September 18, 2013

Finding my way as a working mom

Lately, I feel like my September is the storm before the calm. Truth be told, I am most at home when the weather is cold and the leaves are crinkled, when my semester settles into a rhythm and my teaching schedule feels normal again. I stop lamenting that "normal" is no longer my summer break and in doing so I come to accept that everything is much busier and harried. Even though my "to-do" list doesn't necessarily shorten once this happens, I at least become less overwhelmed by it.

These days I'm spread a little thin. That shouldn't be surprising as this specific back-to-school cycle is the first in which I am adjusting to life as a working mom. Although I knew it was going to be hard, I didn't anticipate being hit by a baby with a 9 month sleep regression and (mild but still obvious) separation anxiety. Sleep deprivation makes me feel ineffective and unproductive. Not to mention irritable and tired! But there just isn't time to be unproductive at the moment.

Chris is trying to finish and defend his dissertation and I am trying to help him as much as he helped me. I am trying to complete a few grant applications and a book proposal over the next few weeks. I have a house to maintain. And I am back to my regular work schedule with a heavy teaching load and the usual service responsibilities. My summer class gave me a trial run of the work-life balancing act that so many women I know make look effortless. But that period was brief and I was only teaching one condensed session with very little service work. So I guess in reality I'm spread very thin at the moment.

On my commute home the other night I listened to Terry Gross interviewing Debora Spar about her new book, Wonder Women, which examines what Spar describes as a post-feminist internalization that in effect "privatized" feminism.  She says that rather than working toward the social changes that could help all of us, the trend instead sees women attempting to "have it all" individually, entailing a never ending quest for perfection. I haven't read the book yet but hearing her speak about it intrigued me. So I added it to my to do list... which continues to grow at a faster pace than I can manage. Still, the discussion was a nice reminder that perhaps I should try to cut myself some slack.

I know that I am doing the best that I can with constraints. I know that my work is not only important to me but necessary to the livelihood of my family. I know that Emilia is taken care of, comfortable, and happy, despite the teething, sleep regressions, and separation anxiety. I know that everything will be ok in part because it has to be. And thankfully, I have a lot of support on my side.

Thankfully my own upbringing involved a working, educator mom. It really helps to remind myself that my mom did this with an even more demanding schedule that required her to work out of the home five days a week. It helps to remember that she and my dad were able to balance things, raising (not one, but) three kids, while maintaining a really loving, happy marriage. It really helps to have my family's support and encouragement. I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who is very adept with a bedtime routine (without the benefit/crutch of nursing) and who loves to cook. He cooks more than I do and when I come home exhausted after my long teaching days, he always has a warm meal waiting for me. Talk about supportive!

I reflect often on my mom's (and really both of my parents') example, trying to model myself after it. If I'm feeling especially down, I remind myself that I am modeling this role for my own daughter and for the women students I mentor, advise, and teach. I don't want to let anyone down by being a negative caricature of new motherhood, rife with anxieties and "baby brain." And I'm probably overly self-conscious of the alleged "baby brain" drain, due to harsh self-criticism. After all, I had enough brain power to finish my doctorate this summer. That has to count for something!

Still, this is hard. It's hard to leave her. It's hard not to let my curiosity about what she is doing, how she is doing, if she is taking the bottle/napping/crying/etc. distract me from what I need to be doing.

I am especially relieved and lucky that Emilia is being taken care of by my sister on the days when I go to campus. I'm sure she would have been fine in daycare if we had gone that route. I see the babies in my moms' group enrolled in daycare and thriving. But family help brings a peace of mind that is priceless. Chris and I wanted to start a family while we lived near our loved ones for a bunch of reasons. And this is one of them! Emilia adores Katie and Katie adores Emilia. It's amazing to see them grow so close because of this arrangement. After my grandmother passed away, my Aunt Patty (my mom's sister) took care of me and my brother (before my sister was born) while my mom worked. And I feel such a strong bond to my aunt because of it. I am sure that Katie and Emilia and I will all be even closer because of this time together. Thanks to my sister, my baby and I have yet to suffer tearful goodbyes even though both of us are experiencing pangs of separation anxiety.

I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am in those harder moments. I need to remember that everything that is new feels hard and stressful at first, until it eventually becomes normal. If anyone has any secrets to managing things or just words of commiseration, I'd love to hear them!


dajana, all kinds of lovely said...

I read this post with only one thought in my mind Jess and that was, "This woman is amazing."

I don't know anyone that could have finished their doctorate while navigating the earliest stages of motherhood (and supporting their partner's own educational endeavours).

p.s. Will be checking out Wonder Women! Thanks for the suggestion.

Sharon said...

As always such a thoughtful post from you Jess--thank you! Here's wishing October is here soon and that you start to feel more settled. And as for "baby brain" or "mommy brain", I've read some interesting articles about how your brain is actually spending energy differentiating and building frameworks in which to store rapidly acquired knowledge so really you're getting smarter! I thought that was a nice way to view things :)

knrst5 said...

I try to keep having it all in perspective, and try not to get hung up on details, like a Pinterest perfect birthday party. I think having it all should be defined by you (and your partner). My definition changes frequently, and always at the top of my list is that my child knows that he is loved and has the support of his family.

I've tired to stop comparing myself to the women in the articles and on tv who may have it all. Their stories are their own, not mine. Someday I'd like to put together a collection of stories of the women and men that I know who are trying to have it all, on their own terms.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

I didn't respond to this immediately when you wrote it cause I was reading it on my phone while pumping in my office during a 12 hour day on campus (plus my 2 hrs of commuting) but suffice to say it basically made me sob.

You are too kind and if "doing my best but kind of only getting by" can count for amazing then, yes that is me. haha... But I'm figuring it out as I go. Right now I feel like I have to do a bunch of things which means they're all executed poorly. Still, I can't thank you enough for the encouragement! xoxo

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Thank you so much, Sharon! That actually makes me feel a lot better about my mom brain. I definitely feel like my brain is dividing and trying desperately to multitask but if I've learned the hard way that lately, if I don't write it down I will forget it.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Great advice all around. I agree that comparing is just a recipe for self-loathing a lot of the time. I keep trying to brainstorm how to execute her bday party and then I remind myself that... she is going to be 1. Just because pinterest exists doesn't mean that I have time or should absorb its values about perfection. And along with that I need to remember that some of the pressure that I feel is self-made for sure. I need to learn to ease up on my desire for control especially when it comes to housework cause as soon as she is more mobile I know keeping up will be another layer of difficult!

I think having it all can become a moving target for good and for bad and need to work on ensuring my notion of this balance is dynamic and flexible in a positive sense (rather than mutating to be a never ending quest for more, better, faster, etc.).


Related Posts with Thumbnails