While childcare challenges facing women in the workplace have come under the spotlight during the pandemic, the issue isn't new. As one of the only nations in the world without guaranteed paid parental leave as well as one without broadly subsidized childcare, parents often have to weigh childcare costs with their earnings and make tough choices between work and family.
In academia, where graduate students are working toward a career but aren't fully into one yet, figuring out how to balance family and studies on a limited income is also a challenge, which is why one MIT professor's photo of an addition to his lab has people cheering.
Troy Littleton, professor of biology at MIT, shared a photo of a portable crib squeezed in between a desk and a cabinet and wrote:
"My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab – a travel crib to go in my office so my graduate student can bring her 9-month old little girl to work when necessary and I get to play with her while her mom gets some work done. Win-win!!"
My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab – a travel crib to go in my office so my graduate student can bring… https://t.co/y67A78h6ei— Troy Littleton (@Troy Littleton) 1620417958.0
A flood of comments praising the professor poured in, as people shared how their own professors or bosses had similarly supported them and their children.
The praise reinforced the fact that pursuing a profession and building a family are not mutually exclusive endeavors and that creating ways to help parents—especially mothers, who tend to be the primary caregivers during the earliest years of a child's life—balance both things is a valuable move. While bringing a baby to work wouldn't work under all circumstances, allowing for the option when it can work can make all the difference in the world.
@Dr_Perreault @JTroyLittleton It takes a village to raise a baby!! 💪🏻💪🏻— Jules (@Jules) 1620491280.0
Interestingly, sprinkled throughout the comments of praise were comments of befuddlement from people outside of the U.S. Questions like "Don't you have paid leave when you have a baby?" and "You mean there aren't free childcare facilities on-site?" from Europeans, Australians, etc. brought home the fact that this childcare/career conundrum is largely a uniquely American thing.
@ferruz_noelia @JTroyLittleton You're not an American, are you?? (University-provided daycare at my university cos… https://t.co/HuMUFJBiGL— la.donna.pietra (@la.donna.pietra) 1620494526.0
Like many "feel good" stories of individuals stepping up to fill a hole where a social safety net should be, professor Littleton's post almost seems a bit sad in light of these comments. It would be great if we could structure our systems to be more family-friendly as a matter of policy. At the same time, his offering a way for his student to continue her studies while taking care of her baby illustrates a sense of understanding and compassion our society needs more of.
Thank you, professor Littleton, for serving as an example and opening people's minds to what is possible.
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