Dear STFU Parents,
I recently completed my PhD debt-free and was lucky enough to get an academic job. I’m finding that some of my friends who have kids want to compare child-rearing to getting a PhD. They insist on saying things like, “My baby is my PhD”, “Raising children is much harder than getting a doctorate”, “Oh you think you’ve worked hard? Wait till you have a kid.” Some of these comments also come from women who dropped out of graduate school to raise families, a choice I support and understand. I don’t really want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but I’m not sure these are fair comparisons, specifically because these are completely different life goals/experiences. How do I shut down these comments without being a snob?
Dr. Prof. Fed Up
First of all, congratulations on such a monumental accomplishment and on completing it debt-free! If there’s anyone who’s earned the right to be a snob sometimes, it’s people who have finished their Ph.D.s. That’s not to say I support someone’s desire to hold a Ph.D. just so they can justify their snobbery, but in this instance, I get it.
You’re listening to friends compare apples to oranges — except the apples are “babies” and the oranges are “a degree that takes the average student 8.2 years to complete” — and you’re wondering how the hell parents feel entitled to say such things, much less think such things, and why they should be able to get away with it. You worked your ass off for years to get this degree, and the last thing you need to hear is some cloying comparison to having a baby.
This is a topic that’s been debated before, particularly around 2010 when parents started writing never-ending listicles that compared having a baby to everything from “being in a frat house” to “being in combat.” Anyone else remember the “having a baby is not like being in combat” controversy of 2011 or whatever? Trust me, it was big news on the internet for at least a few days, and it inspired many a hot take. Why? Well, because having a baby is actually like having a baby, and nothing like going to war. Do soldiers sip coffee out of stainless steel thermoses while pushing $700 strollers across the desert? Do they “nap when the enemy is napping”? Are they lucky enough to be recipients of gluten-free meal trains? No.
It’s always insulting when parents of young children imply that no one is as tired as they are, but it’s especially irritating when they say it to people who are working to make the world a better, smarter, safer, more educated and healthier place to live. “Raising the next generation” is hard, to be sure, but rocket science is harder. Being in combat is harder. And yes, getting a Ph.D. is harder.
How do I know? For one thing, “according to U.S. Census 2013 data, 1.68 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have a Ph.D. This equates to approximately 2.5 million people.” Compare that to the percentage of mothers in the U.S., which is over 40 million. This is why you struggle to make sense of your friends’ jokes/observations/passive-aggressive comparisons — because there truly is no comparison.
You feel special because you have a Ph.D., and let me tell you, you are special because you have a Ph.D.! If your friends who happen to be moms can’t absorb those statistics and admire you for achieving this academic goal, then maybe they’re not the greatest friends to have. The upside is you’ll probably meet even more people in academia who can relate to this now that you’re diving into your career. The downside is you don’t want to have tension with your friends, and yet you feel understandably disrespected each time your milestone is disregarded or compared to parenthood.
I’m sure you can relate to these examples, Dr. Prof., and it helps to know you’re not alone. I think you should ask yourself what you think the women in these examples should have said to their “friends” when they made these statements. Do you think they were within their rights to snap back? I do.
But the thing about having a Ph.D. means you can choose your responses thoughtfully, with precision. You know you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. You’ve already proven so much to yourself. But if you do decide to say something, maybe you should reframe your remarks as “jokes” and give your friends a taste of their own medicine. Instead of saying, “You know, getting a Ph.D. is a hell of a lot harder than having a baby,” you can say, “I guess it makes sense that your baby is your Ph.D. I know if I had a baby right now, I’d have to defend my reasons for having one every single day!” (ZING!) I assure you if you say that, your friend will recognize that having a baby and getting a Ph.D. are nothing alike.
You can also just be honest and say, “I know it might not look like it, but getting a Ph.D. is harder than learning how to use a nasal aspirator.” Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, even if it makes you look “bitchy.” Some moms have a way of looking down on women who haven’t yet had or don’t want to have kids, and that condescension shouldn’t be excused, even if it stems from feelings of personal insecurity. Society already tells women that their No. 1 goal in life should be to have babies, so the last thing a hardworking academic like you needs, Dr. Prof., is a “friend” who isn’t willing to acknowledge your non-baby-related feats.
That being said, don’t discount the potential sanctimommies you’ll come across in your job, either. They exist, and they are very proud of themselves.
“Almost up there with childbirth” is Celinda’s way of saying, “Nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare to the intensity of childbirth.” And perhaps that’s true, if we’re comparing apples to oranges. Just remember, Dr. Prof., that even if you continue to encounter women who either downplay your skill set or brag on themselves for “having it all,” you don’t need their approval or even their well wishes. With or without them, you completed your Ph.D. debt-free and have a job in academia. And the next time someone has the audacity to tell you that “raising children is much harder than getting a doctorate,” I give you full permission to take a deep breath, look that person square in the eye and confidently say, “No, it isn’t.” There really isn’t a contest since each of these things requires different types of mental and physical stamina, but since your friends are acting like it’s a contest… who says you can’t win?
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