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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: 'I Want Both'
September 22, 2011 - 6:11pm

As readers of my column here know, I like to start my entries out by providing a “hook” from either math or economics, and then relating it to some aspect of parenting as a professor. Usually it is easy to choose which topic to use. Today, however, I am following the lead of my daughter, who, when faced with two good options, will often say “I want both.” For today, I cannot choose between writing about “randomness” or about “Venn Diagrams”, as both are equally appropriate for what I want to say.

Randomness deals with the variation found in nature and society, and is central to the work I do with statistics. It acknowledges the fact that not everyone is exactly the same, and that differences will be found between observations of people and behavior. Without randomness, there would be no subject of statistics (or, by extension, econometrics), since everything would be exactly predicted. I thought of this recently when I read two comments on this column, one from a woman who is the parent of a young child and is deep in the middle of her “poop scooping” (her words) days. My colleague Libby Gruner did an excellent job of reflecting on her own days of caring for an infant, and offered some encouragement. Her column was met with yet another thought, this time from a woman who is a single mother, who asked if any of the writers on this column are single parents. I know that some of them are, but she was particularly frustrated that she did not see herself reflected by them in this forum.

This is where I began to think of randomness, and of the fact that not everyone is exactly the same, and how it relates to what I write here. I know that I can’t speak for those whose teach at “R1” universities, as I teach four (different) classes each semester at a small Catholic women’s college, doing as much research as I can under those constraints. Further, I am an adoptive mother, so I don’t know firsthand the realities of bringing a crying infant home from the hospital. I have been very lucky in my academic career; when it was clear I would not get tenure at my first job, I was lucky to find another job quickly, one that better matches my personality. And my attempt at tenure at my first job was quickly detoured by an illness that could have (and probably should have) killed me, or, in the least, left me bankrupt, neither of which happened. My own path to Mama, Ph.D. has been, then, rather nonlinear, and definitely a study in the fact that not everyone is the same.

This is where I think of Venn Diagrams. They are those pictures of overlapping circles that show where groups share things in common. I think of these because I am convinced that all mothers share many characteristics, regardless of their own status of privilege at the moment. When our children cry at 2:30 AM, we are all in their room in seconds to comfort them. And when they are under attack in any way, we all turn into the “mother lion” to defend them. We all drive ourselves to exhaustion to help them become the people they can become, and we all dream great dreams for their future. While we may not share the same characteristics at any moment, I believe that the characteristics we share as mothers are greater than those that divide us. Which is why, despite my atypical path to motherhood, I continue to write for this blog column.

I recall one student I had years ago. She became a mother as a teenager, and as a young woman she and her child lived with her own parents. As a mother, she was, obviously, very different from me. Still, one day, when I really needed encouragement, she was there to give it to me, making me feel like I might be able to do this parenting thing, after all. A doctor today, I am sure is just as encouraging to her patients as she was to me in those blurry early days of being a mother.

I recognize that those who are different from me need to be able to see themselves in these columns. Therefore I propose the following; if you read blog columns that do not exactly reflect your reality, feel free to add comments that will help us all to understand another aspect of motherhood, from your own perspective. And as for me, I will be sure to read them and try to incorporate them into future columns. I can’t write as anyone other than the person I am, but I can listen to and respect the wonderful diversity that gives flavor to the common, overlapping experience of being called “mommy.”

 

 

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