Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘working mom’

Work Life Balance – Other Stuff

HairdoneThe age-old woman’s issue: work-life balance. First, this is clearly not a “woman’s issue,” yet it is still labeled as such. Men make these choices, too. BUT, it feels different. I feel like, when I say I am leaving early to do a family-related activity, it is frowned upon, and I often do not reveal why I am leaving early. But, my male colleagues often use personal excuses for leaving early or not showing up to work and they seem fine with using these explanations.

Second, we have discussed many of the big work-life issues on this blog. For example: When should you have kids (see these blog posts: flexibility, grad school, pre/post tenure, postdoc)?  Should you take a job when you don’t have one for your spouse (see our posts on two-body problems: problems, surprisenegotiations)?

This weekend, I was thinking about the little work-life issues. Many of these issues are not about kids or family at all. Many times they concern myself – my personal well-being and how I don’t do things for myself because I am prioritizing work and other life choices first. I was thinking about it because I have been trying to dye my hair for about 2 weeks. The process takes about an hour, and I did not seem be be able to find that hour until today.  Here are some of the other things I prioritized over my personal activity: hanging out with my kids, making a figure for a paper, working on a grant report, writing this blog… You get the idea. And these other things are more important than dying my hair, so I was making the right choices, but I also want and need to dye my hair, too.

I always find the personal stuff hard to schedule and hard to prioritize such as hair, eye, dentist, and doctor appointments, or going to HR to fill out non-essential, but helpful, paperwork. Unless I am actually sick, I never go get regular check-ups. I should, but it seems like a waste of time. I go to the eye doctor once every 2-3 years and only because my glasses have broken and are hanging off my face.  I try to schedule a lot of this stuff in the summer, but that is also when I am busting my butt to get my papers out and get research done and traveling to conferences, so it still isn’t ideal. Are others like this? Am I a weirdo because I don’t keep my life on track?

I would think that it was just me except I have also been thinking back to my advisors, and I remember weird stuff coming out of their mouths. For instance, I had a graduate advisor who once told me that it was annoying when students (me, I was the only student) went to conferences because they not only missed 4-5 days from the lab for the conference, but they always had to leave early to do laundry and pack. My advisor also used to not go to the bathroom and do a sort of pee-pee dance. Maybe my advisor also didn’t want to waste time evacuating her bladder. I also had a postdoc advisor who told lab members that they should schedule dentist appointments on the weekends. I don’t even know any dentists who are open on the weekends.

So, maybe I was “raised” to be this way. I do try to be careful around my students so that I do not affect them the way I have been. I don’t want them to not go to the doctor or dentist. I don’t want them to not urinate because they feel they are wasting time. And I want to stop feeling that way, so I continue to fake it in the hopes that some day I will not feel weird about taking the time I need to clean my clothes and pack before a conference. (I am sure my fellow conference attendees also prefer I wash my clothes before the conference).

So, what about you? Do you have weird tendencies to be self-depriving spurned by an internal feeling that you are not working hard enough and still need to prove yourself? I do, clearly. I should say this is better after getting tenure. The removal of the feeling that you are going to lose your job if you don’t work hard enough hasn’t stopped me from working hard on science, but it has allowed me the freedom to go to the dentist. But, these feelings are clearly ridiculous. I try to stop them and “act normal.”

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Bad Mommy?

Travel-smallI did a lot of traveling last semester. Ironically, I had decided that I was going to take break on traveling and only do the really important and exciting stuff, but somehow I couldn’t say no. Part of it was flattery of my ego. Some of it was emotional blackmail. Over the semester, my HusbandOfScience, didn’t do as much travel and stayed home with the kids. It was a brutal winter full of snow storms and illnesses that resulted in many missed days from school. It was quite hard on HusbandOfScience.

As the old adage goes, “Payback is a Bitch,” and I am getting my just desserts this summer with his back-to-back travels. The kids’ illnesses haven’t yet subsided, despite being well into summer, although it is easier to cancel meetings than classes (thanks, summer!).

Sometimes I feel like I am a bad mommy. Let me give you some examples of my mommy-fails:

1. The baby: My youngest can’t sleep when HusbandOfScience is out of town. He wakes up every 2-4 hours even though, when HOS is in town, he can sleep through the night. I also have a hard time falling asleep without HOS next to me, so I go to bed late and get woken up a lot. I am a freaking zombie when HOS is out of town.

2. Groceries: I don’t know how to go grocery shopping. HOS does that chore and goes every week. He has a routine. He makes a list. When I go, I look like an idiot. I don’t know where things are in the store. I am juggling the scanner thing and the kids. I can’t find my superspecialsavershopper card for grocery discounts. I forget things.

3. Dinner: Another of HOS’s chores is dinner. We have a set menu every week to simplify things. You know, “Macaroni Monday,” Taco Tuesday,” “Whatever Wednesday” (that’s a bad one – can’t really ever figure out what to do there) “Pizza Thursday,” “Finger Food Friday.” I have no ability to organize dinner. I can’t get food to all come out at the same time or when anyone is actually hungry. This means the side dishes sit around while the meat parts take forever and I am chopping veggies for the salad. I always make way too much or way to little. And I burn things. I burn a lot of things. I often set off the fire alarm.

Sometimes, especially the public displays of missing mom parts (like the shopping), I feel like I am not a good mom because I don’t do ALL these things well. But, then I think that this must be how all families are – not just mine. Doesn’t every family have a division of labor where one person specializes in some chores or the other. Unfortunately, the split is especially pronounced and annoying when the other person travels. The traveling in academia can be crazy.

Thinking back, I realize that when I was a kid, the same thing happened. Both my parents worked, but my dad’s job was the only one that had travel associated with it. When my dad would go out of town, my mom made the craziest lunches. See, this was one of my dad’s jobs in the house – he made the lunches for school. When my dad was out of town, I would get crackers with peanut butter instead of a sandwich, no drink, and 3 moon pies in my lunch. It must have been difficult for my mom to get us out of the house. I wonder what other things happened that I never even noticed.

So, in the end, even though I feel like the house is falling down around me, my kids are sick, and I am getting no work done while my husband travels, I think it really isn’t so bad in the long run. Further, just because I don’t normally get groceries, cook dinner, or am the go-to parent for my child, doesn’t mean that I am not a good mom. It just means that when HOS travels I am a single parent, and these things are more difficult because I have to do them all. How do single moms do it?

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Working Mommy Equals Great Mommy

Mother holds Child

Mother holds Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was just visiting a nearby IvyLeageUniversity to give a seminar. I was asked to have lunch with students and sorta do a women’s mentoring lunch thing. I know some people find being asked to do these mentoring lunches strange or somehow unfair, but I don’t. There is no better way to change the social views of people than to convert the younger generations. We can talk more about this in other posts… but this post is about something that was brought up at the lunch.

Two of the lunchers were female postdocs who had children. They lamented that, even though they have husbands who could, and did, stay at home with their kids (awesome!) and/or their kids go to daycare, they feel *bad* about leaving their kids. I know exactly how they feel. In fact, just that morning, my child had a fever. I had already scheduled for several months to drive to IvyLeagueU, so I was not going to cancel. My HusbandOfScience took off the day to stay with our child – canceling all his meetings and getting someone to cover his class. My child was very sad when I left out the door. He was crying and wanted to hug me – a rare event since this child prefers Daddy. I felt very bad about having to leave and go to give this talk. Further, I also felt guilty about making my husband stay at home. I ended up leaving early to get back home – missing the opportunity to dine with my colleagues at ILU. This was an extreme circumstance, and has happened to male colleagues – in fact the man from ILU who invited me also left early when he came up to visit me at UofState. But, did he feel guilty about leaving early? Probably not.

In this post, I want to talk about why you should not feel bad about leaving your kids to have a career. In other posts, we can talk about the circumstances of having to stay home with sick kids and how you make those choices.

On a normal, daily basis, I don’t usually feel bad. I have several reasons or rationalizations to support my choice:

1. Daycare is better for my kids, personally. Just because you have kids and you are a smart person, say a Ph.D.-level scientist, does not mean you will be a good mother. Kids need different things at different stages of their development. I am not able to determine what I should be doing to educate my child at each of these stages. But, I send my child to a great daycare with awesome early-childhood educators that DO know what my child should be learning and working on. Thus, I feel like my children are better in the care of professional childcare experts, which I am not. Basically, the ability to have a child does not give you the power to be a great mom.

2. It is important to set an example. My mom worked full-time when I was a kid. I went to daycare, and I still knew my mom loved me and we had a lot of fun together. I know my mother felt guilty and bad about leaving us kids, but it turns out that she set a really great example for us. Because I knew she loved me and gave me a lot of attention, and was still able to have a career, I know I will be able to also be there for my children and also still have a career. In general, I feel like setting the example as a Career-Driven Mom is  important – especially for my own kids. I have a girl and a boy. For the girl, I hope to serve as an example for her personally. For the boy, I am hoping he brings home a significant other who is also a whole person.

3. Working moms are better for kids, in general. Recent studies have shown that children of working moms are just as emotionally healthy and capable as kids whose moms stay at home – if not more so (publicity with initial source material linked can be found here). I think these types of studies are important for women, who like my mom, felt a huge guilt about having a job. My mom made a lot more money than my dad and was in a technical field, although not an academic, so her working was essential for our family to have a good life – a house, cars that run, and the ability to move to neighborhoods that set us in good schools. By increasing the income level for our family, she set me up to have a better life – better access to education, which I fully utilized.

All choices in life require a cost-benefit analysis. For me, being a mom and having a career has way more benefits for my kids than costs. I spend time with my kids every day (as long as I am not traveling) and all weekend. The time is fun because I try to pay a lot of attention to them – and not work and especially not cleaning the house, etc… I hire people to clean the house and do the gardening, so I have more time with the family. We have more money to go on vacations and have a nice house in a good school district. I follow the principles set forth my by parents that the kids school and well-being takes precedent over my comfort. If I had to, I would drive 1 hour to work in order to live in a good school district. Luckily, I don’t have to.

So how do you feel? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel liberated? How can we all feel liberated? Post or comment.

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