Duty Calls: Balancing work & family

We’ve been away every weekend this summer, we’ve been sick a lot making for a lot of missed daycare, and our daycare provider is on holidays this week. I haven’t been getting work done. Tonight, my wife is primary caregiver while I sit at a restaurant/lounge and do some work over a pint.

It feels different than it used to to sit at this place and work. When you’re a parent, part of your brain is always on your child(ren). I can’t get lost in my work like I used to. I know my wife will be totally fine with the full bedtime routine because she has been doing so well putting Avery to sleep since we weaned, but I feel shitty about the way I had to leave Avery tonight – I had to sneak out. I tried saying goodbye in a casual, non-chalant way – “see ya later, sweetie, I have to go do some work,” but she started screaming and clung to my legs begging to be picked up. So we got her distracted with some fun task and I snuck out.

She has been very sensitive about my absence lately. You can see her get nervous as bedtime approaches, not knowing if she’ll get me or her Mo. We have yet to settle into a new routine regarding which one of us puts her to bed. I’ve put her to sleep twice now, and it has gone fairly well both times. We’re going to settle into a two-nights-on two-nights-off schedule so that bath night (which happens every other night) isn’t always the same parent’s responsibility. The parent who gives her her bath and gets her ready for bed won’t be the same parent who reads her books in bed and lays with her till she falls asleep. She’ll get both of us every night. She just has to get used to the new normal.

I’m still in a “I miss breastfeeding” phase.I feel like I’ve lost a superpower. But I know it’s not a real regret, just nostalgia. And Avery only asks for milk once every other day or so now, and doesn’t get upset when I remind her that it’s all gone. She has been such a strong little person.

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How I’m surviving grad school as a parent: admitting my privilege

There may be readers here who are student-parents, or who are thinking of going back to school after having a kid. I want to be transparent with my experience, and how it has been so doable for me. There are actually a few ways that my privilege is helping me succeed in a usually adverse, immensely challenging combination of jobs, including having a steadily employed spouse who pays a lot of our expenses, affordable rent in a nice house thanks to my mother, extremely affordable part time daycare, and more. Here I’m going to focus on the story of my PhD advisor, and how having support for your family priorities from the person who decides if you graduate or not can make or break you as a student.

My PhD advisor is the bomb diggity. He says that because he was never a parent, he takes out his “mothering instinct” (as he calls it) on his grad students. He treats his students with compassion, patience, encouragement, genuine belief in us, and he throws research money at us to make our work as efficient and impactful as possible. And right now he is on the cusp of retirement and only has two grad students – me and one of my best friends. His partner is an amazing, kind, supportive, and intelligent woman who also happens to be on my advisory committee. My school-world is as perfect as it possibly could be.

I’ve been working with my PhD advisor for 7 years. He was my undergraduate thesis advisor and my Master’s advisor. He wasn’t taking on new students anymore when he first started working with me – he had transitioned from a faculty position to become Vice President of Academics at the university, and didn’t have time to advise students. But as a 3rd year undergraduate planning my 4th year research project, I marched into his executive office with confidence and all the charm I could muster, and convinced him to take me on as a supervisee. He saw something in me – he says now he knew we would work seemlessly together and that I would be low maintenance, and he made a personal committment to see me through to the end of my studies, no matter how long that might take (he probably never imagined it would be 7 years and counting!).

He is the reason I was accepted into grad school. Admittance to the program required a 90 GPA. I had an 80 GPA. But the most important factor to admittance was having an advisor lined up and willing to pay at least some of your stipend. He backed me up and I was admitted to a program I still feel I wasn’t good enough for.

My advisor and his partner attended my wedding. He visited my home after my daughter was born and gifted her an adorable boutique outfit (and me a fancy bottle of wine). He frequently held advisory meetings over lunch at a restaurant so he could treat his students to a meal (and a drink, if they wanted). When I defended my Master’s thesis, he took me and all of my support people who attended out for a beer.

When my peers have complained about having to pay their research participants compensation out of their own pockets, I know I am privileged to have an advisor who pays all of my research expenses, including my tuition for the past couple of years. When my peers complain about having to pay their own way to conferences, I feel guilty that my advisor begs to send me someplace luxurious like Paris or Lisben for conferences (if only I liked to travel).

I really don’t know how I would have survived grad school without him as my advisor. I probably wouldn’t have completed it.

That’s not to say that you can’t do parenting and studenting successfully at the same time, but it may not be as easy as I make it look as I blog about spending time with my toddler, gardening, and generally not stressing about school.

3 Things on Sunday

1. My PhD research proposal was accepted!! I waited a month for my advisory committee to come together for a meeting, and the meeting went amazingly well. I can finally – after 3 years and 2 other proposal attempts that fell through for different reasons – finally, move on to actually DOING THE RESEARCH and finishing this f-ing degree and get a job.

2. I had my first me-time in a long time getting my hair done this weekend, but thoughts of how expensive it was going to be and how much I just wanted to be home with my little family made the whole 2 hour process unenjoyable. It’s funny how you can be at your wit’s end with trying to keep up with your demanding toddler’s needs and then in only 5 minutes of being alone feel like your heart is aching from missing that wonderful, demanding toddler.

3. Night weaning is going really well, but sleep isn’t… It’s complicated. Avery has been sick forever and the cough still keeps her up at night. The doctor assures us it’s normal for kids her age in daycare to be sick for this long, and for things like runny noses and coughs to linger well beyond the duration of the actual bug. She’s also struggling with yet another itchy post-viral rash (apparently she’s prone to them). So she does a lot of crying through the night, and I used to be able to make her feel better by nursing. Now we just put a hand on her back and lay next to her while she fusses, and she doesn’t even ask for milk to help her get through it. She just deals with it. It makes me proud of her, and also sad that the instant comfort phase of her life is over. She makes her own comfort, now. That said, last night she was really upset, and I brought her into our bed to sleep on top of me. Just because we’ve night weaned doesn’t mean we’ll let her suffer all night or go without sleep.

The good news is, she usually goes from 7pm to 4am with only one wake up that we need to go to her bedside for (that one wake up takes 2 minutes for my wife and an hour for me, though). The bad news is, 4am is when she wakes up for the day now… We’ve let her have an earlier nap to compensate, but that just messes with her afternoon energy levels. Can’t wait for her to settle into the new normal without night (and morning) nursing and hopefully find a good rhythm we can all be happy with.

30 Days of Blogging, Day 6

I had this painting done as a Christmas gift for my wife, and I’ve decided to overlay my blog name and use it as my new gravatar (profile pic). Is that an uncool thing to do, use a gift you gave someone else? Oh well, it’s done.

The artist has an Etsy shop called whimsicalimaginings and she did a great job portraying our likeness and was a pleasure to work with on getting the details just right.

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Also, Avery picked up another daycare bug and wouldn’t nap again today. She was a treat this afternoon… But we did manage to work side by side for about 5 minutes between tantrums, and I snapped this cute pic. 

30 days of blogging, Day 4

 I got a bit of work done on my dissertation proposal edits today because my wife took the kiddo to the local butterfly conservatory again. She loves that place. 

Today was the first time Avery had zero naps. I tried to get her down twice, and she even laid herself down in bed and looked sleepy, but just never drifted off. It was an emotional afternoon, but she fell asleep at bedtime in the blink of an eye (as opposed to the usual hour).

I also reached 300 followers today, which is so awesome! I remember when 200 seemed so far away… I hope that most of my followers actually enjoy reading some of what I share. If you’re reading this, thank you! I really love being able to share my life with you. 

Writing a Dissertation Takes FOREVER

I’m still at the proposal stage. This is my third proposal in three years. The first proposal I wrote was my favourite, but my community partner fell through (I was supposed to work with PFLAG, but the ED stopped returning my calls and emails with no explanation). My second proposal was co-developed by a co-advisor whom I decided not to work with in the end, and just as the advisor didn’t suit me, the ideas in the proposal didn’t suit me either. The third iteration, the one I’m working on right now, is similar to the last one, but I’m writing it in a very different way, and the experimental design is adjusted to an extent that requires a lot of extra background literature review.

Although I was back to work part time in January (while caring for my baby full-time), I only worked on a teaching assistantship. I was able to do all of my marking and student correspondence with the baby strapped to me in a wrap. In the summer semester (starting in May), I knew I wanted to go back to working on my dissertation, so I opted out of a teaching assistantship so I’d have time to work on my own stuff. However, it turned out that at around 9 months babies start getting into things and refuse to be strapped to a warm body for hours on end. I got very little work done over the summer. I did somehow manage to submit a draft of my proposal to my advisor, which I completed on the occasional weekend afternoon when my wife would take the baby.

Now my kid is only getting more and more active, and it’s increasingly difficult to work while I’m with her. But, we have 12 hours a week of daycare. If I’m honest, I probably do focused work for 6 or 7 of those hours (the rest is spent driving to and from daycare, showering, eating, and occasionally blogging).

It’s slow going. I got edits back from my advisor mid-September and right now my proposal looks like someone hacked at it with a knife. I find myself needing to read new bodies of literature, and also play catch up on recent additions to my own field since I stopped making time to read articles (oh look, someone did my exact idea already… glad it worked so well for them…).

I’m discouraged. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have god knows how many months left of proposal writing. I have to finish this draft, have it reviewed by my advisor, incorporate his second round of edits, have it reviewed by my committee, incorporate their edits and hope it’s not a complete rewrite, and only then can I actually start developing the tools I will need to conduct my experiments. Data collection and analysis feel impossibly far away. I can’t even picture myself writing my final dissertation. I’ll be a wrinkly, old lady by then. My daughter will be starting work on her own PhD by then. At least that’s what it feels like.

I so badly want to contribute financially to my family. Some days I want to quit this PhD thing and get a job, but then I’ll have wasted the past 4 years. Just have to keep plugging away…

The Work-At-Home-Parent

I see a lot of posts on social media about what it means to be a stay at home parent or a working parent, how these parents made the decision to stay at home or go back to work, and the guilt and pressures they feel about their decision (because ALL parents feel guilt). I find I can’t relate to these articles about how to be productive as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), or how to deal with guilt over leaving your kids with someone else all day as a working parent. I don’t see posts about work at home parents, and I think that we have a unique experience that should be shared. 

I take care of my baby full time with the exception of a few hours some weekends when I escape to a coffee shop to get some focused work done. I took a 4 month leave from all other duties when she was born, but then returned to my two work duties: I do work with a not for profit, and I’m a part time PhD student. I currently set my own hours, but I have timelines and deadlines to meet. I make very little money. Here’s how I made my decision to be a WAHM, and the struggles, guilt and pressure I feel about my decision. I suppose I should end on a happy note, so I’ll also share the great parts of my arrangement. 

*recycling an old photo I took for a previous post about being a WAHM

The Decision

 The decision to be a WAHM was really a decision to become a mom while I was still a grad student. We thought about waiting until I had a paying job to start our family, but the future was uncertain (when would I finish, would I find a job, would the career path be forgiving of taking a parental leave…). We also liked the idea of saving money on childcare if I could manage both school and baby, since I work from home at this stage in my PhD. My not for profit work was the same deal. I was already involved, and figured that as long as I could balance everything, I’d keep it up after the baby came (turns out I couldn’t balance that many things, so I’m resigning from the NFP at the end of my term at the end of this month). 

The Struggles 

  • There’s an expectation that because I’m home and don’t have billable hours that I’m free to run errands and do extra cleaning and household tasks. While it’s true that I can throw laundry in and prep dinner while I work from home, every household task that I throw into the mix takes away time that I could/should be working. And I actually love cleaning, so if my wife points out how dirty it is behind the fridge, I’m going to want to clean the kitchen instead of get work done. And I have very little self control. 
  • Self control… I’m a good self-directed worker as long as the work is peaking my interest, but if there is something more interesting to do – like play with the baby or clean that part of the house that has been bothering me – I struggle with the self control to get Work done. 
  • Taking care of the baby is often not labeled as work, so if I work part time on school, there’s an expectation that I have part time hours to devote to something else. My life would be infinitely more balanced and supported (and I would feel I finitely more validated) if parenting was seen as legitimate Work in the eyes of our society. 

The Guilt

  • Because I’m doing my PhD part time now to accommodate parenting, it’ll be longer before I can contribute financially to the family in a meaningful way. I’m also not taking on the little paid side projects I used to do. 
  • I sometimes have to turn the TV on to distract the baby when her toys have become boring and I need to keep working.
  • I worry that she’ll think she’s being ignored because I’m not engaging with her, when really I’m trying so hard to peel my attention off of her and how cute she is so I can focus on my work. I don’t want her to think that I prefer looking at my laptop over her. 
  • I also don’t want her to learn that it’s ok to ignore people when you have a shiny screen in front of you. 

    How I Manage

    • I let her nap in the way that she’ll nap the longest and most soundly – on me in the Moby wrap. Despite how hard we’re trying to control her night time sleep habits, naps are when I get the most guilt free work done. There’s no way I’m giving up 2 hour naps, even if I need to stand and sway for the whole time. I stand at my computer and it works beautifully, despite the sore legs and back. 
    • I enlist the help of my wife or my mom to watch her for a few hours a week while I go to particularly long meetings or do some intense focused work at a coffee shop. This was trickier when she breastfed every hour and a half and she refused to take the bottle, and tricky again when she was in the thick of stranger anxiety, and I’m sure we have yet to hit the peak of separation anxiety. But when we can make it work, it helps me a lot. 
    • I take her to short meetings and I am unapologetic about it. If a meeting is scheduled during her nap time or after bedtime (don’t go there…) I ask to reschedule or I decline. I also don’t hesitate to let her nurse during a meeting if she needs to, although now she is old enough to wait for the duration of most meetings. She has gotten really good at sitting next to me and playing with her toys while I’m in meetings. *it wasn’t always this easy though – the first big meeting I went to with her was when she was 1 month old and she screamed bloody murder the whole time. #Colic. 
    • I’m kind to myself. If society doesn’t constantly remind me how important and valid a job it is to be a parent, I’ll do it myself. My daughter is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of my day, and work will always come second. I’m lucky enough to be able to have these priorities and not get fired for it. 

      The Best Parts

      • I don’t miss a thing. I see every First and have an intensely close attachment with my baby. 
      • Things like laundry and meal prep are usually within my daily priority list, which makes our evenings and weekends a little more open to do fun family things. 
      • If my baby is sick or if we’ve had a particularly rough night, we can stay in our pyjamas all day and the Work can wait. 

        If you work from home with a baby, what are some of your lessons learned, challenges, guilty feelings… and what’s great about it?