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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

To have “it all?” and other existential questions
October 9, 2012 - 8:00pm

Sometime in the past week I heard a line on a public radio program that has been running through my head:  Women today can have it all, just not necessarily all at the same time.  I wasn’t paying careful attention to the program, or time of day, so I don’t know to whom this quote should be attributed.  It was only later that I remembered it and it resonated.

I often block out comments like this because I feel at times like I’ve somehow failed as a woman because I haven’t sustained my career, even part-time, while raising my children.  I haven’t figured out yet how to have it all, nor do I know how much of an “all” I want.  And is sequential “all” still “having it all?” My thinking has cycled over the years. Sometimes I feel empowered and confident in my choices; at other times, especially as I attempt to move back into part-time teaching, I question what I’ve given up.

Interestingly, my co-blogger Dana Campbell and I have coincidentally been through some major life upheavals (and decisions!) over the past couple of months, on different sides of the continent.  As she’s been uprooting her family and settling into life with her husband’s new academic job on the west coast, my husband and I have been in negotiations over a job offer for him from a large, southern US university.  The job would have come with ample teaching opportunities for me—they were only too happy to have another contract lecturer willing to teach in their huge undergraduate teaching program—under less-than-ideal working conditions. 

Meanwhile, back home, my c.v., which hasn’t seen any significant action over the past 8 years, is heavily scrutinized as we negotiate for a part-time teaching position for me.  It’s been an emotional roller coaster over the past two months as we’ve decided whether to make a big move.   Within a short period, I’ve gone through many different stages:  excitement over the prospect of developing new teaching plans, grief that there are so few possibilities for work in my field, acceptance that it might be time to do something else, optimism when senior administrators express their support for my being hired, rejection, anxiety, renewed hope in learning of possibilities at other colleges, questioning whether low-paying temporary appointments are worth pursuing, and up and down, again and again.  I’m ready to get off the roller coaster and take charge of my own career.

And of course, it’s inevitable that I will focus on my career gaps.  What have I done?  Why didn’t I do things differently?  I catch myself.  Because thinking like this always takes me back to the same place, to the last job I had, one that likely would have become permanent had we not decided to move to the west coast eight years ago.  And in our sadness over the move, and in our attempts to comfort each other that we were making the right decision, my second child became a surprise reality.  If we’d done anything differently, we might not have her.  I know that this sort of cosmological, abandonment of all to fate sounds silly and irrational.  But every time my husband and I try to think of what we might have done differently to improve my current situation, we come to my daughter.   Yes, at times I can’t help but feel resentful that I gave in to our move and left a great job just to further my husband’s career.  But the question of my daughter’s very existence stops me dead in my tracks.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  And I wouldn’t give up the huge, satisfying block of time I’ve spent as full-time caregiver to my kids simply to remedy the holes in my c.v.  Depending on how one looks at my life, the gaps don’t signify.


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