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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Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.

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.

30 Days of Blogging, Day 15

I’m sitting at a coffee shop drinking a double shot mocha and I’m about to read a book. It’s my first self care act in months and months and months. I also just came from getting my legs waxed. I may be alone on this, but the feeling of having individual unwanted hairs ripped from their roots is really freeing and satisfying, and it gives me a bit of an adrenalin boost to boot. 

The reason I can do this today is that I submitted my final proposal draft to my advisor at 10pm last night and now it’s on its way to my committee – the committee of “deciders” who will fingers crossed approve my proposal so I can start this bloody experiment already and finish my PhD one day. 

In case anyone’s wondering, the book I’m now settling into is The Soul of Discipline, by Kim John Payne. He also wrote Simplicity Parenting, which I reviewed in a post a while back. I’ll let you know how this one turns out. 

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…