Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Doing it all? Not a chance....

Sometimes I get asked for tips on how to do academia and the mommy thing.  I am sure I'm not a great exemplar for this; I do not consider myself a "mommy" type.  I do not go all googly eyed around babies, but still, I try to love my kids the best I can.  Likewise, I am not the best researcher or thinker or teacher in my field; still, I love my students, and writing, and I love my job.

People sometimes call full time working and full time mommyhood "having it all."  That is surely NOT what I'd call it.  I think it is possible to be a mom and work (my own mother and mother-in-law both work out of the home and did so while raising kids) but I do not think we ought to think of having "both" as some kind of championship cup that has been won.  That makes it seem like a) my life is too perfect; and b) that staying at home is a bad "choice."  I work as a theologian because God has called me to that vocation; I also have a vocation as a mother. What it makes me is very busy.

I'd rather not play into the Mommy Wars here because it's a false dichotomy and it falsely implies choice, which is a pretty tricky concept.  Some people do have more of a choice to do one or the other or both and some don't.  And, I think the Mommy Wars idea tends to be an anti-woman thing anyway: as many scholars have pointed out, why don't men get called out about this?

I think we tend to have some fairly limited choices about what we do and where we go anyway.  Some have more than others, but at any one point, life can throw you something that you didn't "choose" - the hearing loss, the kid with severe disabilities, the job loss.  Some people have the blessing of being able to "choose" but many do not.   Mothers are mothers, and we all have stuff to do.  I think the phrase "bloom where you're planted" is the one I tend to go with in situations like these - because that does not imply choice, but it does imply making the most of where you are.  For those who are more theologically minded, I'll just repeat the scripture I mentioned in a different blog post: by their fruits you will know them. 

So with all these caveats in mind, a list on how to (kind of) survive academia and motherhood both, and this is probably not in order.  Or to put it another way, all of these should be #1:

1.  Have a supportive spouse, if at all possible.  Actually, this is true, regardless of the academic piece of the equation.  Do not have a spouse who either a) thinks that academia is just an "add on" to your "real" life of doing laundry, changing diapers and making dinner; or b) thinks that learning another language is just a bunch of hooey.  "After all, no one speaks coptic anymore, do they?" 

2. Don't worry about the house.  Of all the things in your life that you've got going, a clean house is not the priority.  In fact, take pride in the majestic nature of its messiness, as a testimony to where your priorities are (your kids, your reading, keeping food on the table and the electricity on).  If you need permission to be messy, here it is!

If, like me, you just can't bring yourself to do the first tip, and you NEED to worry about cleanliness, check out a rotating chore list like the one at Motivated Moms.  It states that it is for stay at home moms, but really, I find it very useful as a mom who works out of the house full time.  It lists daily, weekly, and monthly chores incrementally, so that I am never doing an entire bathroom in one day, but just, say, scrubbing the bathtub.  I cross off the ones I know I can't get to (like the time-consuming organization ones - have to wait for summer for that) and do the others.  It takes me about 20-40 minutes each day.  Very doable.

The best, best thing about it is that most of the chores are done during the weekdays, which means that the weekends are free for more family time and more reading time as necessary.

Even so, if a chore doesn't get done, I have had to adopt a "well, that chore will come around again" attitude.  In other words, if I just can't get to vacuum a floor that night because a baby is screaming, so be it.  

3.  Take advantage of the academic calendar and rejoice in it.  On the days you are off and your kids are likewise off from school, spend some time with them. Academia will try to tempt you into thinking that you must work on the "off days" as well because you've got to ___________ (fill in the blank: publish, grade, write a letter of recommendation, publish, grade). 

Build in some time for that if you must, but also spend some time being a mom.

4. Surround yourself with a good community of people.  You and your spouse can't "do it all" by yourselves (which is another problem with the phrase "doing it all).  Marriage itself, to say nothing of kids, can't survive in a vacuum.

Surround yourselves with people who care about you, your kids, your spouse.  These are the people with whom you know you have reciprocal relationships - the kind where you can call someone at 2 am, but where you are fully willing to reciprocate.  Don't neglect the single friends in your lives as members of this all-important community.  Hopefully, some of those people come from academia and understand academic life, too, but that is not as imperative as knowing that there's a community of support.

Tip #4 is especially important in academia, I should add, because the likelihood of finding an academic job anywhere close to family or friends you already have is miniscule.  So building community is important.

5.  In the interest of fostering #4, but also of developing the lives and interests of your kids and yourself: invite people over or out, for dinner, coffee, just to hang out.  Do it as often as you feel up for it.  Academics tend to be introverts as a group, so this may not get done as often as with other "types" but it's important.  This is a chance not to be in the world of academic, to invite people "outside" the university.  But this is also another one of those pluses in academia: there are always likely to be faculty, students or staff in need of an invite.  No shortage of peopl ein academia.

This is just a general list - I'll post more later about specific academic job hunting and job keeping tips as a mom and academic.  And all of you out there, academic or mom or not - have any tips to add regarding parenting and/or working out of the home?


  1. Great list! I would add: write a blog! And, in regard to your spouse comment, I think part of it is being "possessive" of your time, but in a good way. My husband and I make out a new schedule at the beginning of every semester. Now since he's the one with a job and I'm "just" writing a dissertation, raising three kids, and keeping the house (in other words, NOT bringing in any income), it could be easy for me to say, well, it's not fair for me to take time away from his work.

    But I don't think that. Because #1, my work is important. So if we agree I get all day Friday, I get all day Friday (ok, emergencies like overdue book reviews accepted), despite the fact I have no pressing deadlines. And #2, it's important for HIM to spend time with the kids. They deserve a good dad, and he deserves the time to be it.

    The other thing that has really made my life possible is embracing the Catholic attitude toward mortification. Sometimes I have long, hard days with the kids. And I can offer those up. Sometimes I don't want to work (just read my friend's blog!) after those long, hard days, but I make myself. Theologian mom struggles happen. I can either protest or make the most out of them. I TRY to do the latter. Even if I never make it in academia, I hope to make it to heaven this way.

  2. I love it! This is good advice whether you're a parent or not, which I am not (at least not yet...) Since I am not a mother to human children, I do have three fur-babies that require attention, walks, socialization, etc. I think, though, the point is that you have to find your priorities and maybe the house doesn't have to be at the top of the list.

    Thanks for this posting, I think I needed this bit of advice today!

  3. Amber - yes! This is not limited to people with children. First of all, no one can "do it all" and second - fur babies need attention too. Prioritizing is very important.

    Blessings to you and yours!

  4. Great blog - glad I stumbled across it! I would add: do not be ashamed to hire help. I think too many women (especially first-time mothers or those who are trying to balance part-time and/or flexible work schedules with mothering) feel that they must be able to do it all: care for children, clean the house, run the household, and work outside the home. I fell into this trap, and it wasn't until my son was six months old that I realized I needed to hire a regular babysitter in order to balance working from home part-time (in theology) with caring for him. Although child care can be expensive, there are cost-effective alternatives, and I believe it's a healthy priority for my other vocations besides mothering - my marriage and my work.

  5. motheringspirit - welcome, and now I've found your blog as well - thanks! I think you make a great point and it was one I overlooked, but yes - DH and I do hire help. We have had our 3 year old in full time day care since she was 9 months old, and will have our newest one in day care at about 8 months or so. For others, that kind of help may be in hiring someone to clean, or in ordering groceries online and the like.