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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABCs and PhDs: Small Bites
September 3, 2008 - 8:59am

My baby started kindergarten last week. Well, she’s actually five, and very ready for kindergarten, but she’s my youngest. I’ve been anticipating this for months now, with some trepidation. I haven’t so much been worried about her experience; I know the school and the teachers and I know she’ll enjoy it once she settles in. But I’ve had the creeping feeling of increasing pressure as I advance towards a time when it feels harder to call myself a full-time mom. In the past six months so many people have wondered to me: “What will you do with so much time on your hands once both your children are in school full days?” (Kindergarten in Maryland is no longer half-day).

I have enough passion for my research and writing projects and art projects and school projects and organizing projects that I can easily keep myself busy all day for years and years. I’ve been squeezing research and writing into every bit of down time I can find since my kids were born. And yet, last spring, with the seeming gape of empty days ahead of me, and with many of my parenting friends with upcoming kindergarteners making plans to return to their careers, worry set in. Once again, I felt a need to explain: yes, in fact I enjoy pursuing my career as a scholar at home, a non-traditional academic who has chosen to put parenting before traditional career, and I am vital, thinking, working. However now, rather than the immediate needs of a newborn or preschooler behind my choice, I have the somewhat vaguer (but to me no less pressing, and much more complicated) needs of grade-schoolers and their school.

Then this summer, a longtime colleague at the neighboring university offered me a flexible, part time research position (soft money) to start this fall. I was amazed. Here is a job, right in my neck of the woods, that found me to do work weirdly similar to the specialized research I did as a graduate student (can you turn such fortune down?) I labored over the decision of what seemed like abandoning my “non-traditional” career and returning to my past. Admittedly, it was a fun past, but have I moved on?

Call it insecurity: I ultimately succumbed and accepted. Part of the reasoning behind my “yes” was the small commitment, 10 hours a week – at this, I’ll give it a try. Part of it was the lure of a paid position. In addition to adding to family income, which is nice, it’s an endorsement: after years of balancing parenting and my non-lucrative, non-traditional academic projects I’m employable! And, maybe part of it was the promise of my own new laptop, since I’ve been limping along on my husband’s old one…

Don’t get me wrong – the job itself sounds fun and exciting. It carries no retirement or health benefits or security, but that’s kinda what you get when you drop the tenure track route and go for the freedom of flexibility. But for me right now the unspecified benefits make it worth trying. It does a nice trick of giving me an acceptable title: research faculty. At the same time, it allows me to stay committed to the research projects I’ve started at home, and may enhance my private work by giving me access to facilities (libraries, technical advice and other things you take for granted), which I haven’t had for years. Finally, importantly, it gives me the chance to spend a large number of my hours with my kids and to work in their school – jobs I love and value.

Maybe you can “have it all”, you just have to take small bites? Or maybe I’m clinging to the known of my past, and spreading myself thin. I’ll let you know how it works out.



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