Parenthood Juggle: Academic Freedom

4969009648_29dd8d0ac7_oI think I might have the optimal situation. I play art-historical ying to my husband’s computer-science yang. We’re both college professors – technically I’m an instructor, but there is a good chance I will be a professor soon. We met in graduate school as doctoral candidates and there was never any suggestion of me dropping out of my program or giving up a career. After all, no one expected that from him. I knew I would have to manage my expectations and that “career” might mean something different for me than for someone else. I didn’t know how to balance work and family but the one female LDS academic I knew assured me that it was possible.

Many LDS women state that they want to be at home to give their kids the same comfort, support and level of care that they received from their own stay-at-home moms. I was raised in an LDS household, but I didn’t have a mother at home when I was a child. I mean this in a literal sense. My mother lived in a mental institution in a city that was three hours from my home. My parents never divorced, but I felt the pain of her absence acutely. I wanted something different for my own children. I wanted to work, but I knew that they would need me.

I started as an adjunct teaching one class per semester when my oldest was almost four months old. Our rental was a mile from the college and I used to walk my baby there in her stroller. My husband would meet us on campus and I would go and teach my class. He brought her to me at the end of each class and I walked the stroller home. I had been struggling to create order in my life after her birth and teaching forced us into a schedule that brought blessed predictability and stability into our lives.  

Soon there was an unexpected pregnancy and another baby. The following semester, I changed my class time to the early morning and arrived home from work as my family was getting up. The following year I added another class to the early morning schedule. I would arrive home at 9:25 AM and my husband would immediately take off for his 10 AM class. It was a tight morning schedule, but it worked.

During these first few years of adjuncting and mothering, my favorite time of day was the afternoon nap. Both of my babies took naps at the same time and sometimes they would both be asleep for several hours. I used this time for class prep. Initially, I loved this time. The end of my PhD program was stressful and I felt burned out. I was glad to not have the weight of research or high expectations pressing down on me continually. With time, those initial feelings of relief turned into intellectual frustration. I wasn’t engaged in any projects. I hated housework. I wasn’t making other mommy friends. As a woman with a PhD, I felt out of place at church. I knew that my time with my children was valuable, but I did not enjoy hours of floor time every day. I was depressed and my needs were not being met.

In my fifth year of teaching at the college, I was promoted from adjunct to instructor. I taught three classes per semester instead of two. I got an office and held office hours. I headed two large projects and suddenly my life was extremely full. My children were both in preschool. My husband and I were able to arrange our schedules so that when the children weren’t in school, they were with one of us. We still do this.   

The great thing about being an academic is that I can, to a large extent, choose my schedule.  I pick my class hours and have a say in the scheduling of departmental meetings. My husband enjoys the same privileges. This is what makes things work in my family. 

Our schedule is a carefully choreographed dance, a challenging yet achievable juggle. My life is a life of work – work of parenting, work of teaching, work of running my home. My husband and I share that work. I don’t know if sharing it creates less or more work overall, but it does mean that everyone’s needs get met. This is my happiness, my stability, my sanity.

-Submitted by Nickel

See all the Parenthood Juggle guest posts here.  Go here for this guest post invitation.  Submissions should be sent to guestposts@dovesandserpents.org (please see our guest post guide).