That’s right, I used scare quotes. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the work/life balance in higher education. I think about how many of my female academic role models were childless, never-married, or divorced. About how unreasonable the expectations are when it comes to the “life of the mind” in academia. (Check out this excellent post on expectations and priorities and this one on the two-headed problem). I usually think that I’ve done ok with the work/life balance, and I end up feeling pretty good about myself.
And then I have a day like today.
As I have written before, I left a tenure-track position
so that my husband could take a better tenure-track job. I now have a full-time instructor position at the same university as my husband, so most days, I’m ok with the sacrifice
. But at the end of the day, his job and his career takes priority over mine; I don’t have
to do anything except teach, so whenever there’s a conflict in our professional activities, his take precedent. In other words, my ability to go to conferences is wholly based his schedule because of our two very young children. We live in a small town, far away from family, so childcare is basically one of the two of us.
And because conferences, regardless of discipline, all seem to fall on the same weekends, I typically have to pass up opportunities in order to take care of our kids. Last semester, I had to teach with my then-almost two-year-old son strapped to my back. Other times, I had to cancel classes because there wasn’t anyone to take care of the kids and my husband had something he HAD to do. Today, he announced to me that he was probably going to apply for a summer fellowship that takes place the same weekend of a conference I am presenting at. We may have agreed that this was a conference I would attend, but if something better comes along for him…
Now, my husband has been incredibly supportive most of the time; he’s brought our son to meetings with him because I was teaching, he moved across the country for me when I took my tenure-track job, and he agreed last semester that what was best for our son was for him to stay home with him while I was teaching (my daughter was attending preschool). But when it comes to the more “professional” side of my career (conferences, research trips, professional development), he has trouble. I don’t have to do any of these things for my job; but I want to do these things because while I am not on the tenure-track, I haven’t stopped being an academic.
When it comes to work/life, it’s not a question of balance, at least not a simple question of balance. Think of it as balancing on a stability ball; it’s always moving, shifting, and you are constantly adjusting. I am continually negotiating my work and my life, modifying my perspective and expectations. There are good days and bad days. There are days where I miss the city, miss having a career just so I can have an excuse to do those activities outside of teaching that I want to do, miss being able to call up family and say, you take the kids, please!
I’ve consciously avoided writing too much about my life and my kids on this blog. But I realize that I need to start talking about the sacrifices and compromises I make in order to keep things together and keep things working. How wearing my son to teach made me feel like I was being judged as both a poor teacher and poor mother. How I was somehow able to teach five classes while also taking care of my son 65% of the time and publish two papers. How it’s not easy, but it isn’t impossible either.
Targett [fictional administrator at the fictional Poppleton University] also pointed out that female academics were “more likely” than their male colleagues to have a range of outside interests such as cooking and child-minding. He believed that to burden them with further duties might be tantamount to discrimination.
This cut a little to close for comfort for me. Higher education often tells aspiring academics, men and women, that outside “interests” such as family are not acceptable. I think I internalized this attitude and it is manifesting itself in what I choose to write about on this blog. No more. While you won’t hear about every snotty nose and cognitive milestone, I will start writing about how my family impacts my work, for better or for worse.