This has been the week of strep. It’s been passing through our house. The strep, in combination with birthday parties, school performances, homework, the washing machine breaking, and all my final grading has left me exhausted. So, when a student came to me with her long sob story of why she can’t get in her final paper because of all her personal problems/drama, I was just not interested. I mean, I’ve spent the past week cleaning up vomit (did I mention the washing machine is broken?), but you don’t see me refusing to turn in my final grades because of my problems. This made me think, and not for the first time: was I a more empathetic professor before I had kids?
My class and I read the works of Sara Ruddick and discussed the potential essentialism inherent in her notion of maternal thinking. We questioned whether being a mother could make someone more likely to negotiate peace. Now, I wonder if being a mother can also drain you of your extra maternal reserves? Investor Paul Tudor Jones received much criticism for his assertion that mothers can’t be traders because they lack focus. I do not think I lack focus in my job. I think, however, that I have a larger perspective on what really matters. Before I was a mother, I would have sat and listened to the student’s problems and offered all kinds of advice. I probably would have been emailing the student all semester to remind her to stay on top of her work. Now, the students are just one more component of my life triage system, and they don’t always make the top tier. In fact, my own husband often doesn’t make the top tie. Yet, maybe less empathy is a form of “tough love” and encourages personal responsibility that may be better for students.
Perhaps what Jones sees as a lack of focus is really mothers’ ability to multi-task, and by default, forces others to do so as well. Of course, I do not have time to ponder this insight, as I have to get ready for my summer class, locate a size-7 solid yellow shirt for the class show, discuss whether sharks have consciousness with my 8 year old, and most important, find someone to let me borrow their washing machine.