Tag Archive for mothers

Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent arti­cle in Time mag­a­zine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blo­gos­phere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image cour­tesy of http://themotherlode.wordpress.com

Some authors have addressed the title of the arti­cle and all that it implies (com­pe­ti­tion, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sex­ism, iden­tity issues, etc.). Oth­ers have com­mented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is suck­ing on his mother’s bare breast while look­ing at the cam­era (how it is going to scar him for­ever, how pub­lic breast­feed­ing is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a heli­copter par­ent, etc., etc.). Most dis­cus­sions have addressed the topic of the arti­cle, attach­ment par­ent­ing.

I’ve read many com­men­taries on and responses to this arti­cle. (I par­tic­u­larly liked what my col­lege room­mate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provoca­tive post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Moth­er­less Child?”.

I have my own opin­ions on all of these mat­ters. I obvi­ously do not choose to do attach­ment par­ent­ing. I stopped nurs­ing my chil­dren when they were between 8–10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any cir­cum­stance, allow my chil­dren to sleep with me and my hus­band in our bed. I also work out­side the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the move­ment, dis­cour­ages women who want to incor­po­rate attach­ment par­ent­ing philoso­phies from doing.

I don’t love my chil­dren any less. I love them a lot, actu­ally. I believe it’s impor­tant help my chil­dren feel loved, safe, con­fi­dent, self-assured, and inde­pen­dent. I let my chil­dren play for long peri­ods of time with­out get­ting involved or inter­ject­ing my own agenda. I let them work out prob­lems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be cre­ative. I chal­lenge them.

Most moth­ers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many dif­fer­ent ways to mother. There are dif­fer­ent ways to be a mother. And there are dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of moth­ers and moth­er­hood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expec­ta­tions. Our cul­ture and the media (and some­times reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple) send the mes­sage that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pin­ter­est images attests to the per­va­sive­ness of soci­etal expec­ta­tions and norms.

But who are we to judge other moth­ers? Aren’t we all just try­ing our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the chil­dren in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.

 


Inventing a Winning Machine

Ear­lier this week, I was look­ing through my 1st grade daughter’s back­pack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writ­ing. Eliz­a­beth wrote the following:

My inven­tion is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image cour­tesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr’s Cre­ative Com­mons License.

Two sen­tences. Two sen­tences that reveal a lot about my daugh­ter. Eliz­a­beth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the oppor­tu­nity to imag­ine a machine to invent that would make life bet­ter, eas­ier, she chose a tech­nol­ogy that would make win­ning at every­thing pos­si­ble. (Of course, there are prob­lems with such a tool, because some­one has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her inven­tion already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Eliz­a­beth comes by this desire hon­estly (just like she does her stub­born­ness, inde­pen­dence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the oppo­site of her; I would want some­thing that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Ken­tucky (we had prob­a­bly been mar­ried 4 months), my dad was mak­ing a speech in Indi­anapo­lis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the air­port and walked around down­town for a while, vis­it­ing the stat­ues, parks, and other out­door sights. Indi­anapo­lis has such a lovely feel. We ate din­ner and then were head­ing back to the car (after sev­eral hours of walk­ing around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was argu­ing with me about the route we were tak­ing back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direc­tion. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insist­ing that we were going the com­plete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direc­tion (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep fol­low­ing her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I dis­agree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laugh­ter. It was a les­son from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walk­ing the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from lik­ing to play games, just like Eliz­a­beth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m com­pet­i­tive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t cel­e­brate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for ath­letes when they start gal­li­vant­ing down the court after mak­ing a bas­ket or a touch­down, espe­cially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such cel­e­bra­tion!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that mat­ter. Things that don’t. Things that had major con­se­quences for me in terms of schol­ar­ships, pres­tige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One side­note: It is inter­est­ing when I play games with other peo­ple, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They tar­get me (in Hearts, Double-9 domi­noes, Monop­oly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They cel­e­brate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being com­pet­i­tive and win­ning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But win­ning isn’t what moti­vates me; what moti­vates me is NOT los­ing. I’m sure there’s a lot of com­plex­i­ties going on in this state­ment, but let me just say that los­ing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an arti­cle I’ve writ­ten gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sab­bat­i­cal for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a posi­tion for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of neg­a­tive teacher evaluations.

When some­one says some­thing neg­a­tive about me.

When I com­pare myself to other moms. 

When my chil­dren mis­be­have and dis­obey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My iden­tity is wrapped up in NOT los­ing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Eliz­a­beth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to con­front the under­ly­ing inse­cu­ri­ties of losing.

 


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three viva­cious, spunky, inde­pen­dent kids. I like being a mom. It’s dif­fi­cult to define and artic­u­late what moth­er­hood means to me and how much of my iden­tity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feel­ing, an emo­tion, and words are often not enough to explain my feel­ings about motherhood.

That being said, as I men­tioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncom­fort­able with this hol­i­day. So many women (and men) expe­ri­ence pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Some­one is think­ing about their own mom (per­haps she has died, she gave him/her up for adop­tion, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or some­thing else that brings them pain).
  • Some­one is think­ing about the loss of a child–through a mis­car­riage, an abor­tion, an adop­tion, a death, a kid­nap­ping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Some­one is think­ing about not being able to con­ceive or still being sin­gle and not hav­ing a child.
  • Some­one is think­ing about how they do not mea­sure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some com­ments on this issue).
  • Some­one who is griev­ing the choices their chil­dren have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for every­one, con­trary to the pre­dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive greet­ing card com­pa­nies, retail stores, busi­nesses, and cor­po­ra­tions are sell­ing us. Many peo­ple have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a fed­eral hol­i­day in 1914 when Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son insti­tuted it. I do not know the his­tory of this hol­i­day, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became syn­ony­mous with mate­ri­al­ism, with giv­ing and receiv­ing gifts (just like Christ­mas). This hol­i­day equates love to gift-giving.

It pro­motes moth­er­hood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our moth­ers. Our moth­ers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite con­sign­ment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom’s Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.

Mate­ri­al­ism.

But it belit­tles moth­ers.

This image, and most other mar­ket­ing that sur­rounds Mother’s Day, equates lov­ing your mom to giv­ing her expen­sive gifts, or, at worse, not giv­ing her expen­sive gifts and thus not lov­ing her.

The con­sumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are sup­posed to expe­ri­ence Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buy­ing and giv­ing and get­ting more stuff. Even if show­ing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the mar­ket­ing of this hol­i­day takes the focus off hon­or­ing your own mother or (being hon­ored your­self as a mother) to focus­ing on the buy­ing and sell­ing of prod­ucts. It equates love with giv­ing expen­sive gifts.

Cor­po­ra­tions have decided that they can manip­u­late dads and chil­dren and spouses and moth­ers into mak­ing this event–motherhood–all about mate­ri­al­ism. They send the mes­sage that the only thing moth­ers really want is “stuff.”

They dimin­ish moth­er­hood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew moth­ers at all–sitting from where they are mak­ing a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as moth­ers (or sons or daugh­ters or fathers or husbands)–then they would under­stand that we do not want this. No, moth­er­hood is more than mate­ri­al­ism. Much more. And if these cor­po­rate pow­ers tried to under­stand moth­ers at all, they would real­ize this truth. Instead, they belit­tle and degrade us and treat us like chil­dren in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more com­plex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other val­ues besides gifts. Our hearts are with our chil­dren, not with what they do or not give us.

If cor­po­ra­tions really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t mar­ket to our chil­dren on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and com­mer­cials about “the per­fect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no cap­i­tal­iz­ing on mothers.

Honor us by refus­ing to coerce and manip­u­late our hus­bands and sons and daugh­ters and moth­ers and grand­chil­dren. Honor us by leav­ing our fam­i­lies alone, by leav­ing us alone.

Moth­er­hood is much more than their min­i­mal­iza­tion of it.

Dear read­ers: I hope these posts about moth­er­hood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my per­spec­tive as hon­est and real, and a lit­tle mad, too.


Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

When I was in high school, I became really close to one of my boyfriend’s aunts. She was close to her twin nephews because she was very devoted to her sis­ter, their mom. But this woman was also close to her sister’s kids because she didn’t have any chil­dren of her own. She couldn’t have chil­dren. She and her hus­band had tried for years to con­ceive, but they never did. I don’t know any of the details except that she wanted kids and couldn’t have them.

I was sad for her. She had a deep desire for chil­dren but couldn’t have any.

She was sweet, lov­ing, kind, gra­cious, and hon­est. She was a dot­ing aunt, a con­fi­dante, a friend. She would have been a great mom.

As the years went on, we kept in touch (even though her nephew and I had long bro­ken up). I con­tin­ued to think of her. I empathized with her because she couldn’t have children.

One year in col­lege, Mother’s Day rolled around and I had an idea to send her a Mother’s Day card.

Happy Mother's Day Card

Image cour­tesy of http://stacy.typepad.com/stacys_paper_crafts/2009/04/happy-mothers-day.html

This card came from me, but I wrote about all the people—all the kids, like me—that she had touched. Even though she didn’t have a child of her own, she influ­enced so many chil­dren. I expressed to her my appre­ci­a­tion for the influ­ence she had on my life, prob­a­bly one that she never even knew about.

She was touched by my ges­ture. She told me that she cried read­ing the card. She had never received a Mother’s Day card before, and this card was so unex­pected. I think what affected her the most was that she felt nobody cared about her on this day.

She was left out of the cel­e­bra­tion because she wasn’t a mother. Yes, she had a mother (a great one), but she also desired to be a mother and she wasn’t one.

While most peo­ple cel­e­brated moth­er­hood, she mourned it.

While (male) church pas­tors and lead­ers spoke about how God insti­tuted moth­er­hood and how won­der­ful it is and on and on and on, she grieved.

When Hall­mark com­mer­cials came on, (I imag­ine) she changed the chan­nel, or watched it with sad­ness, lone­li­ness, and pain.

I love my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my grand­moth­ers. They are spe­cial women. But I’m extremely uncom­fort­able with Mother’s Day.

I’m always think­ing about the peo­ple left out of the “moth­er­hood celebration”.

Women who have suf­fered a mis­car­riage.
Teenage girls or young adults who have given their chil­dren up for adop­tion.
Women who have had abor­tions.
Women who can­not bear chil­dren.
Children—young and old—who have lost their moth­ers to death.  
Chil­dren who do not have the “type” of mother pro­moted through greet­ing cards, retail stores, and even the church.
Moth­ers who do not feel they meet up to soci­etal or Chris­t­ian stan­dards about what makes a “good mother.”

I’m uncom­fort­able with Mother’s Day.

My hus­band does not preach a Mother’s Day ser­mon for many of these same rea­sons (How­ever, he is giv­ing a 4-part trib­ute to the moth­ers he loves in his life, includ­ing my mom).

This Mother’s Day, think of women:

Who are not in the mood to cel­e­brate this hol­i­day, a national one, mind you, not a Chris­t­ian one.

Who do not have the emo­tional energy to come to church on that day because of the pain they will feel.

Who grieve every day but on this day, in par­tic­u­lar, the grief hurts even more.

Who feel alone and lonely.

Who want to be a mother but can’t.

Who were moth­ers at one time but decided not to be.

Think of these women when you go to church, when you call your mom, when you talk to friends, when you buy gifts.

Pray for them.

Do some­thing spe­cial for them.

Lis­ten to their sto­ries, and let them know you care.


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In acad­e­mia, talk abounds about grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion, tenure, get­ting a job, low wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions, and bal­anc­ing per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. One recent arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion by Berke­ley Pro­fes­sor Mary Ann Mason is par­tic­u­larly sober­ing. Mason’s arti­cle, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses sev­eral inter­est­ing points about the over­abun­dance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how dif­fi­cult it is to have a fam­ily and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provoca­tive (if you are inter­ested, you should also read through the com­ments sec­tion of her arti­cle; so many heart­felt, reveal­ing and per­sonal responses that pro­vide their own form of mentoring):

In a sur­vey we con­ducted of all doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, more than 70 per­cent of women and over half of all men said they con­sid­ered a career at a research uni­ver­sity to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to fam­ily life.

A male Ph.D. stu­dent in the sur­vey char­ac­ter­ized the com­mon sen­ti­ment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of sup­pos­edly intel­li­gent peo­ple who are largely worka­holic and expect oth­ers to be so as well’.”

A female stu­dent wrote, ‘Since begin­ning my doc­toral work, I have become con­vinced that very few, if any, female pro­fes­sors are able to have sta­ble, ful­fill­ing fam­ily lives of the sort that I wish for (a sta­ble mar­riage and children)’.”

Female grad­u­ate stu­dents who do become moth­ers dur­ing their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few uni­ver­si­ties are pay­ing atten­tion to the needs of graduate-student par­ents, or pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing on how to bal­ance fam­ily and career in a stress­ful pro­fes­sion in which, arguably, the most seri­ous stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs dur­ing the years when women will have children.”

These find­ings do not come as a shock to me as a pro­fes­sor. I have now expe­ri­enced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is dif­fi­cult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stress­ful job.

But as a grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ing on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so dif­fi­cult to “have it all” and find bal­ance between work and home.  I even had won­der­ful men­tors through­out grad­u­ate school, but we never really talked about mar­riage and chil­dren or what it would be like to have a fam­ily and work in academia.

With results and out­comes like these–where women are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (moth­ers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of grad­u­ate stu­dents are women, if we do not deal with the inter­sec­tion of a woman’s per­sonal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in acad­e­mia. We might still have unmar­ried women or women with­out chil­dren, but we may lose a large per­cent­age of women who can teach and men­tor oth­ers about what it means to have a fam­ily and a career in academia.

In short, we need men­tors. We need moth­ers who are will­ing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sac­ri­fices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in acad­e­mia might still be worth it. We need moth­ers who talk frankly about hav­ing chil­dren in grad­u­ate school, about hav­ing chil­dren on the tenure-track, about not hav­ing chil­dren at all. We need moth­ers to share their sto­ries, for it is their stories–our stories–that will edu­cate oth­ers and bet­ter inform female grad­u­ate stu­dents about the real­i­ties of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.


Women, Mothers, and Tenure: Why Babies Complicate Academic Work

I men­tioned in my last post that I was going to write about moth­er­hood and acad­e­mia. Many of you sensed the dilemma I was push­ing against in that post. How can one be both a mother and an academic?

Women have tra­di­tion­ally been dis­crim­i­nated against in the acad­emy (see this arti­cle in the Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed for an overview):

  • Women receive tenure at a lesser rate than men.
  • Women are paid sig­nif­i­cantly less than men.
  • Women’s raises are sig­nif­i­cantly less than men’s raises are.
  • Women are more likely to quit their tenure-track jobs than men because of exter­nal factors.
  • Women are far more likely to vol­un­teer their ser­vice to their depart­ment (or uni­ver­sity) by fill­ing labor-intensive but-not-really-related-to-tenure-and-promotion-and-prestige admin­is­tra­tive posi­tions that their male coun­ter­parts will not hold.

When you add a fam­ily to an already dis­crim­i­nated against gen­der, the results are even more stag­ger­ing. A recent arti­cle by Mary Ann Mason titled, “Women, Tenure, and the Law,” finds that women with chil­dren are sig­nif­i­cantly less likely to achieve tenure than men or than women with­out chil­dren. So, whereas all women are dis­crim­i­nated against in terms of pay, women with chil­dren face even more dis­crim­i­na­tion. In short, Mason writes, “For women, a crit­i­cal fac­tor in tenure denial is their gen­der and fam­ily responsibilities.”

Women with chil­dren are also much more likely to become lec­tur­ers or adjuncts, posi­tions that typ­i­cally hold sig­nif­i­cantly less pay than tenure-track posi­tions, are noto­ri­ous for hav­ing poor work­ing con­di­tions, do not offer much job secu­rity, and are much less pres­ti­gious than tenure-track positions.

What’s more is the stress that tenure and pro­mo­tion takes–probably on all women (and men, too), but espe­cially on women with chil­dren. Not only are you hav­ing and rais­ing chil­dren, cook­ing, doing laun­dry, wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night for years, but you are also work­ing to estab­lish your­self in the field, write and pub­lish, plan and design new courses, read as much as you can, and serve your depart­ment, uni­ver­sity, and dis­ci­pline. One his­tory pro­fes­sor argues that women with chil­dren are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior to men” dur­ing the child-bearing and child-rearing days because women are “sim­ply unable to work as hard, as long, or as well as child­less pro­fes­sors or aca­d­e­mic fathers.” While I wouldn’t go so far to say women are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior,” I do rec­og­nize that moth­ers, lit­er­ally, can­not work as much as child­less pro­fes­sors (men or women) or even aca­d­e­mic fathers (who although they are par­ents, too, are not often the des­ig­nated care­taker when it comes to their chil­dren. There was even a recent study about how when par­ents are home at the same time, the woman is still the pri­mary parent–even when both peo­ple work. See this arti­cle for more infor­ma­tion about dif­fer­ences between aca­d­e­mic moth­ers and fathers).

Finally, women who are, or who are to become, moth­ers also face dis­crim­i­na­tion when they become preg­nant. Per­haps it is this way in most jobs for women. I don’t know. But in the acad­emy, moth­er­hood car­ries with it a lot of bag­gage. And preg­nancy is even seen, by some, as a lia­bil­ity. Preg­nancy marks the body. Preg­nancy marks the woman. Peo­ple make assump­tions about preg­nant women. About moth­ers. About being a mother and an academic.

Again the dilemma.

What about me? I had one child as a grad­u­ate stu­dent. I was ABD (All But Dis­ser­ta­tion) when my daugh­ter Eliz­a­beth was born. I wrote my dis­ser­ta­tion dur­ing her first year of life (I still don’t know how I did that–a sup­port­ive fam­ily was a big part of that).

I went on the job mar­ket when she was 4 months old. She had just turned one when I took a tenure-track position.

Since being in acad­e­mia, I’ve had two chil­dren on the tenure-track. Am I bold or what? Three kids. It’s unheard of in acad­e­mia. At least if you’re a woman.

*Update (2 hours after orig­i­nal post): As I was dri­ving home today, I was reflect­ing on this post, and I wanted to add one last com­ment. One of the things I hope for is that women in acad­e­mia (and other jobs) can find men­tors, oth­ers who have paved the way for newer fac­ulty like me to suc­ceed by get­ting tenure. I go up for tenure next year. Not only do I hope to get it, but I also hope that, one day, I can be one of these mentors.


I am a mother; I am an academic

I am an aca­d­e­mic. I am a mother.

This is who I am.

Mom” to Eliz­a­beth, my affec­tion­ate, com­pas­sion­ate, smart, sen­si­tive, and shy six– (and a half )year-old girl.

Mommy” to Pey­ton Poe, my artic­u­late, talk­a­tive, curi­ous, rough-and-tumble four-year old thinker-boy.

Momma” to Levi, my happy, accident-prone, I’ll-eat-anything-and-don’t-require-much-sleep, bald eight-month-old baby boy.

I am a mother. I am an aca­d­e­mic. But acad­e­mia makes it hard to be and do both.

Yet, this is who I am.

Which role comes first? Which role comes sec­ond? How do I bal­ance moth­er­hood, wom­an­hood, and the acad­emy? How can I be a great mom and a great scholar and teacher? These ques­tions are on my mind every day.

In the next sev­eral blog posts, I will explore more about these issues. I hope you will join me.