Another Post on Work/Life Balance

It’s the last night of spring break. Two weeks before the break my therapist strongly suggested I take the week entirely off work. Between ramped up research (with intensive data collection requiring my presence), a faculty search, increased service expectations in my third year, and…oh yeah…teaching, I haven’t taken much time for myself this semester and the stress has really been wearing on me. Usually I like having the break to catch up on writing with shorter days in the office, I decided to try taking the whole thing off.

I’m not sure it helped.

Today I spent some time weeding in the front yard while my toddler napped. My thoughts wandered to this concept of work/life balance again. Since starting my TT job I’ve prided myself on leaving work at the office – and leaving the office at a reasonable hour. I don’t go in on weekends unless I absolutely cannot avoid it. It helps that I was experiencing first trimester exhaustion when I started the job and couldn’t work at home in the evenings even if I wanted to.

Having a young child at home means I’m very focused on her in the evenings. It’s distressing to me if I miss dinner too often (let’s say, more than once a week) or if I have to miss bedtime. Some of this comes from my childhood – I remember my dad missing dinner a lot, or having dinner at 9 PM so that he would be home for it. He was always gone when I woke up in the morning and often had just arrived home when I went to bed. He didn’t make sporting events. He was department chair from my middle school years until after I started college, and worked extremely long hours during that time. When he was home, he was grouchy. That isn’t what I want for my child.

So, I don’t bring work home. I’m home by dinner (almost) all of the time. I try not to leave before she wakes up. More often than not, I do the daycare drop off and pick up. I’m home on weekends (while my husband works).

But today while I was weeding I wondered if my insistence on leaving work at work is helping – making me more efficient – or hurting. Would I feel the pressure less if I went back to the office after my toddler went to bed, or worked from home in the evenings?

Realistically, I don’t think so. First and foremost, I think my marriage would suffer. Evenings are the only time we get together, just the two of us. Second…damn I’m tired. I don’t really think the work I did at home in the evenings would be as good as what I do during the day.

Should I get up at 4:30 and work? I don’t know. Maybe.

Clearly I’m still on the steep part of the TT learning curve. Any tips for keeping work within “business hours” but being sufficiently productive and not losing your mind? I’m all ears over here.

Thoughts on Hopes and Gender Roles

The last few weeks have presented serious challenges in terms of balancing child care and work. Teaching a night class threw a monkey wrench into our fairly fine-tuned evening routine – a change made even worse by the fact that my husband’s work schedule conflicts with mine on that day, and daycare closes before he’d be able to get there. We hired a sitter – daughter of another faculty member in my department – to watch the baby from 4:30 until my husband gets home from work. It was great…until it wasn’t. The sitter is in class til 4:00, so when I have to be on campus before 3:00 (as has happened the last 3 weeks!), we don’t have child care. Each of the three weeks this has happened we’ve dealt with it in a different way. Yesterday my guilt over not seeing my baby won out and I decided that rather than scrambling for someone else to watch her, she would come to campus with me for a few hours. When the sitter got out of class, she came to my office and took the baby to the park then hung out with her in the building until I was free again.

Earlier in the day, I was venting my frustrations to friends and telling them that I’d decided to bring the baby to work. Their responses were very interesting:

My daddy’s office had that green and white stripe printer paper and highlighters. I loved those Saturdays.

My dad’s office had dry erase boards.  Then, when I got older, I did my science fair in his lab, using helium and graduated cylinders and his scale that weighs to some ridiculously exact number!

My dad’s office had powdered creamer for coffee and those sugar cubes that came in a box.  As a kid that was the height of decadence.

My dad’s office had chalk boards!

My dad’s office had classrooms, powdered soap in the bathroom, and smelled like books. My brothers and I would draw on the boards, pretend to be teachers….and use ridiculously large amounts of that soap.

But what stood out to me most about all those responses? “My dad’s office…” Now, based on the ages of these women, these anecdotes would have happened over a pretty extensive time-period – probably early-70s to mid-90s. Most of us probably did have stay at home moms (I know at least 3 of the 4 quotes provided did) but plenty of women were in the work force at that time. One response had to do with “mom’s office” – her own:

Nothing my little one loves more than coming to mommy’s office where the analysts fuss over her, she has a coffee machine that makes hot-chocolate, a super-fast computer to play her games on, and an unlimited supply of post-it notes and highlighters.

I thought about the women I was speaking with – we are professors, attorneys, insurance executives, and financial analysts. Where did we learn that these options were open to us? My parents always supported me in anything I tried and always made it clear how many opportunities I had. But the first time I remember wanting to be anything other than a stay at home mom was college. I only went to college because it was the next logical step, not because I particularly wanted to be a professional woman.

All of this made me wonder – how will my daughter look back on this? Will visiting mommy’s office help her to know she can be whatever she wants to be? My husband stays home with her 2 days per week and we divide the household work pretty evenly, most of the time. We hope this will teach her that there aren’t “mommy jobs” and “daddy jobs” – there are parent jobs.

I hope she knows she can be whomever she wants to be. Do I hope she’ll be a scientist? A little. If she wants to be a stay at home mom, and can make it work, I will be immensely proud of her. How will I teach her these things?

Is Breast Best? Does it Matter?

Before I get into this post, let me say I am pro-breastfeeding. The literature regarding health outcomes, for both mom and baby, has seemed fairly convincing, and I generally lean toward believing that our bodies know what to do to best provide for our children (assuming adequate nutrition and maternal health, that is).

Unfortunately, when I was 28 I felt I had to choose between breastfeeding and my own longevity, and I chose longevity. So while I long to nurse my daughter, I can’t. And many other women can’t either, for a variety of reasons. According to a 2013 CDC report, about 44% of infants born in 2008 were breastfed for at least 6 months and about 23% were breastfed for 12 months; that’s up from ~34% and 16%, respectively, in 2000. Conversely, that means that 56% of infants born in 2008 were not breastfed for 6 months. Aside from bilateral mastectomy, which probably does not account for all that many formula-fed babies, reasons cited for formula-feeding include difficulty with feeding (pain, latching, supply), support from medical professionals and family/peers, and a variety of other practical and medical reasons. Women of color are less likely than white women to initiate breastfeeding and less likely to continue if they do try at first (CDC report).

In general, the literature suggests that breastfeeding confers many health benefits for both mom and baby. Women who do not breastfeed tend to retain more weight post-partum and are at increased risk for chronic diseases including breast and ovarian cancer, obesity, and diabetes. For babies, formula-feeding has been shown to be one of many dietary factors associated with increased risk of obesity and has also been linked to reduced risk of infection, asthma, and improved cognitive performance, though a recent systematic review by the Cochrane collaboration supports only the link to reduced infections (not, notably, to obesity at 6.5 years).

Before I had a child I looked at this as purely an academic issue. Now it’s also an emotional issue and I’d be lying if I said I could be objective. If a paper comes out that suggests I’m giving my daughter as good of a chance, even almost as good of a chance, as breastfeeding would I have to admit it lifts me up a little.

Last week, a new study by Cynthia Colen and David Ramey came out stating that, essentially, the benefits of breastfeeding have been overstated. In a novel approach, the researchers compared not only children from different families who have been breast- and formula-fed, but also non-multiple siblings who were discordant for breastfeeding. This should theoretically control for many of the differing family factors that may also influence long-term health and cognitive outcomes. After adjusting for a number of covariates including respondent age, race, and a number of socioeconomic indicators, siblings who were discordant for breastfeeding did not differ on any of the outcome variables assessed, and the only variable that differed between families was hyperactivity. There are, of course, a number of weaknesses in this paper. Notably, though duration of breastfeeding was apparently included as a covariate in at least some of the analyses, mean duration of breastfeeding was not reported in the paper (see BabyAttachMode for a great discussion of this and other weaknesses). At the very least, dichotomous classification of feeding practices is likely to introduce appreciable error to the analyses and should be discussed in the paper. I’m disappointed that the reviewers apparently didn’t request it.

All of this brings me to the point of this post (which is not to pick apart research) and the reason for my potentially inflammatory title. Of course it matters that we provide the best start we can. But what if – what if – neither is better? What if formula-feeding is just as good as breastfeeding in terms of child health outcomes? As previously stated, approximately 56% of babies in the US aren’t breastfed for 6 months (and approximately 1/4 are never breastfed). Scientists involved with manufacturing infant formulas are trying to come up with the best formulation they can, trying to get as close as they can to breast milk. No, they’ll never be able to capture the variations in hormones and antibodies passed through breast milk – science can only do so much – but if the nutrition is good enough to give babies a really good start that is essentially the same as breastfeeding then HALLELUJAH.

We’ll never ensure that every baby born in this country, or in the world, is breastfed. But maybe we can give them just as good of a start with formula and that’s a good thing. Let’s try focusing on that for a while.

Midsemester

Howdy.

Wow, this semester is just flying by. Training and travel since my last post have kept me very busy and meant too much time out of the office, so I’m even more behind. As I sit at the kitchen table watching the snow fall, it seems like a good time for reflection and a look ahead.

The second year on the tenure track has certainly been an interesting one thus far. Most times it feels like a roller coaster – the kind people stand in line for hours to ride – lots of twists and turns, steep drop offs, and maybe some inversions just for kicks. The scenery flashes by as the coaster careens around bends but occasionally there are mechanical problems and the roller coaster comes to a complete, and jolting, halt. This seems to especially apply to my research this year. Currently I have 10 papers at some degree of completion. Eight of them could be submitted in a matter of hours if I could just gather the hours (when I have enough mental power remaining) to polish them up and send them out. On top of that I’m percolating several ideas for new studies and really need to get grants out for at least a couple of them…but which? An opportunity opened up completely unexpectedly last week and necessitated pushing one of those ideas to the forefront when I’d really been planning to wait a year or more on that one. That leaves me with the options of pushing another idea back for a year or submitting something extra and taking the chance of winding up with more funded projects than I’d planned on. Of course, nothing’s ever guaranteed til the money actually comes through, so…

We’re settling into a routine at home though I have to admit I never really feel caught up there, either. Now and then – like earlier this week – my old fears of doing a mediocre job of everything come roaring back in again. I mean really, how hard is it to fold and put away laundry? Nevertheless, two-thirds of my wardrobe seems to be piled in the corner of our bedroom. At least most of it is folded. The baby is doing well at her new daycare facility and learns something new every day. She is sitting like a champ and no other position will do. Unless, of course, she can put her feet in her mouth and then she’s happy on her back for ages. She isn’t trying to crawl yet but as active as she is in her relatively immobile state I think we’re in for it when she can figure out how to crawl.

Finally, it hardly seems possible to blog this week without mentioning the large issues surrounding sexual harassment that have surfaced on twitter this week. To be honest, I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all amidst everything else that’s going on, and I find myself having a hard time coming to grips with it all and forming coherent thoughts to share. It has been an eye-opening week as a young scientist and someone who is relatively new to twitter. Prior to this week I would have told you I’ve never experienced any sexual harassment. Some of the stories I’ve read – particularly the blog post by Hannah Waters – have made me rethink that and question why I interpreted things as harmless in the past when maybe, really, they weren’t. Perhaps one day soon I’ll have contemplated this enough to have clearer feelings but for now I just feel…lost.

The snow is really coming down hard now, it’s becoming quite the winter wonderland out there. Baby is sleeping and I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea before the roller coaster starts up again.

 

A Weak Foundation

Here we are in the fifth week and I find myself losing sight of the accomplishments and successes I discussed in my last post.

I like to say things started crumbling when I took Labor Day off. The university was closed and my husband worked – he usually does not work Mondays, so we didn’t have care for the Wee One. I greatly enjoyed having an extra day with her and returned to work feeling refreshed. But that Tuesday – and especially by Thursday or so – I felt so far behind that it was more like I’d taken a week off.

The next week I had to be out of the office one day to go to the nearest major city, a few hours from here. Another day lost to work that left me feeling even further behind.

This semester I’ve been making an effort to work from home as little as possible. Working full time and sending Wee One to daycare, I don’t get to spend nearly as much time with her as I’d like to and she’s growing so fast – sitting unsupported already! My evenings with her are so special to me and I want need to maximize that time. By the time she’s down for the night I’m exhausted and also would like to actually spend some time with my husband – the person whose company I greatly enjoy and whom I feel like I never see anymore. Unfortunately, I’m about done and ready to pass out within an hour of the baby going down (an hour that, tonight, I am spending blogging). And so, even when I bring work home the only way it gets done in the evening is if it absolutely must be done right this minute.

The end of last week found us with a daycare crisis and scrambling to find a new provider. I’ve had considerable stressful experiences in my life but nothing even remotely compared to having a bad experience with daycare and the worry that came with finding somewhere new and trusting someone new – again – with our little girl. Last Friday was completely lost to me.

This feeling of being so behind has been wearing on me this week. On Tuesday I made a to-do list divided into tasks I would do in the morning and tasks I would do in the afternoon. Approximately half of the items on the list still remain. Some of the items are still there because things come up. Others are there because they all took more time than I thought they would. The to-do list I meant to accomplish in one day has become my to-do list for the week.

Unexpected items this week have included emergency counseling with my brand-new masters student who had a conflict (totally not the student’s fault) with a senior faculty member earlier in the week and wound up in tears in a 2nd year student’s office – my first graduate student crisis from the faculty advisor side, and my first time dealing with a conflict between one of my students and another faculty member. The student is now fine and the problem has been remedied. Not entirely to everyone’s satisfaction, but remedied.

Literally within minutes of dealing with that I learned that because of schedule changes I needed to get myself and a graduate assistant enrolled in a short course, absolutely essential for my research, that will have me out of the office two consecutive days next week. This means I’m in the office the remainder of this week and then, because of that class and a conference, gone for 7 of the next 10 business days. And so here I sit, at 8:42 PM, on the verge of panic and blogging in the hopes of getting this all out of my head so that maybe, just maybe, I can sleep tonight.

I’ve heard the second year on the tenure track can be a little easier than the first. We’re settling into a routine, teaching classes we’ve taught before and moving forward with research. Things we did all the foundational work for last year and over the summer. Except I didn’t. I spent the spring semester of my first year either on bed rest or maternity leave and the summer enjoying my time with the baby. Do I regret spending my summer with her and doing very little work? Not for even a split second. But I do think I’d probably be better off now at work if I’d laid a stronger foundation in the first part of 2013. Not regret, exactly…just, noticing.

Successes and Struggles in the First Two Weeks

This post is perhaps a bit premature as today is only halfway through the second week, but whatever.

As I wrote previously, I was feeling a lot of anxiety about starting a new semester after such a large change in my life. A good friend who has also just returned to work after having her first baby was feeling much the same way and we have commiserated a lot these past couple weeks.  The main concern we shared all summer was in regards to how we would see our work now that we’re also trying to balance it with an extended family. She wondered if her work – particularly scholarship – would be as important to her as it used to be. I was concerned that I would do an equally mediocre job at everything, and who wants to be a mediocre parent and a mediocre scholar?

Now that we’re two weeks in, I’m finding that some of my concerns were well placed while others were not. The first week I felt absolutely swamped by teaching related work and I was concerned that I might never get anywhere in my research. Today I’m happy to report that when I recognized that I got strict with my schedule and set aside all of Tuesday and Thursday for research only – no course work allowed. Granted it’s been a week with that strategy but so far it has been fruitful. The baby is clearly quite happy at daycare and that allows me to work through the day without constantly worrying about her and wanting to call and check in. That, in turn, allows me to be more productive in the office. It’s important to me to get home early enough in the evening to actually spend time with her, so I find myself more focused while I am at work. I waste less time and I work more efficiently. Pregnancy changed my vision so I got new glasses (with no-line bifocals, ugh) and I feel much better than I did whenever I tried to work over the summer.

Other things have not gone as well. Mornings are really productive times for me. Afternoons…well, I’m writing this at 1:45 so you tell me. It just seems like I run out of gas a little before lunch and never get it back again. A few times I’ve given up on doing anything serious in the afternoon and taken my laptop home, but the computer stays in my bag til  I arrive back in the office the next morning. I’m toast in the evenings. Making dinner is a struggle, let alone trying to turn my brain back on. Maybe that will get better as she gets older, or maybe I’ll get used to this half-awake state. Only time will tell.

Daycare Plague hasn’t kicked in yet but I’ve already had to cancel class once, when I woke up with my eye nearly swollen shut on the third day of class. This is like the third year of my PhD when we actually had two snow days in the first two weeks and so we started the semester already behind. But course schedules and lectures can be modified and over half of my students wound up with a four day weekend, so they weren’t complaining.

Baby brain – combined with chemo brain still lingering 4 years later – sometimes leaves me standing in front of the class (or sitting in front of the computer, as ironically happened writing this sentence) unable to find the right word. Knowing it, but not being able to get it out. This week I forgot to get lecture slides online for my students. Just completely forgot. I really hate looking scatterbrained, flaky, stupid…it’s something I’ve always been sensitive about but it’s gotten significantly worse since chemo. That time in my life left me feeling like I had something to prove, that being “cancer girl” didn’t mean I couldn’t still have real career aspirations, couldn’t have a normal life. I think being a new mom has only worsened that feeling. Chances are that when I’m standing there looking for a word it seems like ages to me but students don’t even notice. I hope that’s the case. Maybe it just seems like I’m purposefully slowing down.

This week’s Chronicle Review included a piece about the “superwoman myth” – I have some thoughts to share related to that but need to spend some more time getting them together, so look for a post on that (and related to this post) in the near future.