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.

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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.

Anticipating a New Semester

Here we are, a little over a week from the fist day of class. I. Am. Not. Ready.

There’s a lot I’m anticipating this time around. The baby started daycare on Tuesday and though I’ve been feeling for a while like I needed to return to work, in the days leading up to her first day I found that I wasn’t as ready as I thought. With the exception of a few days at a conference and a few days when my husband basically insisted that I leave the house, I’ve been with her nearly every minute of every day for 4.5 months. Until Tuesday, no one outside of the family had cared for her, even for a couple of hours. In the weeks leading up to this I decided – because she was clearly getting overtired – that she needed to be on a better nap schedule than she was and I instituted nap boot camp. It was a colossal failure and her nighttime sleep started to deteriorate. That may have just been the infamous 4-month sleep regression and thankfully her nighttime sleep has at least improved again, but we’re all now going into this (even more) chronically sleep deprived.

Beyond concrete logistical concerns like her care, there are a lot of less concrete things I’m growing more and more concerned about. This is my second year on the tenure track and I still have a lot to learn and a lot of adjusting to do. The course release I was on last year is over and – although I took a one-year tenure clock stop due to childbirth – there’s more pressure to produce scholarly work than I had last year. Imposter Syndrome is rearing it’s ugly head and I’m concerned that my castle of cards will start to crumble around me.

And with that thought, I have syllabi to finalize.