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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: Balance in a tippy world
May 25, 2011 - 8:35am

For the past several months I’ve been stewing about balance and life goals. It seems to be my favorite topic for inner reflection as I ponder whether I’m being true to myself and to my family. As someone who left academia to care for my children full-time, I also question at times whether my views are relevant on this site devoted to higher education. The response to Dana Campbell’s blog two weeks ago, however, is a reminder that voices representing different paths are important since people like us, for whom life’s balance tipped in favor of full-time parenting, are not usually part of the conversation about juggling family and career. Since our careers take up a small portion of our daily lives, we kind of fall off the map. Of course as the diversity of Mama PhD bloggers shows, there are many ways to find balance. As much as I’d like to have a how-to guide for managing both family and an academic career, I’ve yet to hear of a one-size-fits-all solution. What works in one situation might be unacceptable under different circumstances.

I’m where I am today because of a long series of turning points, culminating in a perfect storm of an unexpected second pregnancy, a transcontinental move to my husband’s new job in one of the most expensive cities in North America, and a realization that what I could earn as a sessional lecturer would barely cover the high cost of childcare. My own mental health was also a consideration. The need to manage care for an infant and a toddler combined with the energy required to carve out some kind of satisfying teaching and research position from scratch at a new university was too much to face. I know that many women have it much worse and barely get through the difficulties of balancing children’s schedules and full-time academic positions. On my worst days, I wonder what went wrong that I couldn’t just stick it out like so many other women do. It’s funny that guilt about not working and a sense of failure still pull at me, even when I’m very happy with this chance to fully enjoy my kids’ early years.

Do I lead a cushy life? Yeah, I guess so. My daughter and I were still in our pajamas and sipping tea while she read Little Bear to me at 9AM this morning. I don’t have to commute, grade papers, write lectures in the evenings, or take on departmental administrative chores on top of all my family obligations like the full-time Mama PhDs I know who deal with these activities every day. Unlike the single parents I know, I have a partner who shares household chores equally in addition to parenting. Yes, there’s no question I’m lucky to be able to live the way I do right now. But I do miss my work.

I’ve — we’ve — given up a lot to be here. Family finances have taken a hit to meet the payments on our little townhouse, not to mention my having fallen off the face of the earth in terms of my career and former connections—I probably haven’t managed my departure from academic life in the smartest possible way. Since my daughter will be starting full 6-hour school days in the fall, I’ve been looking for part-time teaching. I’m a lot less picky than I used to be, but I’ve yet to find anything. I realize it’s not going to be easy to get back in (anymore than it’s easy to stay in) and pick up where I left off.

I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and think, Oh, no! What have I done? This is not what I’m supposed to be doing after earning a PhD. However, mostly I try to enjoy the unconventional path I’ve taken and the comfortable simplicity my choice contributes to our family life. I’m grateful for the Mama PhD forum as a chance to hear how others find the right balance, whatever that may be for their families and their work lives. And I’d love to hear from others who’ve managed to get back to a satisfying career after taking years off. It helps to remember that the balance may tip in another direction down the road.


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