Vice Presidents, Wives, and Moms: Reflections and Lessons Learned

By Terrell, Patricia S.; Gifford, Denise | College Student Affairs Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Vice Presidents, Wives, and Moms: Reflections and Lessons Learned


Terrell, Patricia S., Gifford, Denise, College Student Affairs Journal


Pat's Story

Some people mark time by the events in their lives. My professional development and career has been marked by the birth and development of my daughter. She attended my master's level classes with me, well, sort of. I was pregnant during my last two semesters. As usual, I was working full time in student affairs and taking nine credit hours back-to-back in an attempt to finish before she was born. I was almost successful. She arrived in late December, and I had one class to take the following spring. When I was started working on my doctorate in 1984, my daughter was seven years old. Anxious to finish, I worked full time in student affairs and then took at least nine hours every semester until I finished, except for two semesters when I took 12 hours back-to-back. One semester for two nights a week, I traveled 75 miles each way to take classes, sometimes carpooling with Denise Gifford or Steve Milburn, fellow colleagues and students in the program. Although my focus was definitely not on being a wife and mother, I was still deeply hurt one day when my daughter told me that her teacher had asked, "What does your mommy do?" My daughter told me that she replied, "She goes to work, goes to school, and goes out of town." I know now why that teacher gave me such a disgusted look during parent-teacher conferences.

I had options, of course. We all do, presumably. My generation of females was told that we could have it all. The message I retained was that if I did not have it all, it was my fault. I was not smart enough, did not juggle well enough, or did not manage my time appropriately. I rejected all of my other options, including quitting my job and reducing my family's standard of living, thus impacting my daughter in a different way. I could have reduced my commitment to my position, affecting my personal sense of honor and integrity. I could have taken fewer classes and thus longer to graduate, extending the absences from home over a longer period of time and perhaps missing out on opportunities that I imagined would be more readily available once I had earned a terminal degree. No, I wanted to have it all, and as a result, had little of nothing.

On those nights that Denise and I rode together, we often reflected on our children's lives and what we were missing by working full time and going to graduate school full time. We reflected on the essential goodness of our spouses, neither of whom had graduate degrees, but who were still thrilled that we wanted to be "doctors." Mainly, Denise and I talked about guilt. It was the guilt that we could not balance everything to our satisfaction and the potentially horrendous impact on our children due to their lack of a traditional mother role model in their formative years.

After graduation, I moved to a dean of students position with responsibilities to be on call 24/7. I left home in the middle of the night too many times to remember because of a student crisis, secure that my husband would get our daughter off to school and even pick her up from daycare if I did not return by early evening. My performance at work was important to me, and sometimes my relationship with my daughter suffered as a result. I recall one day when she called me at work from school to say that she needed another blouse. Due to some mishap, she had gotten blood on her blouse and had torn it so that she felt it was no longer modest. I remember telling her that I had a meeting in 10 minutes that my staff assistant had worked weeks to schedule and could she simply borrow a jacket from another student to wear over her blouse? Her disappointment was palpable. She said, "Any of the other kids' mothers would come to school if this happened to them. I guess I am not as important as your meeting," and then she hung up on me. I do not recall if she tried to call her dad or not. Perhaps he was not available. I went to the meeting, but I was so upset after the conversation with my daughter that I had difficulty concentrating. …

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