• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Academic Parent Triathlon

New Olympic competitions.


August 11, 2016

Triangular numbers are numbers that can be arranged into equilateral triangles. For example, the number three can form such a triangle with two dots on the base and one on the top, yielding three sides each with two elements in them. I found myself thinking of this recently when I thought of the “triathlon” competitions in the Olympics. In particular, I thought of an alternative triathlon that might be held in the area of trying to achieve parental “work-life” balance.

I was amused at a column in IHE this past week in which possible “games” were proposed for those of us in academics. With sports ranging from “grant deadline rush” to “saving expensive chemicals,” there was also one listed as “work-life balance.” This one spoke to me, as I am an academic who is also trying to succeed as a mother. Just as there are sub-categories of swimming, such as the “freestyle,” the “backstroke” and the “relay,” I realized that there could be different categories of “events” that could make up the work-life balance competitions. This got me thinking about how such sub-competitions that could be arranged into a triathlon specifically designed for academic parents. And so, here are a few of my suggestions for the Parental division of the work-life balance events in the Olympics. I certainly welcome any other ideas that might be added to this event.

First, there is the competition to get our children out the door in the morning, looking somewhat appropriate. This is made a little easier for those whose children go to school in a uniform, so those parents are deducted a few points from the starting gate. Extra points go to anyone who wants a teenager to dress in a way that their grandparents would approve of.

Next, there is the competition to take care of the household chores, from cooking dinner to keeping the house acceptably clean. Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying that “my idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance,” and I must say that I bring about as much enthusiasm to housework as she does.  However, like grading weekly quizzes, it is an important element of being an academic parent, especially if we ever want our children’s friends to ever come over to visit.

Finally, there is the competition for helping our children develop a love for learning. If we are strong at anything, this should be the portion of the competition that is easiest for us. It involves helping with homework without giving away answers, no matter how much they beg for them, and reading books with them that we loved as children, even when they don’t seem interested. This competition requires always remembering that our children are different people than we are, and that they may have different talents and interests. I remember the year that we gave my daughter a both a copy of “Little Women” and tickets to a basketball game played by the (now champion) Cavaliers. You can imagine which gift she showed the most appreciation for.

And when is this event over? It never is, really. After a hug good night, the day starts again tomorrow, with more food to buy and more messes to clean up. And more love to share with the most important people in the world.



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