I wish that I had read an article like Maike Ingrid Philipsen's starkly honest "Balancing Personal and Professional Lives: Experiences of Female Faculty Across the Career Span" at the beginning of my doctoral journey. It may have helped me not to feel so alone in those early painful struggles of learning to balance academics, work, and family. The female faculty experiences that Philipsen highlights--including some of her own--reflect the primary reason that I have chosen not to pursue a tenure-track position until my children are older, specifically, the continual tension of trying to balance academic expectations and family life such that one is not overly emphasized at the expense of the other.
When I entered a doctoral program in 2005, I was one of two female students with children and the only one with children under the age of five. While I had a very supportive female faculty advisor, she had never raised children and had counseled early on that I should seek out other faculty mentors to help in this area. One such opportunity came by means of a brown bag session that was offered to graduate students in our college. A seasoned faculty member was on hand to share strategies that had helped him to successfully navigate this difficult terrain. I knew and respected him both as a person and a professional. I also knew that he was father to a middle-school-aged child, so I was anxious to hear his thoughts on the subject.
One strategy that he emphasized was the importance of a disciplined daily schedule, including an established and ideally uninterrupted writing time. While I appreciated the wisdom behind this strategy, I had failed several times when attempting to apply it to my own schedule, which, despite the incredible support of a very capable partner, was frequently interrupted by little ones who did not understand or care that "Mommy has to study." So I asked the individual how he was able to manage all the unexpected things that come up when one has a child, not to mention the planned activities, housework, etc. He responded, "Well my wife takes care of those things for our family." It proved to be an "aha" moment for me and I half-joked, "I want a wife too!" While he was generous in his empathy for female graduate students with children and was an extraordinary academic mentor in other areas, I learned that his experiences at balancing work and family life were not going to be like my own.
For two and a half years, I continued to struggle with how to get it all done--how to be a good student, a good employee, a good mother, and a good partner (regretfully in that order). I felt continual dissonance over what I should be doing. I should be writing that paper, I should be working on that project, I should be playing with my children, I should be spending more time with my husband, and I should be figuring out how to balance all of these things at the same time. …