• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Professor vs. Parent in a Contested Space

Talking about Ferguson.

December 3, 2014

I have confessed in many of my blog posts how I often feel it is easier to be a professor than a mom. When I’m a professor, I don’t have to get overly emotionally involved with a student’s concerns. I’m able to focus on teaching and let the burden of learning fall on someone else.

When I’m a mom, though, I agonize over missed learning opportunities and feel the acute pain when one of my children experiences a setback. My son brought home a poor grade the other day (a 65!). I blamed myself, not so much because he hadn’t mastered the concepts, but because I saw it as a missed opportunity to teach him effective study skills.

If students come to my office, I can spend a lot of time teaching them course concepts, but if, at the end of the day, they have not learned, I don’t feel like a failure. When I can’t explain a math concept to my daughter, however, I do worry, and I never give up (that’s why I was surrounded by 80 M&Ms, sorted by color, the other night). However, I’ve now reached a moment where I think it is easier to be a parent than a professor.

As I head into class today thinking about how to lead a discussion on the Ferguson grand jury decision and the media coverage of subsequent protests, I have to be on “all alert.” I feel a responsibility to lead a carefully orchestrated discussion, where people feel comfortable to express their opinions, but also where ideas embedded with stereotypes are challenged. Just the other day, my class experienced a tense moment while discussing a much less charged issue: should sports reporters be forced to wear security jackets emblazoned with logos of the event’s sponsors? After the class fractured into parallel debates, I quickly brought the students back together as a cohesive whole to allow for a more reasoned dialogue, but I could tell that at least one student was still upset. Of course, students should expect to be challenged and be prepared to defend their arguments, but I don’t ever want a student to be scared away from making an argument in the first place. The classroom should be safe place to test ideas.

On the other hand, when my children want information about charged issues (just the other day they asked me about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Ferguson in a 24 hour period), I don’t have to be an objective (a problematic concept, to be sure) professor focused on exploring debate in a healthy way. I can be a mom. I can spread my values. Of course, I do wonder when I should give my opinion and when to allow them come to their own conclusions, but it’s not so much a struggle to agonize over; rather, it’s a decision I get to make.

My mother has said that she always found it more of a challenge to babysit other people’s kids than to watch her own. There’s a burden that comes with being an educator; I appreciate the power I have to teach people how to think critically, but I also feel a responsibility to not teach them how to think just like me. With my own children, I get to decide when to give my opinion, when to teach them to question, and when to shield them from the scary world. It’s a responsibility, to be sure, but it’s also a gift.  Do you find it easier to discuss a charged issue with your students or your children?


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