If there’s one thing that I can point to that landed me where I am today, it’s the fact that I chose to put my parenting ahead of my career.
Should I be feeling guilty about this?
What does it say about our society that I have to even ask myself that question?
I had my first child when I was 30 and two years away from finishing my doctorate. I wrote my dissertation while he napped as an infant. When I finished, I half-heartedly went on the job market, but knew, even as I made the rounds of MLA interviews, that I was not willing to subject myself to the rigors of the tenure clock while also caring for a small child.
I ended up at my undergraduate alma mater, Simon’s Rock, teaching as an adjunct. I thought it would be temporary, a way of “keeping my hand in,” and that when I was ready I would be able to get back on to the tenure track.
If I had known then what I know now–that making the leap from adjunct to tenured faculty is incredibly difficult, even if you have everything going for you–would I have chosen differently?
I don’t think so. I wanted to work part-time so I would have time to mother my sons the way I myself had been mothered–carefully, tenderly, in a relaxed and open-hearted way. I did not want to subject them to long hours at day care. I didn’t want to have to commute long distances, making family dinners impossible. I didn’t want to have to move far from their grandparents, my parents, who sustained our growing family in so many ways.
Still. I didn’t realize how much of a stigma would be attached to a professional like me making a decision like that. I didn’t realize how even at Simon’s Rock, moving from adjunct to regular fulltime (the school has no tenure track) would be difficult, to say the least–notwithstanding my impressive publication record, teaching prowess and evident commitment to the institution.
And so I took on a second job, working two-thirds time at Simon’s Rock and half-time at SUNY. Finally I was making a real living.
But over the nine years that I did both jobs, while also parenting, publishing, making the rounds of professional conferences and organizing my own major annual conference and now month-long festival, my marriage deteriorated. I thought that as I made more income and had more responsibilities outside the home, my partner would step up and do more parenting.
If anything, he did less. The more successful I appeared, the more insecure and irritable he became. This is apparently a common pattern among husbands who are less professionally successful than their wives.
And so I got more and more burnt out. I remember coming home one day after a full day of teaching, with a car full of groceries, and just being in tears carrying the heavy bags into the house while the boys and their dad looked on, apparently unmoved. It was too much.
Eventually my body said NO MORE and I had a major back spasm, forcing me to do less, and the boys to do more. Not long after, my husband checked out.
I would never have chosen to give up my second job, but one month into this situation, I have to say that it feels like a blessing. What a luxury it is to have time to properly prepare my classes, instead of being constantly on the run, playing catch up! What a pleasure to have more time to visit with family and friends!
Apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way. As Juliet Schor reports in this month’s YES Magazine, “people who voluntarily start working less are generally pleased. In the New Dream survey, 23 percent said they were not only happier, but they didn’t miss the money. Sixty percent reported being happier, but missed the money to varying degrees. Only 10 percent regretted the change. And I’ve also found downshifters who began with a job loss or an involuntary reduction in pay or hours, but came to prefer having a wealth of time.”
It’s been nine years since I’ve had this kind of luxury of time. I want to use it wisely–making new networks of friends, being a kinder, less snappish mom, putting time into pleasures that cost nothing, like writing, weeding my garden, walking my dog. Or just sitting still in the slanting afternoon sunshine, dreaming up another world.