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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Flexibility
April 9, 2012 - 9:01pm

Last week I wrote about my day, as part of the larger #dayofhighered project of documenting what we academics do. When I left off, I still had about four hours of work to do, and I figured I’d be able to do it in the evening, after dinner.

Famous last words. I had forgotten, until I sat down to start my grading, that my son had a school project: making Viennese pancakes for a German class assignment. He’d consulted with me about it over the weekend, but it had completely slipped my mind until he came downstairs at about 9 pm to get started. The only problem: we didn’t have all the ingredients. So I headed out to the grocery store.

(By the way, school projects are one reason I can’t wait until he starts driving.)

Fortunately, my son is reasonably self-sufficient in the kitchen, and after only the tiniest bit of coaching he was able to make the pancakes himself. In fact, he shared one with me when it became clear he’d have enough to take to school and then some. In all, I probably lost less than an hour of work time, but the disruption still did slow me down, and left more papers in the to-be-graded stack for the next day.

I thought about that incident as I read a recent piece in about work/life balance—specifically, about how “the concept of work/life balance is kind of silly.” The piece quotes CEO Amanda Steinberg of DailyWorth—“a community of women who talk money”—who says she is “always working and always ‘mom’.” Well, of course, as the other evening reminded me, but as generations of working mothers have always known. As the piece in Jezebel notes, men are rarely asked about work/life balance—as if fatherhood were a role one could put on and take off. Maybe we should be asking men the same question. After all, in reality, all of us are always all the things that we are: wife, sister, mother, daughter, friend, colleague, professor, knitter—the list can go on and on. One may predominate in the moment, but in fact we all compartmentalize when we can, and shift when we must.

Since it was Lee Bessette, among others, who inspired me to document my day, I’m glad to hear she took last weekend off. I did, too—and, as this week is my son’s spring break week, I may have a little more work-at-home time than usual as well. It’s all part of the flow, and one of the reasons, though the work can be hard and the hours long, that I wouldn’t actually trade a job in higher ed. If you’re always going to be busy, it’s at least nice to be able to choose where to be busy, and to be busy with work you love. What the #dayofhighered needs to demonstrate, perhaps, is not how hard we work, but how to improve the conditions for those in higher ed who have less control over their work time or place—adjuncts and staff, especially—so that the benefits I enjoy do not come at someone else’s expense.



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