even more clear to me that my family makes my life worth living, so the choice might be easier now. (We've since decided we'll both leave if one doesn't get tenure, which oddly enough feels ok!!) I guess the question is, can you go on as you are? If even one of you feels that you absolutely can't, would the other one do whatever is necessary? If you decided on a separation, I think you'd want a clear plan to keep it short (i.e., an upfront agreement about what happens if a new job doesn't pan out, the trailing spouse can't find something, etc.). But it didn't come to this with us, so this is only what I THINK I would have done, not what I did.

  3. We'll survive another academic year or two. This summer, I'm going to start building credentials for an alternative career...but alas, it's not one that is likely to be viable here in Tiny Town. It'll open up options should Palimpsest get a job elsewhere, though.