“Work-life balance doesn’t exist for me; I don’t believe in unicorns”
I share this viewpoint that my work is a part of my life in which I also happen to be a mother and
Lady Dr of the household. I’m not attempting to combine work and family, I am combining work and family. It is hard at times and I really should accept that I need to hire a cleaner but it is what it is and you just get on with it.
My story? Baby Weekademia was born towards the end of what turned out to be my last post-doc, five years post PhD. I wangled a whole year of maternity leave (maybe it’s easier for a post-doc?) – although, as my project continued whilst I was away*, I only had four months of funding left when I returned. I was OK with this seen as we had made the decision to relocate at that point anyway (who says you can’t go home?). Knowing this, I felt I had to use my leave wisely: I put my CV in order and finished writing my HEA application for associate fellow. For me, those first four months of being a working mother were make or break. It wasn’t all rosy managing without any family nearby, but it turned out baby Weekademia thrived in nursery and I was enjoying being back at work. It wasn’t long before I found myself a stay at home mom for the summer whilst we relocated, this was great but the stress of finding a place to live and a new job made it difficult to make the most of it.
Now all settled into a new home, nursery and job, I keep getting asked how I manage a 50 minute commute between nursery and work. Is it really that unusual? I share drop-offs and pick-ups with my husband of course, but the commute doesn’t bother me. I have always had an hour’s commute and the drive home provides time to shut down and digest the day. I put back on my mommy hat as I drive across the Northamptonshire/Warwickshire border (although I don’t think I need one with the constant smears of toothpaste and snot on my shoulder!).
Let’s not pretend academics work 9-5, outside of working hours and when needs must my rule is: children above work and work above tiredness. It took me a while to be able to ‘down-tools’ at 5pm particularly as a post-doc where I was used to working working 8-8 in the lab. I felt guilty leaving baby and then guilty leaving work. I have become much more efficient and focused between 9-5 and have accepted a more agile and flexible way of working that thankfully suits academia.
For now, my life as an academic mother is, contrary to popular belief, quite manageable. Yes it is a challenge: my husband and I learned the hard way this week the importance of synchronised diaries – which reminds me I need to schedule the nursery Christmas extravaganza (roles to be announced soon…what!? is baby going to need some sort of costume?).
Parent or not, all this talk of work-life balance in academia makes you feel depressed and inadequate. I have had a relatively positive experience of academic motherhood…although baby has yet to reach school age which I think will pose the biggest challenge…What are your stories and advice for academic parents?
*There’s a dark side to maternity leave you rarely hear about – the feelings and awkwardness associated with having someone else replace you and carry on your work. They may be better than you, or completely ruin the project – what about authorship and presenting at conferences etc? I have experienced this both as an employed maternity cover myself and as ‘the new mother’; it can cause quite a bit of stress for both parties.