I am a member of a group called “Academic Mamas”. Members are anywhere from seasoned mamas of grown children to pregnant mamas, from PhD students to tenured professors. These academics ask for breastfeeding advice, applaud and “like” tenure announcements, give book recommendations on handling baby tantrums as well as teenage tantrums, celebrate births, grants and papers and console each other for miscarriages, tenure denials and paper rejections. I am proud to be an academic mama but it’s hard hard hard work. The only way we can get through it is by supporting each other.
My first support as an academic mama is my mother, who is also an academic mama. She made sure I had no doubt in my mind that I could do it all. “Doing it all” or “having it all” are phrases I hate because of the male dominated understanding of being a perfect mother and outstanding faculty/professional at the same time. To me, doing it all means living through life with some balance such that your personal life and career both make you happy. It’s easier to write than to do it. First of all, there is intense guilt. The guilt that you don’t get to spend time with your child if you go to work and you don’t get to work on your manuscript if you play with your child. I remind myself to be a “good enough mother”. I remind myself that academic life is a marathon and not a sprint. But sometimes that’s not enough to overcome the guilt. Sometimes the work load (at home and at work) is so overwhelming that you choke. Sometimes you need someone else to cheer you on. (And no one is better at that than my mother.) Your academic mama friends are your best line of support here. Make sure you find those mamas that will understand, support and help you. They are there. We are here.
My second biggest support as an academic mama was my graduate advisor. She is nurturing, caring and protective. So, an academic mama. I had my first child during grad school. She let me work from home through my difficult pregnancy, my son’s premature birth and then weeks of recovery. In a country where maternity leave is several months long this would not be surprising. But I was in the US and most of my friends had to go back to work 6 weeks after delivery. I would have had to quit my PhD if that were the case. My advisor would not let me drop out of the race. It took me about a year but I was back on track and even picked up speed as I learned to manage life as an academic mama.
We are natural multitaskers. This brings me to my third line of academic mama support; collaborator academic mamas. I did not realize it until recently but most of my successful collaborations are with mothers. Our children get sick, we are called to school events, children have spring breaks, they need new shoes, or we are just tired after a weekend of birthday parties. Taking care of children takes up a lot of time, energy, mental effort. We know this. We understand each other. We understand that time is precious. Our meetings are short and sweet. Our phone calls are brief. Our messages are terse. But that’s ok. We know when we need to pick it up when the other academic mama needs to hand over the baton. The roles are sometimes fluid but never unfair. At the end of the day, everybody chips in. Not to say there is no resentment. Sometimes there is. Sometimes there is no one to pick up that baton because everybody’s too busy and that’s bad. But, when you need to rush to your child’s doctor appointment and your academic mama collaborator submits the grant application for you, you remember why working with other academic mamas gives you the support and confidence you need in this academic life.
The life of a working mother is not easy. Especially in countries where school hours are short, hired help is expensive, women can be excluded from the workforce. It is critical to show our students (and children) that it is natural and possible for women to work. Showing our support to one another as academic mamas (or working mothers) is a fantastic way to be a good role model for our male and female students.