Laura Tropp's blog

Assessment Report

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In the spirit of what I have labeled “The Month of Assessment,” here is my personal assessment report:

A Work-Life Balance Assessment Report

Goals:

Goal 1: Demonstrate to my children my devotion to them

Goal 2: Demonstrate to my College my commitment to them

Goal 3: Achieve work-life balance by accomplishing both Goal 1 and Goal 2 concurrently.

 

Scale: 1:Does not meet goals ; 2: Approaches goals 3: Meets goals ; 4: Exceeds goals

Analysis

The evaluator used three “work-life balance projects” for assessment of these goals. These three assignments were chosen because the nature of the assignment allowed for assessment of one or more aspect of the goals using different techniques. The first “project” was the bringing of evaluator’s child to her workplace to attend a special event. This project received a grade of 2.5. The evaluator was able to achieve the goal of demonstrating to the College a commitment by attending the event. The evaluator was also able to show child devotion by taking child to event. Yet, event was not until the evening, so in order to fill the rest of the day, child was needed to be given ice cream and additional Minecraft time in order to allow evaluator to attend meetings. Evaluator was unable to focus on major reports and projects and therefore was unable to complete some projects planned for that day. In addition, two other children left at home with babysitter were upset that they were not a part of said outing. Thus, while evaluator approached goal, there was still lacking in achieving either Goal 1 or Goal 2.

The second project involved bringing work home. Evaluator stayed home during a bad weather day and conducted conference meetings throughout the day. This goal received a score of 1.9. The evaluator was able to demonstrate some level of work commitment and did conduct all meetings. However, the next day, several people at evaluator’s office commented that they have been seeing too much of the person virtually as opposed to in real life. This comment seemed to imply that evaluator was not demonstrating enough commitment to work by not being physically present. In addition, children felt ignored throughout the day, which seemed heightened by an ability to see parent who could not talk to or even acknowledge children’s presence during video conference calls.

The final project was comprised of two mini projects, where evaluator tried to ignore all work at home and all children at work. This goal received a score of 1.5.  While the evaluator was able for a period of time to ignore all child-related activities at work, an emergency allergy situation (which turned out to be not that much of an emergency) did disrupt the flow, which led evaluator to spend much of the rest of the day thinking about allergies, remembering that she needed to set follow-up appointments for all children, and then researching differences in various allergy medicines. The second mini-project, which involved ignoring all work during the day, was also disrupted when work called evaluator’s cellphone (which was ignored for first two calls) to report an emergency at work that needed attention (which turned out to be not that much of an emergency). Evaluator then was distracted by additional work that she had to attend to and was a distraction from “day of fun with kids” (which was already not fun, as it involved haircuts and children’s dentist appointments). Distracted evaluator accidently left behind child’s free dental gift at diner, and youngest child was distraught for the rest of the day. Evaluator then was forced to find emergency substitute gift.

Discussion

The evaluator had laudable goals. However, the outcomes were not all clearly measurable. First, what defines “devotion”? Can devotion truly be measured? If measurement is by the amount of time children seem happy during the day, then the outcomes clearly failed. Yet, what is “happy”? Does hourly happiness matter as much as long-term happiness? In addition, this led to the question of what is commitment? Is commitment measured in terms of physical presence or the completion of tasks? If it is measured in terms of completion, then the goals were more likely to be achievable.

 

Action Plan

The above assessment demonstrates that there is room for improvement for evaluator to achieve a desirable level of work-life balance. The evaluator considers the following:

1. Buy additional toys to keep in office that can occupy children
2. Buy additional toys that can suffice to substitute when other toys are lost
3. Stop trying to achieve work-life balance
4. Reconsider definitions of happiness, commitment, and devotion
5. Take a year-long academic leave to try a new work-life balance between children and publishing

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Motherhood and Media

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Last week, in advance of Mother’s Day, I gave the keynote address at the Museum of Motherhood’s Annual Conference. In the talk, I looked at the representation of motherhood and feminism in popular culture over the past year. I thought I would use this column to share some of what I have found.

The helicopter mom continues to be a major motherhood stereotype represented in the media. In some ways, the Helicopter Mom is an extreme response to the New Momism, identified years ago by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. However, we also are starting to see the emergence of a backlash to the helicopter mom in the form of jokes and posts from mothers who recognize the toll it takes to live up to the ideal of the perfect mom. At the same time, newer studies have come out warning of the dangers of helicopter parenting.

Attempts to achieve a successful work/life balance have continued to occupy media time, with attention this year focused on the role of corporations in providing incentives and policies for more flexible parental leave. Yet, the complicated picture of actually convincing parents to take this leave still seems to be problematic: the worry of losing a promotion or being downsized often prevents employees from taking advantage of these benefits.

In continuing the conversation of all of the extra work demands placed on mom, Melinda Gates launched the Time Poverty movement. This seems an extension of The Second Shift, first explored in great detail by Arlie Hochschild. Gates differentiates her program by examining how the demands of work change based on location and access to resources. Therefore, she puts forward the idea that the solution to time poverty will be different for different women.

While the physical labor of women was recognized, this year the popular press also began to explore the emotional labor of women. They face the burden of the mental anxiety and energy that raising children demands. In the academy, The Slow Professor argued for a radical shift in how we frame work as faculty members.

Fathers were acknowledged this year in a new Super Bowl campaign featuring famous sports dads doing their daughter’s hair.

White privileged was explored by some, but when a women of color was arrested for leaving her children in a food court (though she could still see them) so she could go on a much-needed job interview, she was widely criticized.

Finally, Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that Leaning In was harder than she thought, particularly as a single mom.

This year-in-review made me think about the areas where issues surrounding motherhood and work-life balance received recognition and where it still remains hidden. The ability of personal stories to take the place of examining deeper structural issues continues to be a problem. Motherhood and fatherhood also remain the focus of much of the “light news,” so stories about NFL players doing their daughters’ hair takes up more room than more complex stories about race, fatherhood, and privilege. What were your “favorite” stories of Motherhood in the media this past year?

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When You Can’t Check Your Privilege at the Door

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When the faculty at my college voted to add in a general education requirement to incorporate issues of race and ethnicity, I saw it as an opportunity to have my Motherhood class fit into this requirement; I could use this as a chance to make the class not just about motherhood issues but about understanding them within the lenses of race, class, and identity.

I approached this project with much enthusiasm, the same way that I have developed all my classes in my over fifteen years of teaching. I consulted with other faculty, found new readings, and developed new exercises. I made sure that race, class, and ethnicity were not simply topics to explore but infused throughout the class. I checked my privilege (white, straight, middle-class woman) and tried to account for how that may frame my choice of materials or discussion. By the first week of class, I was excited and ready to go.

Things went well for the first day, when we mostly talked about what we were going to do in class. I have to admit that this was the high point of the semester. I’m now a few weeks away from the end of the semester, and I have to admit that much of my efforts to bring race and ethnicity into the classroom were at best challenging and at worse, an utter disaster. Halfway through the semester, I gave out an anonymous survey (encouraged by my institution) where I received proof that most (if not all) of the students felt the same way about the class.

I then had to mourn the class I wanted to have, versus the one that I had. I first blamed the surveys and the administration for encouraging me to give out the survey. How dare they encourage me to distribute a survey designed to find out that the climate of the class is not going well but then not have any resources to show me how to fix it? I blamed the students, too, for not being able to have a constructive conversation about race. I blamed myself for ruining a perfectly good class by trying to tackle tough subjects. A colleague (and a full glass of wine) calmed me down, and I used the spring break to try to figure out how to rethink the class and salvage the second half of the semester.

I found many colleagues, inside and outside my institution, to talk with about the class, and we have come up with a set of new strategies. To make this class work, I’ve had to shift much of my teaching style. I can no longer be as open-ended as I was. I’ve had to guide more of the discussion. I’ve had to tell students they were wrong (gently). I’ve had to discourage people from offering their opinions without a connection to class concepts and readings. I’ve had to find more specific and focused examples.

Slowly, it’s working. But, I’ve found out some interesting things. First, I can’t simply check my privilege at the door of the classroom. Acknowledging I’m white doesn’t change me from being a white woman trying to talk about race to a classroom full of students who have either experienced racism or not. I’ve also had to learn to change my expectations for this class and myself, including being okay with feeling uncomfortable for both me and the students.

This isn’t the class I had hoped to achieve, but it’s the class I have. I’m not going to be able to learn how to teach a class about race and ethnicity and motherhood overnight, and it may take years before the class functions the way I mean it to. But, I haven’t given up. Last week, we talked about how single motherhood is framed differently for mothers of color, and the students were able to discuss it without the classroom becoming filled with what students described as an “uncomfortably bad vibe.” My best moment was with another class, where I realized that that the skills I’m learning were adaptable to other content, and I was able to introduce a discussion of race into a topic that previously did not have that component. They were first-year students, and by the time they take my motherhood class in their senior year, it’s going to better.

Have you struggled with adapting your classes to have more inclusive discussions? What strategies have worked for you?

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When You Can’t Check <br>Your Privilege at the Door

My Life as an Instant Challenge

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My son has been participating as a member of a team for Destination Imagination. It’s a pretty interesting organization, which I think of as a kind of sports league for geeks, culminating in a giant nerd Olympics (being a nerd myself, this is something I can get behind).

As a part of this activity, they compete in “Instant Challenges,” where they might be given a couple of straws, mailing labels, craft sticks, and a tissue, and have to work together in a short amount of time to engineer a bridge or tower or autonomous drone (I made that last one up myself). Or, they might be given a hybrid challenge, where they improvise a performance incorporating a supplied scenario and materials. My husband is volunteering as one of the team coaches, and he came home this weekend exhausted from the mental energy of watching over the kids as they practiced the challenges.

I have to say that, while fifty percent of me was sympathetic, the other half was thinking how much of my daily life as a mother, professor, and administrator can be described as a series of instant challenges.

Need to persuade four children out of an indoor hotel pool so you can be on time for an event? That takes strong improvisational skills. A child hurts her foot in the middle of a party, and you have to find a way to calm her while creating a substitute for a bandage out of cocktail napkins and stamps? Instant challenge. Students in your class switch from a respectful debate to personal attacks on each other over a heated topic? It’s an Instant Challenge incorporating key improvisational and problem solving skills. I’m sure most jobs have tasks where these skills come in handy, but I think mothering and teaching have to be near the top of the list.

I think this is why watching reality programs often can be so engaging. Watching Top Chef is more than enjoying a cooking completion; its appealing to me as a mom who has to engage in her own battle after coming home from work to prepare a healthy dinner with little time and random ingredients, all with the knowledge that much of it will be rejected by critics (my kids) as soon as I finish. In some ways it’s cathartic to watch contestants who think they have so much at stake, but you know it’s little compared with your own life of daily instant challenges.

When my son began this activity, I wondered how much it would help provide him with useful skills. Now, I’m wondering whether instant challenges shouldn’t be a part of all children’s curriculum? Surely, being forced to be a part of a team with people who think differently from you and learning to solve random problems with limited time and tools at your disposal might be the best way to prepare for a lifetime of work and family life that often are their own set of instant challenges.

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The Membership Economy and School Lunches

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I set up one of those school lunch accounts for my children. I did this at the beginning of the school year, and now every time they want to buy lunch or purchase a snack, they can just give their names at the register.

I was happy with the efficiency of this system and did not think much of it until I started receiving these “low balance” notices pretty regularly regarding my son’s account. This was during the semester, so I didn’t have a chance to deal with the situation. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only deal with things that reach “crisis” level mid-semester. A low balance on a lunch account doesn’t rise to that level, so I authorized the service to keep refilling the card and moved on to student problems, administrative messes, and grading. 

Anyway, during the wonderful time between fall and spring semesters, or during pauses mid-semester, like Spring Break, when many other people seem to be on vacation, I use this time to catch up on doctor’s appointments for neglected health care or to revisit those problems that had not met the threshold of crisis and I’ve been ignoring.

Well, it turns out that my son has been buying all sorts of food with his new “credit account.” In addition to lunch (and sometimes he bought more than one lunch at a time -- why would a school let a child buy more than one lunch? Do they think he’s on some kind of lunch date?), he’s bought snacks (I can imagine him shouting , “A round of Sunchips for the table on me.”) and treats and drinks and so on.

I went to him accusingly, starting off by ranting that, even if we put aside the health implications here (the break isn’t that long; I have to stay on topic), this is a financial irresponsibility. He looked at me completely puzzled.

He replied that he thought he was doing exactly as he was supposed to do. He said that I got him a lunch membership, so he was just maximizing his use of it.

I explained that this wasn’t a “membership,” but an account, and each time he purchased something, money was withdrawn from that account. He asked, so it’s not like Netflix, where you can get as many movies as you want? No. He asked, what about Apple Music, where he can listen to as many songs as he wants? No. What about Amazon Prime, where he can watch as many shows as he wants, or Hulu? I’m like no and no. And then it hit me that he really didn’t understand what I meant because he lives in a Membership Economy, and I’m trying to explain a system that involves spending money for each item.

I’ve already noticed that my children have a different understanding of money than I do on a practical level. They hardly ever see me use cash, as I charge most purchases. Now, I hardly even need the physical credit card anymore because my phone has taken over that function. In fact, when I was trying to teach my daughter how to make change, it took me a while to actually find some coins. Her experience wasn’t happening organically like it did for me. I recognize that many people do not have adequate access to credit, but for those who do, how is the concept of money changing?

In The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron Lieber discusses the responsibility parents have to teach children about money, and he offers useful techniques to do so. I’m wondering, though, whether technology and media industries are working against parents in this area. As physical money (and now credit cards) disappear, and as more industries realize that memberships are their way of ensuring profitability and control, how will we teach children about ownership, expenses, and the cost of consumption? For my son, purchasing more items made economic sense under a membership model in which he thought he was participating, but not so under what was in fact a consumer model.

If the Maker Movement is about teaching people how to retrieve the lost art of building and creating, do we need a similar program for children to teach the concept of money and purchasing?

In the meantime, maybe next year I will return to the good old days of having my son bring in lunch money. Sure, it’s another thing for both of us to remember in the morning, but it may just teach him a concept for a lifetime.

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The Membership Economy <br>and School Lunches

Efficiency, Humanness, and How I Made my Morning Routine Longer

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I recently read this post in The New York Times about Charles Duhigg, who was working on his book Smarter Faster Better that focuses on productivity in life and business. The author cites the example of using “The Five Whys” philosophy rooted in Toyota’s production practices to become more efficient in his own home. In this piece, he was writing about his desire to have dinner with his family, but his and his wife’s work always kept them from coming home at a decent hour. Applying these “Why” principles and “working the problem” helped them realize that, if they could change their nighttime routine to have their kids pick out their clothes for the next day, they could make better use of their morning time, which would end up helping them finish their workday faster to be home more often for family dinners.

There was a part of me that was impressed with this, particularly the counterintuitive realization that your nighttime routine would get better if you  improve your morning routine. I was also marveling at the way that over one-hundred years after Taylorism that came out of the first industrial revolution, we are still finding ways to apply time-saving principles to our personal lives.

While it’s hard for me to put my finger on why, I’m troubled by this story. I might apply the “The Five Whys” here myself to what bothers me about this modern-day Taylorism. Why does his applying these time principles bother me? I certainly don’t have a problem with him laying out his kids’ clothes the night before. I’m way ahead of him there. In fact, I even bought the weekday clothing sorter, and we sort our clothes out on Sunday so as to be even more efficient during the week (it was so awesome I have one for myself). In fact, I also prepare all my children’s snack bags each weekend so that I don’t have to make them during the week. It’s not the author’s time saving practice that bothers me, but more the length he had to go to dissect his day in order to spend more time with his children. Why does that bother me?

I certainly strive to be efficient in my work environment. I have arranged for my assignments in advance as much as possible. I was even marveling at some faculty member who shared with me their grading templates with standard paper comments preloaded that they could paste so they don’t have to write “you need to work on your run-on sentences” over and over again. I dream of that level of efficiency I write about run-ons all the time (lol).

If analyzing and streamlining my workday is not the problem, than why am I bothered? I’m thinking it’s because I’m not sure his method would work for me because I can’t make everything efficient.

First, in an academic life, the work never ends. Even as an administrator, I can never complete my to-do list. At home, there is no clear division between work and personal life. There is always a paper to write or a student email to respond to. So, maybe the answer is that I don’t think it will work, but I feel there’s something else.

The answer came to me during an asynchronous interaction with my youngest daughter. She likes me to write her a note on the mornings when I’ve left for work before she wakes up so she can read it. The other day, trying to think about efficiency, I wondered whether writing the note takes up too much precious time in the morning and that maybe I should just take an hour once every month and write up all the notes for the next month. This made me realize why his method would not work for me (though I’m happy that he gets to spend more time with his family, and I like that he didn’t privilege his own work over his partner’s).

It’s that efficiency seems to breed more efficiency. I’ve spent some time reading the work of Jacques Ellul, who wrote about the problem of the pursuit of technology, technique, and efficiency. At the end of the day, Ellul argues that we lose humanity when we succumb to efficiency as an end goal. When I considered writing out all my notes in advance, I was missing the point of the endeavor in the first place: showing my daughter that I was thinking of her during a morning when I can’t be there in person. In other words, my notes would lose my humanity.

I’ve decided for that one moment a day to be the opposite of efficient. I’m now writing more elaborate notes and using colored markers and different types of paper. I write poems now (bad ones, but my daughter doesn’t care). Sometimes, I even get a note back from her. We can’t be efficient all the time, or at least we shouldn’t. I’m looking forward for someone to write a book on the times when it’s okay to be human at the expense of efficiency. Why not?

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Efficiency, Humanness, and How I Made My Morning Routine Longer

The Play’s the Thing

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I came home from a long day at the office, and my children told me I should come into living room for a play performance that they had been working on all day (they were on February break which always falls just when my semester ramps up). I managed to get a front row seat (I had to battle a stuffed pig for it), and after a day of boring meetings, I was excited to sit for a minute and bathe in the sunshine of my progeny’s creativity. But then the play began….

The plot was quite disturbing for me (there definitely needed to be a working mom trigger warning). It was about a girl who was celebrating her birthday. A fairy came to grant her wishes, and all she wanted was her mother to not have to work on her birthday. Ouch.

The play concluded when the wish was granted and the mother returned just in time to celebrate with her child. I applauded heartily on the outside, but inside I was horrified. My husband (seated in the back row) didn’t hide his amusement. 

Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually missed any of my children’s birthdays, but sure, there are a lot of activities I can’t engage in because I’m not at home. Despite my daughter’s constant requests, I can’t be a class mom. I know this because of not only my time crunch, but also the fact that I’m not particularly good at those things. I can’t make a clementine look like a pumpkin. I just can’t.  

I volunteer at the school library loyally one hour every other week; just last week I found a misshelved and wrongly catalogued graphic novel! But, let’s face it, despite my library commitment (which sadly goes unrecognized except by a couple of librarians and a stack of books), I’m a PTA lurker and always am first to volunteer to bring a food item when a list is provided to parents so I can choose the item that requires the least effort (my first choice is popcorn and my second is pretzels. I made the mistake of choosing mini water bottles once, but then realized that my daughter wouldn’t be able to carry the item into school herself).

This children’s play coincides with Melinda Gates’ latest initiative to battle Time Poverty.  Melinda Gates announced her new initiative (complete with this adorable video) that examines how women have less free time than men because of the additional household care they perform. Her critique recalls The Second Shift, but Gates frames the issue as moving beyond a first-world problem. In developing nations, a woman’s search for clean water can consume much of her daily activity. Without access to modern conveniences like washing machines, many women spend hours engaged in cleaning work.

While I fully acknowledge that my time poverty is a first-world problem, I think a related and under-examined issue involves the psychology of gender and time. Many studies have shown that students often place an undue burden of time on female faculty members and evaluate their performance as inferior to male faculty. While men are now more often recognized for participating in the daily lives of their children, it’s still treated as a spectacle as opposed to normative behavior. I watched a whole ad campaign before the Superbowl suggesting I’m supposed to be impressed that athletes can pay attention to styling their daughters’ hair. They called this a Dad-Do.

Maybe I need a cool, branded catch phrase like that, one that will reframe how time spent by men and women is perceived. Too often, when a dad is not home, people assume he’s just busy, but when a mom is not home, she’s abandoning her children. Do others have this feeling as well? Do fathers reading this feel that assumptions are being made about them as well?

 

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The New F Word

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A few months ago, my daughter was having a bad week. She had tried out for a couple of different extra-curricular activities, but she did not get into any of them. She was disappointed. I was disappointed for her. But I tried not to focus on my disappointment and instead comforted her by telling her that failure is a part of life.

Yes, I said the word: failure. It seems to me that too much of parenting is trying to prevent our children from the harsh realities of failing.

Granted, we have a lot of help. The Helicopter approach to parenting encourages environments where more children can succeed. Everybody gets a trophy, children’s sports games often are not scored, everyone gets to be a teacher’s “special” helper, and favoritism is deeply discouraged. Yet, are we not preparing them for the harshness of the real world?

I am starting to see more and more my college students not prepared for failure. In college, not everyone gets a trophy, the A, or even the degree. And, let’s face it: favoritism is all over the place. It’s human nature. Some people are going to be able to get more than others just because of their charm, or their connections, or maybe because they have a fluke thing in common with someone else. Rather than shaping a pre-collegiate world for children in which we struggle to shelter them from failure or shield them from favoritism, maybe we need to just let them know that’s how life is. In other words, we should provide them with the tools to cope.

Just this week, my daughter was preparing for a school debate. She told me that she had been thinking about it, and the kids that managed to win the extra-curricular activities she had been competing for in the past all had done “something extra” in their presentation. She suggested that maybe she should do something extra. She learned. Failing had not doomed her to a life of feeling that she wouldn’t be successful, but inspired her to strive further.

Recently, Adam Grant argued that if children are to be raised to be creative, they need the opportunity to be original, which is difficult to achieve within many school systems and in an age of the over-structured childhood. I would add that having a safe place to fail is probably just as important. So, this semester, for my own children at home and for the students that I teach, I’m not going to be afraid of the F word. In fact, I’m going to give them chances to fail at something so that they can then learn how to find creative solutions to improve. Whether it’s building in more low-stakes challenging assignments at the beginning of the semester or not overly comforting my children when they didn’t achieve what they wanted, this is my gift to the next generation.

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New Semester Resolutions

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I’ve read a chapter of The Cricket in Times Square to my daughter, used a list of my son’s vocabulary words in our morning conversation (he was quite boisterous this morning, which might make us acutely aware of the need to be resolute about our rule for not partaking in food outside our kitchen in order to protect our abode), arranged for my youngest to wear a completely brown outfit in honor of Groundhog Day, made three lunches and two snacks within the guidelines of each school’s wellness policy, communicated with the teacher regarding my misspelled email address in the class list,  explained the purpose of caucuses from a neutral political viewpoint, cleaned up Legos, built a pretend trough for Wilbur (it’s the end of Charlotte’s Web month at one of the schools), helped four students with registration problems, answered questions from administration, problem solved Blackboard issues so students could see the online portion of my class, and put the final touches on my syllabus. All this before 7:30 am! This isn’t the second shift; it’s the early shift. The latest semester has begun.

In an effort to achieve a better work-life balance, I’ve taken some advise from a few recent studies made a few changes this semester for both home and work.

First, I’m going to try not to take on the emotional energy that women are more likely to endure both at home and at work, as this op-ed illustrates. Though it won’t be easy, I am not going to listen to the stories students tell me about all of their problems. I will send them to appropriate people for help, but I can’t always be the one that they come to for their problems. At home, I will listen to the emotional problems of my children, but I’m not going to try to solve them. It’s ridiculous to think that I can help my child with her lunchroom seating issues from home. She’s going to have to figure it out.

I will attempt to “flip the classroom” more. For my new hybrid class, the online portion will replace my lectures, and in-person sessions will be purely discussion-based. Within my home classroom (homework time), I will allow my children to do more of their homework without my hovering, as apparently parents’ helping with homework doesn’t help students in the long term anyway.

I’m going to try to be more present wherever I am, so I am going to avoid checking email from places where I’m not in a position to respond to the requests. Doing so merely ends up only with me soaking up the emotional energy of the email. I’m going to encourage my students to be present during class time as well.

I’m going to say no. I will say no to committees I’m not interested in, to things I don’t really want to “volunteer” (or be volunteered) to do. I will apply this to both work and home. I’m not going to enroll my daughters in a sport to make them more well-rounded human beings when they don’t care about it much and I don’t enjoy watching children engaged in sporting activities (there, I admitted it). I will not help a student with her resume unless I really, really want to because I don’t enjoy writing cover letters for other people.

I will try to achieve more balance between desire and obligation, things I can control and those I can’t, and resist the temptation of being technologically connected so that I don’t miss real moments.

What are your new semester resolutions?

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Am I a Bad Feminist Mom?

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I thought I would be the best feminist mom.

Here I am, an academic who studies feminism, motherhood, and families. I know about the glass ceiling, the maternal wall, and the second shift. I’ve read the studies on girls and self-esteem. I banished Disney princesses from my home when my children were small (to no avail, because they somehow figured out who they were anyway). I bought all the Goldie Blox toys, and there’s a Project Mc2 sitting on a shelf. I’ve introduced them to coding. Yet, I can’t even keep up with the do’s and don’ts of raising strong female leaders these days.

The other day, I called my daughter “bossy” and my husband reminded me that, according to Sheryl Sandberg, people shouldn’t use that word around girls anymore. It might teach them to be less assertive later in life. The next week I was attempting to help my daughter with her math homework, and I finally had to admit that I just wasn’t any good at math. Well, I now have to worry that my “parental math anxiety” may hurt my children’s math ability as well because they can sense and internalize my fear. This might be especially important for girls, who we know are already more likely to be ignored in science and math fields and even dismissed sometimes by math teachers (as this study finds). 

Of course, I’ve put my daughters in sports because I’ve read the studies about girls and the benefits of sports, but the other day I was watching my daughter’s basketball practice game and witnessed one girl apologize to another girl for stealing the ball. Am I wrong because I thought that moment was sweet rather than an instance of a girl apologizing for engaging in a more masculine-defined role? 

I noticed recently that my daughter helps me more with chores than my son. Is this my fault? Have I unfairly burdened her with the second shift even as a 9-year old? In an effort to reduce screen time, I hardly let my daughter play on the computer, and she loves to play dolls with her sister. Am I encouraging the girls to see themselves as potential moms first and potential computer programmers second? Is my son, who doesn’t play sports but is on the computer for what I think is far too much time, the one who is will be advantaged in adulthood?

One of my girls asked me recently why I shaved under my arms. I explained that it was an aspect of the beauty myth that I have chosen to follow. How can I teach her to reject beauty myths if I embrace some of them myself? I wonder whether these small moments will inform their world more than my general philosophy.

I can’t help but feel that I’m a better feminist teacher than I am a feminist mother. It’s must easier to avoid hypocrisy as a teacher than as a mom. I can talk about beauty myths without revealing whether or not I choose to adhere to them. I can discuss the burden of the second shift without students witnessing my own struggles with it. How do you apply (or not) feminism, or other theories, while being a mom and teacher? Do you struggle with living the theories that you teach?

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