Last night, whilst I was trying to convince the Tiny Terror (in his mind, he was starring as Andy from Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures) should lie down and go to sleep rather than trying to find dinosaurs, I stumbled across a Twitter conversation about academic motherhood and trying to navigate it that was kicked off by Rachel Moss. I’ve also had various ideas swilling around in my head about getting rest and holidays, and decided to take this morning to finally jot everything down. I’ve called this academic motherhood because I am an academic and I am a mother, but there are, of course, other flavours of academic parenting and caring, and please feel free to add your comments below.
Academic parenthood is exactly what I expected and also exactly not what I expected. On the expectations side, I expected to have less time. I expected to have to be more focussed. I expected to be tired. I was. There have been some unintended benefits of this. Parenthood on the back of years of early career commuting means that I have no fear of an early start to a long day. I have learned all manner of unintended life hacks, such as how there’s no need to bother with blow drying your hair if you have air con in your car to speed up the drying process.*
Here’s what I wasn’t expecting, or have had to make up as I go along:
- When’s the best time for conferences for parents: well, there’s a campaign to end weekend conferences, but I am going to strike a controversial note because I freaking love weekend conferences. I can just run off to a conference knowing that the Big and Tiny Terrors will just hang out together over the weekend, without them having to try to get to and from work and nursery in an orderly fashion. On the other hand, I can perfectly see why other people with children would rather get conferences over in the week. I’ve yet to go to a conference with childcare, or actually, to take the two Terrors with me. I’ve not been anywhere exciting enough to entice the Terrors to come with me/the Big Terror hasn’t already been to, and there is the balance – even with childcare – of conference and home time. It’s also actually easier for me to claim that time back in the week, particularly with summer/early autumn conferences. The moral of this story is: we’ll probably never ever find a time for a conference that suits everyone, but conference organisers can look at what they offer in terms of childcare or family-friendly fare, and consider alternating conferences between weekend and weekday, for some starters. And I have really loved being able to follow conferences and workshops on Twitter or watch clips on YouTube of plenaries when I’ve not been able to go in person.
- Flexible working is not what you think it is: Pre-Terror, if I wanted to work all night and sleep all day, no-one would have batted an eyelid provided I did the teaching I was supposed to do, went to all the meetings I was supposed to be at, and got my publications out and the grants in. Post-Terror going to nursery, my day has to revolve around nursery drop-off and collection, as well as the traffic in the Medway towns, which means that I do a core 8.30am-4.30pm day. So, yes, I don’t have any fixed working hours by contract and could ask for flexible working if I needed to, but it’s somewhat irrelevant at the moment as I’m fixed by nursery. And therefore by the circadian rhythms of the Tiny Terror, who needs to be vaguely in sync with this day. However, I suspect it will really come into its own when school starts. I don’t work evenings or weekends unless I have or want to.
- Summers don’t happen for me – yet: they don’t happen for me yet because I currently pay full whack for a full-time nursery place over the summer (we do get grant funding of 15 hours per week, but it is only for 38 weeks a year, i.e. the school term). Therefore, this July and August I will be forking out more on childcare than I will be on my mortgage in order to keep the Tiny Terror at nursery. Whilst we are going on holiday, and I’m planning to get some additional rest in, this is the penultimate year that I don’t have to try to work work around school holidays. So I plan to get my money’s worth (and my book written) this year, see what happens next year when school is on the horizon, and to basically roll with school holidays when they reach us. I’m actually really, really looking forward to the school holidays.
- I bl**dy love weekends: any conference has to be an excellent conference to get me to it at the weekend. It will need to offer some combination of: a) friends I’ve not seen for ages; b) the specific intellectual input/feedback/contacts I need at that point in time; c) a bath in the hotel room I’m staying in; d) some form of time-saving in offering access to archives or library collections that I need to get hold of. I love weekends, I love evenings, I love bank holidays, I love holidays, I even love a rainy day on a staycation. It’s not that I hated them before, it’s more that this free time, with or without anything to do, is just ace.
- Things that feel like more work can actually help balance your workload: I signed up for the Aurora programme a couple of years back, largely because I was half-interested in academic leadership. I was half-interested because I was on something of a downer about myself and life in general (see this post). I was genuinely worried that taking part in this would mean a tsunami of additional work for me to do. On the contrary, getting out to these days, talking to women from other universities and thinking about what I actually do at work/others do really made the difference. It gave me a chance to think about doing things in different (better) ways. It also helped to boost my confidence, too.
- I’ve genuinely been surprised by how much I’ve managed to do: That’s not meant to be a humble brag, folks, or an attempt to run down my pre-child self. I didn’t have much of a yardstick, in fairness. I’m not sure, when I was pregnant, that I really envisaged what life with a three year old would look like.
It’s a pity that, generally, blogs seem to be one area of academic writing that can be pushed to the side because of other forms of work taking precedence (not least ‘proper’ writing). And time for blogs certainly gets pinched when you are trying to keep up with academic term on the one hand and a child on the other. This is a pity, as we probably could learn a lot of from what others have to share about their experiences (and I am looking here at a couple of contributors to that Twitter convo with older children, whose advice I am squirrelling away for the future!)
* Please note that I make no claims as to whether or not this life hack will leave you looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards: I’m guessing my colleagues are just too polite to tell me if this is the case with me.