The “2+n Body” Problem: Sabbatical planning with kids

If you follow Ethan (@ethanwhite) or I (@skmorgane) on twitter, you are probably aware that we are on sabbatical right now out at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (go, tarheels!) along with our pre-school aged daughter. Anyway a tweet of mine recently elicited a post request:



So, as requested, here are some things to think about when you have 2 academics plus child(ren). This is just my experience, so hopefully others will pop up with their own.

1)      Check institutional rules: I received tenure a couple years before Ethan. So for us to take sabbatical together, I needed to delay my sabbatical until he was eligible. I have heard that not all institutions allow you to do this. I also know that there are some departments that don’t guarantee that academic spouses can take sabbatical at the same time. Neither of these applied to us, but you should check your faculty code and talk to your Department Head. Do this well in advance.

2)      Picking a spot: This is the chance for both of you to recharge, explore new ideas, and gear up for another productive 7 years. It’s important that you find someplace that will work for both of you. We initially planned on going to Europe for sabbatical, but places that were awesome for one of us, had fewer opportunities for the other. That’s part of the reason we ended up in the Research Triangle. We both have a colleague we really like working with here and there’s lots of great people in both of our areas of interest.

3)      Finding a Daycare: Many universities have websites to help their faculty find quality daycare. Website quality varies, so check out the daycare websites for all the higher ed institutions in your sabbatical area. I used Duke’s very helpful website that told me about the North Carolina accrediting system and provided basic information about daycares in the area that they had partnered with. I used it and the State of North Carolina’s childcare facility search site to generate a list of daycare’s that fit our search criteria (type of daycare, location, accreditation, costs). I also poured over reviews in Yelp and Angie’s List and scoured daycare websites to generate a list of about 10 places. We applied to all of them. Most of them either never got back to us or told us we had little chance of getting in. But we did have 3 that offered us a slot and a choice is a nice thing to have.

4)      Daycare timing – contacting: Honestly, we probably waited too long on this. For an August arrival, we started contacting daycares in June. We’re happy with the daycare we got into, but I probably should have started the process earlier so that we were further up in the waiting lists.

5)      Daycare timing – start: The other thing to consider is when your child will start relative to when you will be arriving. We had two and half weeks between when we arrived and the earliest date our daughter could start. Because we were juggling a variety of things (renters moving into our house, going to ESA, grant deadlines), we didn’t have a lot of ability to either shorten or lengthen that. But I think it worked well. Our daughter had time to get comfortable with her new home before also being tossed into a new daycare situation. Besides, it gave us time to actually visit the new daycare before she started to make sure all of us were happy with it.

6)      Housing: Colleagues at UNC forwarded us some sabbatical home ads, but we eventually found one we liked on  Many of the homes are furnished and being rented by other academics. We had our good friend (and sabbatical host) check out our home to make sure it wasn’t next door to a crack den. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have someone to ask, then there are some resources on the web that can help you figure out the crime rate of your prospective neighborhood, though you may need to subscribe to get access to fine scale info (e.g.,

So, in < 1000 words, that’s what I could think to convey. We also spent a lot of time selling the positives of the “really big trip” and making sure she understood that we would be coming home at the end. I suspect there are additional complexities when kids are K-12, but hopefully someone will comment with advice. Finally, this post is aimed at people moving for their sabbatical. In this modern world, moving to a different location may not be feasible for a long list of reasons. If someone has advice for making the most of conducting sabbatical at your home institution, I suspect it would find an eager audience.

Happy planning and feel free to leave a comment if I didn’t cover something you wanted to hear about or you have stuff to add!

5 Comments on “The “2+n Body” Problem: Sabbatical planning with kids

  1. I am a sabbatical kid. I spent second grade in Mexico City, 8th grade in London, and 12th grade in Geneva (Switzerland). I got put in local schools, learned Spanish young which primed me for other languages. I loved the sabbatical years and also loved getting home. I think it is great for kids to go early to other countries if you can swing it. Personally, I have a hard time imagining leaving my lab group for that long. They would be fine, but these are some of my favorite people in the world, so I don’t look forward to leaving them for long.

  2. My advisor and his academic spouse always traveled somewhere on sabbatical with their kids. He was very positive about it. I’m hoping our child looks forward to sabbaticals as much as you did as a child!

    He also did 1 semester sabbaticals every 3.5 years, which made is easier on the lab group. I think they were actually good experiences for us to practice a little self-reliance. Of course, with the modern web, its harder for advisors to just disappear, especially if they (and the students) are both on Twitter!

  3. Having moved twice already (and likely doing a third move within the next year) with a year with a <5 year old:

    (1) National organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredit centers, so you can be more certain of the quality of the place ahead of time.

    (2) You should put your name on childcare waiting lists *as soon as you suspect* you might be going somewhere. Wait lists are typically very long at the best and most affordable places — especially for younger kids. (We were on one for 3 years and another for over 1.5 years.) If you can't put your name in at least a year in advance (I'm serious), then you need to up your chances by applying to multiple places. At six months, consider at least five places. At one month, you're looking at a dozen.

    (3) If at all possible, you really, really should go check out the center before starting your kid there. For our last move, we took a short 2.5-day trip (all of us) to our new area about three months ahead of the move; we split up and my husband looked at housing, while my son and I toured daycare centers. It made everything a lot smoother when we got here.

    (4) I second Morgan's advice about a buffer time for the kiddo(s) of 2-4 weeks where they can get used to the new house without having to also go to a new daycare at the same time. We did it by necessity the first move and by design the second move. Everyone will be happier. Also, if you can, introduce your kid to the new place slowly. One way is to start in the middle of the week (say Wednesday or Thursday), so those first difficult days are followed quickly by the weekend. Another way is to gradually increase the time spent at daycare. Maybe just a couple hours the first day(s). Then just the morning. Then early pick-up. Then full day.

  4. Pingback: Friday links: in praise of “token” women, solving the two body problem, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  5. I love the idea of sabbaticals (and other fellowship opportunites) with kids, but as a recent ex-postdoc, now finally in a permanent job, my children have already moved from pillar to post repeatedly for my job (three cities in five years), I can’t see them being enthusiastic about another short term move. Timing is everything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: