Thursday, May 11, 2006

Confession of a working mother: You cannot have it all!

This is a bitterness in my mouth. To my daughter. To all the women students I have had and spoken to over the years, I have a terrible confession to make.


at least, not all at once.

I had a conversation yesterday with two other women professors here. We are of an age. Our children are late teens or early twenties or older. We have lived through the fire. And here we are. We were among the feminist pioneers. We have had major careers, and had a family -- all of us are still married to our first husband. And we all 3 had more than one child, raised them lovingly and well (at least we like to think so).

But Oh My God! This was done paying a price. You cannot do this without something BIG giving somewhere.

Either we worked part-time for a while when the kids were littlest. Or were on a mommy track for a while going kind of nowhere when they were little. Or had live-in help. Or our husband was a house-husband. AND we all wore ourselves to the bone.

We are watching with great trepidation as our young (mostly) women colleagues prepare to run at the tenure hurdle, carrying small child (or children) along with them. The toll it takes is terrible! People's hair falls out! They develop all sorts of stress-related illnesses.

This is not good for parents. And I don't know how good the child care arrangements are -- some folks are lucky and have excellent arrangements with long-term stability. This is good. But some people have trouble finding a good sitter or day-care, and that can't be good for the child. And if you are only seeing your child for a short wake-up on week-days and quick supper and tuck-in week-days, and then you are having to do some work on weekends for tenure prep -- wow!!! When do you get to know this little person?

So, I do not want to discourage you completely. I want to give you a heads up! Plan now. Take steps. Have the baby early and when the kid is 4 come back to work. We managers and directors will have to get used to that pattern. Or else we need to vote something into place to allow parents a better leave and support arrangement. We are killing ourselves this way, and women are typically (but not always!) taking the brunt of the burden. Or plan for a quieter few years after the children arrive when you won't be pushing hard for advancement, and can spend more time at home. This tenure clock thing needs to be looked at if you are in a tenure situation -- geez! If men were the primary child-care people do you think we would not have a tenure stay?

Get the help you need, if you can arrange it. Family, friends, paid help, help in exchange for room and board. But be careful making agreements. Write them out and sign them on both sides. And try to be fair.

So, I am very sorry if I have misled or lied to you. Happy Mother's Day!

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