Thoughts on Career and Family, when Family Doesn’t Go as You Expect

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This is kind of what our kids’ night event looked like, just with different science paraphernalia. 🙂

Wow, the universe seemed to be trying really hard to make me feel better yesterday.  I think it worked.

In the afternoon, I got a phone call that I’d won a prize for my research.  Woohoo!  It’s a fairly small-scale prize (like, not on a national or international level), but I’m pleased nonetheless — I hadn’t even imagined I’d be in the running.  And who doesn’t love a surprise phone call on a Friday afternoon from someone who only wants to compliment you on your research!

Then in the evening, we hosted our first kids’ science outreach event, which is part of the Broader Impacts portion of my recent NSF grant.  Despite a few hiccups, I’m ready to declare it a total and unqualified success!  There is a grad student in our department who has been SO excited about our kids’ nights, and she has really been driving the events (I had already rolled out one portion of my Broader Impacts and figured I’d save kids’ nights for next semester, but she was so enthusiastic that I let her run with it).  It was just wonderful to see her taking charge, making the event work, and being successful with it.  We’d worked REALLY hard on advertising, and got the perfect size crowd.  Most families stayed late, after the event had officially finished, because their kids were so engaged in the various activities we had planned.  I heard some parents asking their kids if they wanted to come back another time, and without hesitation they all said yes!

It was a little bit sad to run a kids’ night on the evening of the day I’d found out I’m not pregnant this cycle, especially since it involved watching a couple of professor friends interacting with their kids, but I was able to deal with it.

But yesterday made me think about balancing career and family.  It gets talked about a lot in science.  As a grad student, I went to plenty of events for women in science that focused on balancing career and family, and I lobbied for maternity leave for grad students at my university (successfully, I might add!), even though I wasn’t ready to have kids yet.  But in many ways, I’ve been “lucky” when it comes to balancing career and family, in the sense that I haven’t had to make large sacrifices yet.  I met my husband a couple of weeks into my postdoc, and he has a flexible enough job that he was able to follow me when I took this faculty job in a less-desirable area of the country for his work.  And as for kids… well, just take a look at the rest of this site.  I’ve had to balance my career against a lot of doctors appointments and dealing with the enormous emotional and physical setback that was the loss of my daughter last fall, but on the whole, I can still work evenings and weekends without penalty.  It has probably helped my career.

Sometimes these days, when my career is going well, I feel… I don’t know… I think I feel like my career success in some part comes from my lack of children.  It’s not as though I’ve significantly delayed childbearing in favor of my career — we started trying to have kids when I was 30, which is normal or even early for academics.  But it hasn’t worked out for us yet, which means that I’ve had more time in my early career to focus on research, teaching, and outreach than a lot of my peers.  So sometimes my research success comes tinged with guilt and sadness.  It’s especially easy to think that way when I compare my career/life trajectory to that of the good friend who is the father of the little girl who was due at the same time as mine (see post from a few days ago).  He also works in my field, but he got married 5 years before me, and already has a 3.5-year-old (and now a 5-day-old).  This year he was on the job market and got no offers, so he’s leaving academic science.  Sometimes I feel like his success in family life and lack of success in science is a mirror image to my success in science and lack of success in family life.  That’s a far too simplistic view of the situation, but it’s one that I can’t help but think about sometimes, especially when I’m feeling down about whether or not we’ll ever have kids.

Well, there’s nothing to be done for it.  The other way of looking at it, of course, is that I’m extremely fortunate to have a multifaceted life, with many different things that I care deeply about.  I have a job that I dreamed about for years.  I love it, I’ve been at least moderately successful at it, and it’s the sort of job that I can use to help other people learn and grow (like supporting the grad student through her success with kids’ night last night).  Being a professor at a liberal arts college is a very parental role in some ways, even if your kids all disappear at the end of the day.  And I get to keep doing the science that fascinates me, and even occasionally get some recognition for doing it well, like the phone call I got yesterday.

I know that we will be parents to a living child someday.  If biology doesn’t work out for us, we will adopt (I’m very positive about adopting, particularly since I have an adopted family member that I’m very close to, and have even mentioned the idea of going that route sooner rather than later — my husband is a little more biologically focused, so we’re keeping on for now, but it’s definitely an option for us).  Even when the uncertainty about the timing of expanding our family is hard, I keep reminding myself that we will be parents to a living child one way or another.  I am a very fortunate person.  I have a multifaceted life full of joy, meaningful work, and fulfilling relationships.  Our difficulties with bringing a living child into the world are one part of that life, but they don’t have to overshadow every other part.  It’s nice to have a day like yesterday to help remind me that my life is meaningful and appreciated even when it’s hard.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Career and Family, when Family Doesn’t Go as You Expect

  1. lyra211 Post author

    Thank you! I’m not as positive a person these days as I usually am, but I try to keep things in perspective whenever I’m able. It’s hard dealing with these long-term frustrations, so I try to be thankful for the good things when I can get myself in the right frame of mind. You’re right that there’s a LOT to be thankful for.

    Reply

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