Confessions of Dr. Mommy

What does a semester “off” mean for an academic who has ongoing work with students and colleagues and who is passionate about research?

I am a new Assistant Professor and mother of a 4 month old. Work-life balance has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Luckily, my university has an excellent family leave policy, allowing me to take the semester off from most of my duties to be with my daughter, and my colleagues have been incredibly supportive. But, what does a semester “off” mean for an academic who has ongoing work with students and colleagues and who is passionate about research? It means I’m my daughter’s primary caregiver 24/7 and I also do my academic work as often as I can – during naptimes and late at night after everyone else in my house is sleeping. (Yes, I hit the jackpot with a baby who sleeps through the night!) I love my daughter and being a mom – more than anything in the world! But my confession is that I also really love my work, and I miss doing it full-time.

Even though I have the incredible opportunity to spend the first 6+ months at home with my child instead of working in an office (a luxury for the U.S.), I confess that sometimes at the end of the day, I feel disappointed in the amount of academic work I have accomplished. And then maternal guilt creeps in. The irony is that when I do have available time to sit down and get work done, I’m often distracted by wanting to post pictures of my daughter, journal about her development, call the grandparents about the latest baby news, or even browse the latest infancy research. I want it all – staying home with my daughter AND having plenty of time for my research – but of course that’s impossible. It feels like a difficult balance to strike, probably because my identity is heavily wrapped up in both work and motherhood. My best days are the ones where I am fully present in the moment – focusing only on work when I get those precious bits of free time – and focusing on enjoying my daughter during the valuable time the two of us get to spend together. Of course, next semester, I’ll be back to working on campus full-time and my work-family dynamics will change. But the need for balance will still be there. To other academic parents out there, do you share the same struggles? What are your secrets to finding the right balance?

By Laura Wary-Lake

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