Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Post: Eliza Kempton on Support for a Working Mom with Facebook

Eliza Kempton has recently started a job as an assistant professor of physics at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.  Her research is on the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, focusing on low-mass planets known as super-Earths.  Eliza is also a new mother of a 6-month-old baby.

A couple of weeks ago, the reality of being a working mom finally hit home.  I started in a tenure track position this fall at a fabulous liberal arts school.  My students are amazing.  My colleagues are friendly and supportive.  The institution provides a million avenues for mentoring, teaching support, and research support.  I’ve never been so busy in my entire life, but I love my new job.  I am also a new mom.  I am lucky to have a rather laid-back daughter... but she is still so little.  She is growing very fast, and if you blink, you miss her taking on a new milestone or doing something funny that we’ve never seen her do before.  I swear, each week she seems like she’s an entirely new person.

Like any working parent, I struggle with balancing work and parenting, but the pressure on women can be so much more severe because of the pressure that society puts on us and the pressure that we put on ourselves to “do it all”.  This really hit home recently, when I faced my first day of not being at home to put my daughter to bed.  We had a dinner at work and a weekend retreat to kick off a grant that we just received to support our intermediate-level science students as they make the bridge from freshman-level courses into the more vigorous upper levels of their majors.  It is something that I am deeply interested in, and I knew I wanted to attend the weekend events.  But on Friday night, as I mulled over the realization walking home that I had not seen my daughter at all that day, and I was going to spend half of Saturday (usually my only real non-work day to hang out with my family) at the retreat, I started feeling sad and guilty.  I knew I wanted to attend the rest of the retreat on Saturday, but I also felt that I should be... no, I *wanted* to be... at home with my daughter!  Ah, the conundrum of trying to have it all.

I did what any social-networking saavy woman in the 21st century would do.  I reached out to my friends on facebook.  My post, and the many supportive responses I received from friends and colleagues, are below:

Really feeling the whole "women can't have it all" thing right now... Didn't see the baby at all yesterday, and spent half of Saturday at an awesome work retreat (but away from the baby). Does succeeding at my new job automatically mean neglecting my child? I'm feeling the mommy guilt. Any words of advice or commiseration would be much appreciated!


Not seeing the baby can be rough. Two thoughts that might help. 1. Many dads are in the same situation of needing to spend less time with the family to go to work. As long as we're loosening traditional gender roles, it might help to feel like no one can have "it all" rather than just women. And 2. there is a lot of extra societal pressure on a woman to be engaged with both work and family, but just try to feel bad about not getting to do only what you want to do and separate out what other people think you should be doing. Hope you can work things out.

You are a successful female academic who is probably balancing things better than you perceive you are - and being a strong role model for your daughter is pretty damn good mommy behavior, I think! Come second year when things settle down, you'll be longing for those days when your husband was Dirty Diaper Captain....

I can only imagine how hard it is but I second your other friend - you are a wonderful mum and amazing role model and your baby knows how loved she is - and will always know . Big hug xo xo

I like to think of it as an all-win situation, at least a lot of the time! With only a few moments of missing or harried mornings, the child gets parents who are engaged and fulfilled by their worlds. Try not to feel guilty. Baby knows entirely that she is loved. And at this moment I am going to my son's dorm to cook dinner with him and his friends! By which I mean, we survived it all, and having a child is such a joyful thing. 

It IS tough. one of the things that always makes me feel better is that we co-sleep, so I always know I'm going to have my 9-10 hours in bed with my son. Even if he's asleep for most of it, we still get to snuggle, and now that he's a bit older and we're both sleeping better, I can do an hour or two of reading in bed with him almost every night. Just something to consider. hang in there!

There are times when your job will have to come first. There will also be time where your child will have to come first. I think the biggest lesson I've learned about trying to balance things is to focus on the task at hand, rather than feeling guilty about what you're missing by being there. Not that it's easy...

Maybe, when you love somebody that much, you can never get enough. Even if you were with her all time, your heart might still hurt with how much you love that child. If you can't get the quantity of time you want, then maybe feel better about being in control of how GOOD the time you have can be? Love that baby something fierce! Her life is so, so good...

My kids are a bit older (5 and 8), but if I am on travel (as I frequently am), I talk to or Skype with them every day. Even if I am just stuck at work, I talk to them before they go to bed. I feel guilty, but I remind myself that one of the reasons I am working is to provide for them. They do come first many times (it is great that my job is flexible and family friendly), and as long as work doesn't take priority all the time, I don't let the guilt overwhelm me. I do make crazy birthday cakes to compensate for the guilt I do have though!!

Just saw this thread now. I definitely know what you mean and I am going through it myself right now. But I know myself and I know that I am not happy if I am not working, so it is the only way that I can be a happy, healthy person and therefore a good parent.

Some of these people are astronomers, some are not.  Some have kids (babies or fully grown), some do not.  All in all though, I think there is some excellent advice for any working parent in here.  Most importantly, I received a huge amount of support that was desperately needed, from people who have been in my shoes, are currently in my shoes, or just are generally supportive of the shoes that working mothers (academic or otherwise) walk in each day.

** Special thanks to Claire Cramer for suggesting to turn these comments into a WIA post!

1 comment :

Melinda said...

Thanks for sharing! I agree with the sentiment that sometimes the child has to come first and other times there has to be some sacrifice at home to remain on top of everything. I've been very fortunate to have family support, which allows me to travel and work late when necessary. Before I had family support to care for my children, I created a network of friends in the family-student-housing complex and we helped one another with baby-sitting, family dinners, and just overall support. I think the key to feeling good about both your work life and your role as a parent relies in establishing a childcare support network (nanny, friends, family, quality childcare program) that you trust and not being too hard on yourself when balance is impossible (which happens more often than we might like to admit). A sense of humor helps too! The truth is that you will miss special moments from time to time, but I think you can still reap so much joy amidst the juggle. I see the pride in my son's eyes when I come to his school to discuss science on "Science Fridays" with his classmates.

So, ok, we I'm not making the homemade baby food and maybe I feel the urge to answer some emails half-way through a recital...the truth is that my grit, commitment, and work ethic make me an excellent role model for my children.