Since October, I’ve have chosen to be a full-time stay-at-home mum. My full-time postdoc ended, my children were struggling with transitioning into school and away from each other, and frankly, it’s cheaper. The casual work is limited at the end of the year and child care is financially not worth it. I haven’t been a full-time stay-home mum since my girls were babies and, let me tell you, it’s much tougher than I anticipated. I saw the time I would spend at home as time to keep plugging away at my writing.
I was kidding myself. The mum-gig is hard.
Many academic mum blogs are great but they tend to focus on how to balance having children and the pressures of the Academe. I haven’t seen one about being an academic and coping with motherhood. I’d love to read one if anyone has a link.
Last week, I went to a wonderful, challenging [boot camp] for early career academic women at Melbourne University. I spent a whole week “being academic” for the first time in a very long time. I was so energised I would spend the whole day in workshops and then go out with people every evening. The evening adventures also involved catching up with intellectually stimulating people. Even Friday, when I went out with my family, I was energised.
Then I woke up on Saturday.
Then came the crash.
Full-time motherhood was back and it hurts, really bad.
I don’t think I need to go through the usual caveats about loving my children because that is not the point. What I want to explore in the blog are the blues. What I am so keenly noticing about motherhood, after having a week “off”.
When children are bored they get cranky and chuck a lot of tantrums. I am cranky and want to chuck a lot of tantrums now I’m back to my full-time parenting job. Children are hard work, but it’s emotional and physical hard work, not cogntive (which I gave up on a long time ago because my first child didn’t fit neatly into any book of parenting tips). In my head I said, during nap time I’ll do my stuff and if they refuse to nap, I’ll chuck on the TV, and do my stuff. Sometimes it works but other times it doesn’t. I think I could count on one hand how often it works and it’s not because I don’t have the time.
I don’t have the energy. I probably had a morning where my child has chucked a mega tantrum so by the time “my time” comes around, I too have the TV on because I’m shell shocked and exhausted.
And that’s the thing, I have the chronographic time, but not the emotional time.
If I don’t do anything to fulfill my cognitive needs, I get bored. And so a vicious cycle of boredom, crankiness, tantrums, and exhaustion continues every day. And the problem gets worse.
And worse, I use my cognitive capacities to analyse things which need to be left alone. I went through a stage of posting pictures of my beautiful, funny, well-behaved, intelligent children on Facebook with sarcastic captions like: “Here’s a picture of my idyllic home life to make you all feel guilty about your own parenting”, or “Just so you know, this cool picture was preceded and followed by a raging tantrum.” This approach is never good and an excellent indicator I’m bored.
I spend lots of time with people as a stay-at-home mum. At school drop off, pick up, there are always people around for chats. In parks, there is always another mother. The difference between conversations about kids and conversations about, say, philosophers, is that they don’t energise me. Park conversations are wonderful and important because they help me feel better about the corner rocking and the yelling, but they don’t course through me like an academic conversation.
I extensively read social media, hoping for a conversation, but I don’t think it is a great forum for dialectics. In fact, education Twitter feels like the apocalypse at the moment. I have enough tantrums in my physical life to want to engage with them in my virtual.
One of the things I loved about last week was meeting some of my intellectually stimulating social media friends and having conversations that included eye contact, facial expressions, audible laughter and physical touch. These people are very good at using the tools of the digital to convey the emotional, but the physicality of good, stimulating conversation lubricated by food and drink cannot be beaten.
I know that publications are the thing which will land me an academic job. I know this every time I watch TV rather than write. I battle that guilt every day and don’t need reminding of it.
I can’t help with ideas for the boredom and the loneliness but I do have some ideas about guilt. These I gleaned from the bootcamp.
Guilt is always there. It will never go away. Don’t lose energy trying to purge it. Accept that it is a part of an academic mum’s life. I will always feel guilty about saying “No” to someone who needs help, who makes me feel like I am the only one who can competently help. I will always feel guilty for having my children in child care rather than at home. I will always feel guilty about concentrating on children and not working. I will always feel guilty that I am prepared to uproot my family from their home and friends for my career (when the time comes).
But what I can do is:
Treat work like work and treat home like home. The pile will be the same size tomorrow because the moment I break it’s back, there will be more to do. The pile is work.
Talk like family commitments are non-negotiable. I don’t need to explain why I need time for my family. Academia has a lot of advantages, one of them being autonomy. But, while we apologise for having to pick our kids up by 4:30pm or going to an awards assembly at school, we are letting those around us think that family is something that is done on the side. A workplace will not be accepting of academic parenthood while we let this culture continue. It is an academic parent’s responsibility to ensure there is culture change through the words we pick.
Treat my time at home for the next couple of months like maternity leave. It is a time to concentrate on family and be a family. I will spend time repairing relationships with my children who caught the brunt of my crankiness. I have a long career ahead of me. I have to back myself that it will all come to fruition. While I’m trying to desperately work while I care, and collapsing with anxiety, I teach my children that this is how career and motherhood work together.
It all comes down to what I am modelling to both my daughters and my workplace.
Finally, I can hit my already wonderfully patient husband up for more weekend writing retreats. By concentrating on fulfilling my cognitive needs I’ll be happier. Happy mummy, happy family.