Confession: I was supposed to do this a long time ago.
Technically, I don’t need to confess to anything here. It’s not like you know. But it’s important, I think, to put this out there. Because over the course of last semester, I heard so many students say the same thing. With guilt and shame, with frustration and with stress clear through their voices.
Wonderful addressed this beautifully in her last blog post about how we can take care of ourselves when life gets in the way. Life certainly got in mine.
Many of the people I work and go to school with know that my life is often overwhelming and very busy. I commute, I work, I go to school, and most importantly, I am a mother of two really freaking cute little boys.
Coming back to school after a 10-year break was a really hard decision to make because my husband and I knew the transition from staying at home with my kids to being gone for entire days, sunup to sundown, was going to be a challenge and struggle for all four of us. Ten years out of the academic life is hard to come back from—for me at least—because it involved retraining my brain to click into academic mode.
As a mother, I’ve found that my brain is always “on,” particularly when I’m around my children. Even when they aren’t in the room, I’m always tuned in to the whole house, watchful and waiting and curious. (I overhear some fantastic imaginative play, it’s funny and weird and sweet.) When I’m here, being my school self, my brain is on in a completely different way; learning to switch between academic/work Tania and Mommy involves a lot of conscious effort. I suppose my kids are old enough that I might not always need to be tuned in so much but it just happens anyway.
But the truth is, I don’t want to. When I can’t switch out of academic and work mode, my mind is never truly at home. And the first thing I promised myself when I decided to take this on was that no matter what, my children would come first.
Now, I’ll be honest here. Other mothers in the academy and I have talked about this: going back to school and figuring out how to juggle and sacrifice and not sleep and not have a social life are sacrifices we are making to better our lives. And living a willingness to do these things models so many things we want our children to learn. Right now, my children are watching me work hard. They are watching me learn and fight for the things I am passionate about.
They are watching me believe in myself.
But I don’t always get it just right. I get frustrated and I’m tired and sometimes when I’m home, it’s so hard to enjoy my family when my brain is always being pulled toward the assignments and projects I have to do, or staying on task with my job. It’s that learning how to balance that wears me down more than anything.
But what this means is that there are many, many times I have to make choices about what I can and cannot do. Sometimes, I have to choose not to do that reading, or assignment, or make myself wake up at 5 am just to fit it all in. And when I choose not to do the thing, so that I can do this other thing, most important thing—enjoy and love my children and be present in their lives while I can—I have to deal with that guilt and shame and frustration with myself because of the things I’ve dropped.
So often we in the academy here push and push ourselves to do better, to get it right, and to never drop the ball. And we say things like, “I fail,” or “I can’t do this,” and “I suck.” I hear it all the time. And lately, on my long freaking commute, I’ve been wondering if all the kindness and love and self-worth I work so hard to give my children isn’t something I need to give myself.
So this long, long blog post works in a few ways. To paint a little portrait of what it’s like to be a mother in the academy. To talk about the many things we’re all asked to do, and how hard it is to do them all. But most importantly, so ask each of you to be as kind to yourself as you are to others.