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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Career Coach: THE NEW DARRIN
June 14, 2009 - 8:50pm

When I was growing up, practically everyone I knew watched a TV show called “Bewitched,” about a beautiful young witch, Samantha, who marries a mortal and has to hide her powers to fit into the role of suburban housewife her husband requires her to fill. The show’s message, that it’s necessary for a woman to make herself smaller and more ordinary so as not to threaten her husband, was discomfiting.

Nearly as discomfiting was an unexplained mid-series character switch. Dick York, who had originally played the husband, Darrin, had to leave the show for medical reasons. Suddenly, Samantha was kissing a different guy, Dick Sargent—but he was still her husband, still called Darrin, and nobody in the cast even mentioned that he looked and behaved like a completely different person. It was spookier than the bizarre magic spells Samantha’s mischievous relatives used to cast. (When the movie based on the series came out in 2005, a friend suggested that they should have replaced Will Ferrell, who played the husband, halfway through the film. That’s how lasting the effect was.)

It struck me recently that in my eagerness to dive into this column, I may have inadvertently pulled a “new Darrin” on readers. So I’d like to offer a belated introduction.

I am a clinical psychologist and the mother of a 15-year-old boy. In addition to my Ph.D., I have two master’s degrees: one in drama therapy and one in combined school and clinical psychology. I have also worked in university administration, as a development writer and speechwriter for the president and trustees of a major private university. I am currently in private practice. I work primarily with writers, several of whom are mothers who teach at the university level.

When I was first offered this column, I hesitated. Although I have an academic background and am confident of my ability to help with the emotional aspects of the quest to balance motherhood and a scholarly career, it has been several years since I worked in a university setting. I was not sure my experience was adequate to address the practical issues letter writers raised.

Then, in April of this year, I participated in a two-day Mama PhD panel at Duke University. My fellow panelists were Caroline Grant, coeditor of Mama PhD and senior editor of Literary Mama; Alissa McElreath, columns editor for Literary Mama and assistant professor of English at St. Augustine’s college; and Jean-Anne Sutherland, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and author of Cinematic Sociology. All three of these strong, smart, accomplished women impressed me with their depth of understanding and breadth of experience, and I saw a way out of my dilemma. I asked them to serve as a “think tank,” sharing their ideas and experiences when a writer posed a question I was not sure I was competent to answer.

I hope that together we will be able to help you resist the pressure to hide and minimize your own magic powers. And if you would like to serve as a resource as well, please email me through this blog.

Have a question for the Career Coach? E-mail her.


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