Babies at the work place

How reasonable is it, do you think, that a PhD student bring her young daughter into a work space where several other students study, two who share an office with the student? The person also brings her mother in with her, who cares for the child while the mother does PhD stuff.

I am struggling with the rights of the actors in this instance. On one hand, the rights of the parent to remain connected with her child when she comes into work, which, admittedly, is only one day a week, would seem fair and reasonable to all parents (and I am one). We strive to make workplaces family oriented and positive experiences for all, and I think that having one’s baby about should not necessarily preclude a student from working in her office. I remember as an undergraduate bringing my young baby in to uni classes before he started going to day care. No-one seemed to mind! And why should baby be kept away from her mother?

On the other hand, I am concerned about the rights of the other students to be able to access quiet, study-friendly zones that have been especially set aside for their study purposes. The attitude of some of the students is that the noise and general bother from the child caring arrangements means that they cannot get meaningful work done on that day. Many have taken to not coming in at all on a Wednesday, which seems unfair to those who have been given the space specifically so that they can work at university. The interference I can only equate with me playing music very loudly and without consideration for the other students, as if their needs are lesser than mine.

What, too, of the work the PhD student is doing? How efficient can she be when every ten minutes she is popping up from her desk to check on little Chloe or Sophie or whatever her name is?

I am annoyed that the child is here, making noise outside my room. However, I can shut my door. I can remove myself from the spaces she inhabits and work on my computer, and I can listen to my music in my headphones. I can make myself invisible. But what of those students who must, because of some random room allocation, share the space the child inhabits? How are their rights and needs being met? I could argue that as they have a child free space every other day that they could easily find other things to do on the one day the child is here, such as do research in the library, or some other useful thing. But what if they too have timetabling commitments that means the best day they have of writing might be on the day the child is there? What then?

And what recourse do they have to demand the space be child free? Are there appropriate rights and processes here within the university system that allow for the voices of each actor to be heard? Or is the minority voice the loudest? Is there a democratic and fair approach to this conundrum?


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