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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: A Good Stage
July 26, 2010 - 8:11pm

Recently I’ve been remembering a conversation I had with my dad many years ago — when my husband and I were still in grad school and my daughter was about three years old. As I recall it, I said that I was turning out not to be one of those moms who laments when the children get “too big to cuddle”; rather, I was really enjoying being the mother of a preschooler. My dad — who by this time had helped raise four children — didn’t miss a beat. “I really like being the parent of graduate students, myself,” he said.

I’m not there yet, but I have been enjoying every new stage as it comes, and this summer I’ve had several reminders of the pleasures of older children. (My two are 20 and almost 13 — for seven months I have not been the parent of a teenager, but it’s coming right up again.)

Pleasure #1: Another driver. This weekend we took a quick family trip to the beach, 100 miles away. My husband drove on the way out, and my daughter took the wheel on the way home. I got to knit both ways, and listen in on the conversation between the two of them (he navigated) while I sat in the backseat with my son on the way home. It’s an unexpected pleasure to be the chauffeured rather than the chauffeur in the relationship, and I have to say I love it. We’ve got a much longer road trip coming up later this summer and I’m really looking forward to having an additional driver on that trip as well.

Pleasure #2: A less-sore back, and more shared fun. In graduate school — and for the first 3.5 years of my daughter’s life — I never lived more than 40 minutes from the beach, usually closer. My husband often just loaded our daughter into a bike carrier and took her down to the beach for an afternoon. But beach trips in those days did require constant vigilance. When Mariah was small I tore cartilage in my knee chasing after her at the beach, but more often I simply strained my back holding her hands as she jumped in the waves—and, after she was old enough to stand next to me, her brother’s. I know, it’s not a terrible problem to have, but during this weekend’s trip I had the intense pleasure of swimming alongside both kids, watching Nick skimboard and bodysurf without me, sitting on the beach with Mariah — and never once leaning over and “jumping” a child over the shorebreak. It was the best of the beach.

Pleasure #3: Someone to talk to about my work. My husband is a great sounding board for ideas about my research, as are various colleagues, but it’s often my children who are best informed about the literature I’m writing about. The other day when my daughter picked me up from work (see above re: chauffeurs), I was feeling stuck with the article I’m currently working on. As she drove me home I outlined the three possibilities I’d come up with. She asked a few sharp questions, and as we talked I realized which one I was most interested in developing further. Even when the benefits aren’t that immediate or that tangible, though, they’re there: my son routinely recommends books for me to read that make it onto my syllabi and other reading lists, for example. Far from detracting from my research, then, my children increasingly enable it.

Of course I’m lucky that I’ve been able to reshape my career to reflect our shared interests, and even luckier that my kids are still willing to share them. It won’t last forever, but this is one stage I’ll be sorry to wave goodbye to.


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