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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: The Balance Thing, again
November 17, 2008 - 9:10pm

A colleague, rushing out the door, popped her head into my office briefly. "You don't happen to have any secret tips on parenting 7th graders, do you?"

Alas, I don't. I have one child who's six years past that stage, another not at it yet, and I have a remarkable capacity for forgetting almost everything as soon as I don't need it any more. While this can be a problem in academic life -- yes, I really do need to re-read Jane Eyre every single time I teach it -- it's a boon in parenting, I'm convinced. Because almost nothing I learned about parenting my daughter applies to my son. Often it didn't even apply to my daughter for more than six months or so.

When my daughter was still very young - -I was still in grad school -- a senior professor who had two teenagers said to me, "parenting's all about achieving equilibrium, then falling off, then getting back to it." As I remember it, he suggested that we'd find ourselves in six-month cycles: on, off, on, off. I haven't kept close track of the calendar, but it still, all these years later, rings true to me. We don't actually find and maintain balance in a stationary way, after all -- we're moving, the kids are moving, life is moving forward. What worked last month won't work again, just as the child who happily ate carrots last month may reject them now. The only true thing I know about being a parent is that "this too shall pass" -- and so shall that.

I'm in the happy position right now of being in a department with a number of parents, some of them even at roughly the same stage as I am. There are some parents of younger children, and some parents whose kids are long out of the nest, but there's a nice cohort of us with teenagers and preteens right now. We understand that just because our children are in school that doesn't mean they don't need attention; we recognize that there are demands on our emotional and mental energy even if the kids don't need quite the same physical attention that they once did. It's nice to be part of a club, even if it's one that can only share a moment of solidarity in the hallway on the way to some other obligation. What I know from my older colleagues is that this, too, shall pass -- so we'll try to enjoy it, or at least to pay attention, while we can. It's not much of a secret tip, but it's all I've got right now.


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