Dear Fellow Faculty Mamas,
I’m excited to start a feature on this blog called Faculty Mama, where I’ll be posting content about the unique aspects of faculty life as a mother (e.g., timing of kids, promotion, etc.). I hope we can start a dialogue to support one another, and I welcome your comments or suggestions for topics.
Below is my first post to help us get us excited about the next few months--summer's here!
It’s finally summer...now what?!
This Summer I vow not to be disappointed with my productivity when August arrives. Even before I had kids I remember summers as a faculty member being bittersweet. I usually started the summer with huge expectations, including a list of unrealistic writing goals and projects that I needed to do because I had put them off during the academic year. I was overly optimistic about what I could do, only to realize that summer was pretty short, I was exhausted after the Spring semester, and there was no way any human could accomplish all the goals I had laid out for myself. Inevitably the summer would fly by and before I knew it I’d have to start working on my syllabi for Fall, slightly dejected.
Now that I have children summer productivity has become even more elusive. Summer is amazing because it provides a chance to spend more time with the family and attend to some of the personal goals that I can’t get to during the academic year (e.g., working out regularly, house projects). There are fewer meetings so I can usually get errands out of the way and pick up the kids earlier, but I still have a lot to accomplish at work and always wonder how I can be productive if I’m at work less. Inevitably I do the math and it seems like I am setting myself up for that disappointing, familiar conversation with colleagues in Fall: “Summer was nice but I didn’t get as much done as I needed to…”
How can we more realistically enter summer, with delight and clarity about what we want and can do as faculty mamas? How can we better define and prioritize our goals in all aspects of our lives, and experience the satisfaction of making progress towards them?
Here are some strategies for diving into summer this year:
1) First, celebrate summer and the fewer meetings on your calendar. You’ve worked hard all year and you likely need some time to enjoy the greater flexibility in your schedule. For a few days or a week, sleep in a bit, catch up on errands and appointments (I’ll be getting my haircut finally!), or enjoy lunch with a colleague.
2) Get a handle on what you hope to accomplish this summer. Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Director of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity* encourages faculty to identify 3-5 goals, both in “work” and “personal” life, to accomplish during the summer. For example, I have a manuscript I’d like to get out and a book I am editing, as well the personal goal of moving my kids into one bedroom. Of course there will be numerous other smaller things I need to do over the next months, but these are the big ones. This year I’ll keep my list to 3, because that feels realistic and I want to maximize my chances of feeling the success of accomplishing these goals. If I happen to accomplish more, that will be a bonus.
5) At the beginning of the summer, “swallow the frog.” In the spirit of Mark Twain, early in the summer I’ll tackle the worst task, the frog that I really don’t want to do but that will sit on my shoulder, haunting me until I get it off my list. For some of my colleagues, the frog is their syllabi for Fall. For others, it might be administrative tasks. Either way make sure it’s the task that you know you will continue to put off unless you swallow it early on.
4) Find ways to hold yourself accountable. One of the best things that happened to me last semester was that I finally sorted through 11 years of papers that had accumulated in my office because I was getting new office furniture. My office had become a complete mess, and it wasn’t until I scheduled the date for the new desk to arrive that I finally started working on purging and cleaning. Somehow, we have to find ways to hold ourselves accountable for progress on our goals, especially if they don’t have deadlines. Maybe it’s a reward, or maybe it’s putting a deadline in writing to colleagues. Spend some time finding out what will keep you on track and implement that strategy.
6) Schedule unscheduled time strategically. Even though it feels so wonderful to look at my calendar and see a day with large blocks of free time, I’ve found that I usually don’t use these huge blocks wisely. Sometimes I flounder in the morning deciding what to start with, and then an hour can go by just answering emails. I’ve also discovered I am most productive in the morning, and it seems like by 3pm I’m spent and it’s really hard to do writing. This summer I’m going to spend a few minutes at the end of each day deciding what I need to do the next day. Before I leave the office or before I go to bed, I’m going to email myself a list of what has to get done the next day. That way when I get to work I know exactly what I have to start with. I’ll also be sure to schedule the personal projects as well. For example, I may leave work early on a Tuesday to spend one hour at home sorting clothes for the kids’ room before picking them up from daycare.
3) Approach summer activities with mindfulness. Dr. Ellen Langer, a leading researcher in mindfulness, reminds us that if we make decisions mindfully, there won’t be room for regrets. This summer I’m going to work on mindfully approaching my tasks, so that I’m aware of why I’m choosing to do a certain task. I’m also going to try and be as present as possible with whatever I’m doing. We all know what it feels like to be bitter about being at work, or feeling guilty about not working when being with the family. This summer I’ll try not to fall into that trap by engaging in all my tasks more purposefully.
8) Finally, don’t forget self-compassion. The path towards all goals will involve obstacles, and life happens in expected and unexpected ways. We may keep our goals small and realistic, and work incredibly hard all summer, and still not accomplish what we had hoped. Practicing self-compassion doesn’t mean we become self-complacent and it doesn’t get us off the hook from our goals; it just reminds us we are human and we should be patient with ourselves. Self-compassion will fuel our productivity and well-being much better than regrets or being disappointed with ourselves.
Have any summer strategies to share with fellow faculty mamas? Take a second to post a comment below!
*NCFDD is an amazing resource for faculty at all stages in their careers. Check here to see if your institution has a membership and to learn more about their services.
You are doing such wonderful work, and sometimes you need a break. In a perfect world the people who love you would offer you exactly what you need, but often they don’t know how to help. Don’t be afraid to let your partner, family and friends know what you need. Maybe it's a morning to sleep in, or an evening out with the girls. Or maybe you just need to skip the bedtime routine one night and take a walk or read a book in your bedroom alone. You deserve all of these things and if you don't ask for them others might not think to offer.
Take good care of yourself, mama!
~A mom from Boston
I know, this list could get long: sleep, a cook, a personal assistant, more sleep, weekly massages, a spa retreat, happy hour. These would all be wonderful things, of course, and part of the reason we want them is because we are often in need of replenishment and time to ourselves. But if we delved a little deeper, I think we might all come to a similar conclusion about what moms really want:
Moms want to be able to do their best at mothering. We want to be able to have the time and energy to give to our children and families, and we want to thrive as mothers without losing our other identities as partners, friends, family members, workers, and citizens.
So if this is at the core of what moms want, what can we do to better help moms reach this goal? We know we need big things like more quality daycare, better parental leave policies, and prenatal care for all. We need less judging and more acceptance of mothers and the decisions they make. We need less pressure to do everything and more services and structures in place to help us do our jobs as mothers.
This list could go on as well, but one of the most important things moms need to do their best is emotional and mental health support. There are so many expectations placed on mothers and so much pressure to be the caretaking epicenters of the family. Along with all of this pressure is the stigma associated with ever admitting that you are having a hard time with mothering, that you have fears and anxieties, and that maybe you are not enjoying every second of being a parent and doing this job that was supposed to come so naturally to you.
Many people believe that the lack of support for moms in our society plays a role in mental health concerns during pregnancy and postpartum. Did you know that postpartum depression is the #1 complication of pregnancy, and that 1 in 7 women will develop a perinatal mental health disorder? The numbers are staggering, and the worst part is that many women don’t get the help they need, even though there are many effective treatments for these concerns. I personally don’t remember any of my doctors or health care providers administering a depression scale or even asking me how I was doing after having my daughters.
What would happen if all of us—health care providers, family members, coworkers, partners and friends--started asking how moms are doing?
“How have you been feeling?”
“Are you getting any time to yourself?”
“How have you been sleeping and eating?”
“I remember having a hard time adjusting to being a mom. How has it been for you so far?”
They don’t have to be complicated questions because even simple ones can open up a conversation and show a fellow mom that her emotional and mental health is important and worth asking about. Let's make a commitment to moms by asking!
From May 2nd to May 6th the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health is launching the May campaign to share messages through social media that encourage us all to ask her the question. #AskHer. To learn more click here.
If you or someone you know could use support during pregnancy or after baby has arrived, click on the Get Help tab from Postpartum Support International. Volunteers are ready to help give you the support and information you need!
I'm Lisa, a mother and psychologist dedicated to supporting moms. Read more here.
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