Volume 5 Number 3
Supporting Parents Helps Children Thrive
by Nancy Duff
Although my husband and I are old enough to have kids in college (we’re old enough to have grandkids, for that matter), our children attend elementary and middle school. Of course, like most people whose lives seem to be following an independent path, we didn’t realize that by postponing marriage and children we were part of a national trend. It just seemed to us that we didn’t meet “the right” person until we were in our thirties and that we “weren’t ready” for children until a few years after that. (I turned 38 shortly after our daughter was born and was 40 by the time I gave birth to our son.) Whatever the pros and cons of being “slightly” older parents, David and I are grateful that we didn’t miss out on having kids altogether. Not everyone is called to be a parent, and no one should suffer criticism for choosing not to have children, but for us parenthood has been an unsurpassed blessing.
When I began teaching at Princeton Seminary in 1990, our daughter, McKinley, was a one-year-old. I will never forget that after telling Tom Gillespie that I was expecting a second baby, he granted my request for a reduced teaching and committee load for the following year without a moment’s hesitation. I will never forget that Barbara Gillespie, whom I did not know well, gave us a handmade baby quilt when Adam was born in the summer of 1991. Their generosity in sharing in the joy of our expanding family has been reflected in the PTS community many times over in the ten and a half years I have taught here. From the registrar, who scheduled my classes to accommodate my childcare needs when McKinley and Adam were preschoolers, to faculty members who did not complain when I left committee meetings early to pick up children from daycare, to students and staff who have befriended my children and followed their progress over the years, the PTS community has made the difficult task of juggling motherhood and seminary teaching not only a bit easier, but all the more enjoyable and rewarding.
Having already asked for and received so much from the Seminary community, I was very nervous when I wrote Tom Gillespie a letter a few years after Adam was born, telling him that David and I were seeking to adopt a third child. Surely the Seminary had accommodated us as a family beyond all reasonable expectations, and asking for further support as we sought to take on additional parental responsibilities would be perceived as simply asking for too much. But my nervousness proved unwarranted when I received a letter from Tom the next day, which began, “Thank you for sharing your wonderful news with me,” and inviting me to talk to him when the time came about a temporary adjustment in my teaching load. As it turns out, the adoption fell through, and we continue to be a happy family of four. But it is comforting to know that we would have received as much support for a third child as we have for our first two.
Of course, not everyone in the workplace is as fortunate as we have been. And even when attitudes in the workplace are as generous as they have been for us here, juggling work and family responsibilities can be overwhelming. The excellent childcare we found (and paid for) when our children were preschoolers gave us a hint of what it will cost to have two children in college! Snow days and sick days can ruin the best-laid plans for childcare; spring breaks, early dismissals, and holidays create nightmares for coordinating work and family schedules. My hope for Princeton Theological Seminary and for every workplace across the country is that the goodwill and grace that has been extended to us will develop into public policies that will make it possible for every mother and father to be a responsible parent while fulfilling responsibilities at work. In this year of celebration of children, let’s work to make the next national trend one that will support parents (whether young or “slightly” older) and that will help their children to thrive.
Nancy Duff is an associate professor of theological ethics at Princeton Seminary. She and her husband, David Mertz, are mom and dad to McKinley and Adam.
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