So I could use some advice.

I had to start working this week. This feels far, far too soon. To be fair, working for me involves grading, reading, researching, writing, revising, and prepping from home, with only a few hours of teaching when I have to be away. I won’t teach for the first post-Bram time until next Tuesday night, but I’m behind on grading, reading, and prepping, I’m not sure I even remember my dissertation topic, and I’m up against a fellowship application deadline. So it’s time.

Until I actually started working yesterday, the thought of pulling my attention away from my family – of putting it on anything other than J and B – made me feel vaguely nauseated. When a dear friend came over when Bram was about four days old, and she and J started discussing queer theory in relationship to Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (a text my students read last week), I had to leave the room because I couldn’t even follow their conversation. This is my field, folks, but I felt like that part of me had been shut off, and I wondered if it might never come on again. “What other careers might I be good at?,” I asked myself all last week. “If I never get this back, what else might I do with my life?” Though I didn’t come up with any alternatives, the thought of leaving academia wasn’t upsetting.

When I finally forced myself to start reading yesterday, however, I found the routine of it surprisingly comforting. Gather coffee, a glass a water, the book, a pen, and a big blanket. Oh, I know how to do this! Unlike skin-to-skin with a mysterious new person, near-hourly diaper changes, and learning how to use my baby carrier, these tasks were familiar. The slow paragraph-by-paragraph read, taking the time to mark passages that might be useful in the classroom, as well as those important to the dissertation – there’s muscle memory there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t mind working. I even liked knowing that while I read, my son was sleeping in the next room or nursing with his mum. It felt a little like coming home from a much-planned, deeply-desired vacation, only the vacation was still upstairs, just waiting for me.

But here’s the tricky part. My very meager goals for yesterday were to read fifty pages of J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians (which is a part of my third chapter, and which I’m teaching next Tuesday) and to do one set of revisions on my fellowship application. What I managed, however, was about eighteen pages of Waiting. And nothing else. That’s it. And I came back to it about a dozen times, so I don’t even know how this is possible.

So my question to you is this: Do you have any suggestions for how I might begin to achieve a work/life balance, working from home, with a newborn I’m madly in love with? Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks in advance; I’ll reward you with sweet Bram photographs if you help me. :)

*** Good luck to the mamas over at Baby Mama(s) Drama! We’re holding you in our thoughts as you prepare to meet your sweet, sweet son, and we can’t wait to hear that you’re all together, healthy, and happy! ***


9 thoughts on “work/life

  1. I LOVE Written on the Body, it is one of my most favorite books of all time. Winterson is an amazing writter and how lucky your students are to study her work! Good luck with the work life balance. I think my only idea would be try to work in small chunks of time then what you maybe used to do. Smaller goals are more do able and will help you move forward through the day.
    Thanks for the well wishes! Can’t wait to share all about it!

  2. During the semester Owen was born, I had 4 or 6 (too many) independent studies, my own research, and a ton of administrative work to do. I remember responding to e-mail the day I returned home from the hospital and getting back to work in earnest (though form home) within a week. I was back on campus within 3. Looking back, it was crazy, but I did it. I worked while he slept. I kept him in the bouncy seat next to me so I could be near him, but mentally, I was mostly back at work. You know how my story ends, so I can’t really offer specific advice for balancing your work and baby and regular life. The baby and life, I know — the work, not so much.

    After doing this parenting thing for almost four years now, though, I have discovered that everything works better when I only try to do one thing at a time — to give the task/person/activity at hand my full attention both physically and mentally. This is easier said than done, but it is something I strive for. Looking back, I should probably have left Owen with Greg, finished the work tasks I had to do, and then returned to my family. I would have been more efficient and more effective. And then when I was with my family, they could have my full attention and I wouldn’t have felt like I should be working. When I try to do more than one thing, nothing ever goes well, it takes twice as long, and I get frustrated. So my advice to you (and to me since I still work on achieving it) would be to set aside times of the day for specific activities and people. Set realistic (and be honest here) goals about what you can accomplish, do what you can, and be flexible.

  3. No advice as we are struggling with this too, but good luck. I’m glad work was familiar and you don’t have to switch careers! I personally don’t believe in work-life balance as a concept – I think it’s all a series of compromises, not balance. I don’t even mean that as cynically as it might sound. I know you will hit your new stride.

  4. I can’t advise on the parenting front, but I can share my time-organization struggles on the academic front. Something both The Chancellor and I have had to figure out with this first year of marriage/living apart half the week business is that we have to optimize our time together while still getting our work done. So, being the Type-As that we are, we make a detailed to-do list for ourselves (individually) and are clear about what work needs to happen for each of us. We try to match our schedules as much as possible, so that we can still enjoy some free time together.

    I’ve also learned that I’ve had to create work space for myself. Sometimes, that means sitting in the campus coffee shop a little longer and putting on classical music so I can get grades in. Or, it may mean putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign in my room so I’m not tempted to invite my roommates in for a distracting chat (yes, there have been a few weeks where I turned into an outright curmudgeon to get work in). You know what you need the most, and sometimes, I’ve found that being stern with myself gets the work done…or food. Always food.

  5. So, as you know, I wrote my dissertation and taught a class Arden’s first year of life. I found a coffee shop that opened really early, and often wrote there. I wrote at our little 2 bedroom apartment late at night. It was incredibly hard, but I traveled to job interviews when he was but 7 months old. I just kept thinking that we planned this life, planned how we wanted it to be, and in order to makethathappen, I had to do this stuff. And, the balance shifts continuously, I think. I’m out of the balance right now because the needs of a toddler are pulling me more away from work than feels comfortable. When I feel frustrated by that, I remember how grateful I am to be an academic. It, no matter what some say, is forgiving og the imbalance, so long as you can show that the imbalance isn’t permanent.

  6. When I went back to work after RR it was at the beginning of a semester so I didn’t have to catch up to anything, just focus on feeling completely disoriented :) I don’t envy you. That said, I will share my own coping technique. This is a “in retrospect” sort of thing. After RR’s birth, I truly felt like I needed to be exactly back where I had been when I left on the very day I came back. In fact, I expected myself to have accomplished all the work, done all the catch-up, etc. as I would have done had I not taken the time. I assumed everyone was expecting me to proceed as normal. In fact, a little forgiveness and understanding (for yourself) will go a very long way. So you’re not caught up? No one truly expects you to be. And even if they did think, hey…why isn’t she…they will quickly realize why you aren’t. There are deadlines and commitments, but you can do the bare minimum and still be a contributor and of value. Put the onus on the class to tell you what’s happening in what text and why, focus on the grant, and forgive yourself the rest. You’ll be at work 100% again soon.

  7. I wrote much of my thesis (in math) while working from home while taking care of our daughter as an infant. What worked best was carving out protected time. I didn’t pretend to work when she was awake and on my watch, starting when she was about 6-8 weeks old, I would get up early, before Gail and she woke up, and would start the day with 2-3 hours of work before Gail left for the office. After that time, I felt great about my progress and free to focus on my daughter. As soon as she went down for naps, the computer came out and I was back at it, often getting 5 or so total hours of sold work in on a home day. We would also sometimes have student sitters come for 2-3 hour chunks of time and I would head to the coffeeshop on the corner. Like other folks have said, I had trouble working and parenting at the same time, but I did find that small focused chunks of work time balanced beautifully with parenting. I could work and then think in the back of my mind while taking care of my baby, and then come back to the work with fresh eyes when the next pocket of time opened up. I loved working that way and wish I could still get away with it. It didn’t work as well with our second who was a short napper, and Bram is still too little for you to know how his daytime sleep will pan out, but while J is on leave, what if you claim a few focused intervals of time through the day but really give yourself permission to enjoy your family the rest of the day? And I’m very impressed with 18 pages.

  8. You have gotten some excellent advice here and since I didn’t go back to work I don’t have any stellar advice to offer anyway. What I was thinking while I was reading your post, was “be gentle with yourself.” Bram’s entry into your life is SUCH a fundamental shift in absolutely everything that it will take time to get your bearings. It’s slow going. I know that deadlines are deadlines, but I’m thinking that small pockets of time might work best. I had ALOT of trouble focusing (related to anxiety I think) and broad swatches of time in which I expected myself to do something involving my mind swallowed me up. Maybe breaking down the task into tiny pieces that you could accomplish little by little (during a feeding, while Bram is snoozing and you can keep your eyes open). Rambling here, but thinking of you. You will find your way.

  9. It really hurts to hear that R is having trouble getting time off to be with the baby and help J out. FMLA has changed to allow same sex couples equal parenting time off for this purpose. For nearly all employers, FMLA is a useful way to get time off after the birth or adoption of a child. Most importantly, this time off can be used intermittently, not just in a 6-12 week block of the usual maternity leave. Personally, I would use this for a shortened work day (i.e. 9-2pm) or for a block of time such as Thursday-Friday off. For intermittent leave, arrange with one’s employer when you need the leave in advance. It can also be used with almost no notice, but that can lead to hard feelings sometimes. This is obviously unpaid leave. However it is a great way to squeeze in a few more hours per week during an important time in your families lives.

    This is the most recent policy change:

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