• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Motherhood After Tenure: the Sabbatical Begins

This is the second week of my sabbatical and already I have a sinking feeling that I’m not accomplishing enough.

September 10, 2008

This is the second week of my sabbatical and already I have a sinking feeling that I’m not accomplishing enough.

I spent last week sorting through stacks of paper and rearranging files in an effort to make my home study more functional. Then, last Thursday, my daughter woke up with a cough, so I took her in late while I waited to see if she was really sick. During a normal school year I wouldn’t have felt I had this luxury. And now I’m facing the computer while all around me, laundry needs to be done, dishes need to be put away, and the clock ticks away the minutes until I must pick up my daughter from pre-school.

The first time I left my daughter, then a baby, with a friend so I could get some work done, I raced around my house spastically, unable to decide what to do first. Those three hours seemed both forever and not enough. I think I spun in circles and then gave up and took a nap. I don’t regret that nap.

All last year I fantasized about how I would spend this amazing gift of time. As I rushed through my days, I fantasized about getting millions of projects done during my sabbatical: sorting out the linen closet, building a new bookshelf for my study, making a will, working out every day, doing yoga, redesigning all of my courses and rethinking my pedagogy, and, of course, finishing my book, and laying the groundwork for my next project.

Most of my sabbatical mentors have told me not to expect too much from this year: “you never get as much done as you plan,” they’ve said. “Pick the most important project and focus on that, and don’t let anything else distract you, especially the morning dishes.” Good advice, but what is my most important project? The half-finished book I vowed to finish in my sabbatical proposal, the new project that seems much more exciting to me now or spending extra time with my four year old daughter?

What is the purpose of a sabbatical? According to The University of Wisconsin webpage, the purpose of a sabbatical is to “engage in intensive study in order to become more effective teachers and scholars and to enhance [our] services to the University.”

Okay, the focus is clearly on how the sabbatical benefits the university, which makes sense during these times of accountability. Still, I suspect I will emerge from my sabbatical a more effective teacher and scholar. Although I’m not a religious person, I found the website of the Christ of God Ministry more humane, and actually quite useful. It defines a sabbatical as “a time for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking anew from God's life-giving waters, and for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.”

So I plan to follow the ministry’s guideline, in my own revised, secular way:

  • recapture a sense of vision,
  • be nurtured in faith and skills,
  • become introspective,
  • . . .
  • refocus priorities,
  • review the [professorial] journey, and
  • reflect on the call for life and [teaching].

And I promise to leave the breakfast dishes in the sink. To be continued.


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