I had big plans as a young girl. I was going to help cure cancer. Or become a chemist. Or maybe a physicist. I made good marks in school, especially math and science. My parents, strict adherents of traditional Mormon gender roles, were very supportive of my educational aspirations. As a young Mormon girl, I knew I was going to get married one day and having kids would likely follow. I never considered the possibility that I might sacrifice my education for either (marriage or motherhood). In fact, I recall my Dad “shaking on it” with my future brother-in-law that my older sister would finish her degree. Patriarchal irony aside, it was expected that I would go to college, graduate, and possibly change the world.
As a young woman, I didn’t mind babysitting, but I never truly felt the pull to motherhood that so many of my Mormon female peers did. I never so much as uttered the words, “I can’t wait to be a mom.” I could wait. I could wait until the magic age in my head, 28—the age where reason met desperation (in my young mind). Part of that waiting period would naturally consist of higher education.
As an undergraduate at a state school with relatively few Mormons, the Mormon dating scene was brutal. I focused my energy on school because I found success there, and watched begrudgingly as my female Mormon friends racked up the dates. Fast-forward 3 years and 4 undergraduate major changes (Chemistry, to undeclared, to art, to social work): I met the boy I’d marry. He loved me for my smarts. But he was Catholic. This is another story altogether.
I earned my Master’s degree and got married the next weekend. After we married, we set off for graduate school together. Well, kind of. Actually, he got into the graduate school of his dreams, accepted without consulting with me, and then I was left to shop around for graduate schools within driving distance of his institution. So, feminist blunder.
We were married for 2 years (I was 25 then) before I got the itch. Without warning, I WANTED A BABY. Like yesterday. As I was in the thick of my PhD program, I brushed the yearning aside until I finished comps. Then I begged and begged and reasoned and begged with my husband that it was a good idea for us to start our family while we were still in graduate school. And finally he saw the light. We had our first child just weeks after I proposed my dissertation. The first year of her life was absolutely fantastic. I was on fellowship and strictly working on my dissertation from home, and my husband was teaching two classes, and home 3 days a week. We were a stay-at-home-family. That is not to say that we didn’t face our own hardships with transitioning to parenthood (read: SLEEP DEPRIVATION while writing a dissertation), but for the most part, our flexible work life was incredible.
But graduate school had to end some day. I was graduating one year ahead of my husband, and we decided that I would go on the academic job market and we would hope and pray that he would match for his pre-doctoral psychological internship in the region where I landed my first faculty position. The odds were looking good until in one fell swoop, match day obliterated our dreams. He matched across the country and I had already signed a contract. After picking up the pieces, we decided to grit our teeth and spend our daughter’s second year of life apart. I would begin my first job, while he finished his doctoral studies across the country. It wasn’t even a question as to whether or not I would be the primary caregiver for our daughter (enter again traditional gender roles).
We have been apart for nearly 7 months. In these months I have felt a whole host of emotions, many of which are founded in gender essentialism. It has been difficult to quiet the voices of insecurity. Because my career matters to me, I took my baby away from my husband. Because my career matters to me (and I finished my degree first), my husband’s job prospects are now very geographically limited. Because my career matters to me, I am a bad mom. A bad wife. A bad Mormon.
Our family will be apart from each other for 3 more months, and then as luck would have it, my husband will be joining us again. This time in his ideal job at my institution. We were able to jointly negotiate a dual hire, and we are incredulous as to how we managed to “get it all.” I know the struggles that dual career couples face. I know well the sacrifices that are necessary in order to obtain two careers in the same small city with specialized degrees. But somehow we did it.
Happy momentary ending (to this blog entry anyway). I am sure that the challenge of balancing our joint careers, combined with having one or two more children will be paralyzing at times. However, as I have learned to confront my gendered insecurities through all of these experiences, I have learned to rely on my husband for the partner he is. For me, the real secret to balancing parenthood and career has been realizing I cannot possibly do everything perfectly on my own. A hard pill to swallow for a perfectionist. So I rely on the wonderful care my day care provides to my daughter, the emotional and tangible support my husband offers me, and the friends and family who willingly pitch in when I travel for work. I am not a bad mother, or wife, or Mormon. I am simply doing the best I can. Except for the days when I pull the covers over my head and watch 8 entire episodes of How I Met Your Mother. But mostly, I am giving it my best shot.
-Submitted by Jess