Academic Work Family Life Balance: Why Bother?

This blog post deals with familiar stresses: how do we manage to do our best as academics and mothers? How in the world do we achieve some semblance of a work/life balance? The author Olivia Carter mentions how her stress was compounded by the deadlines imposed by the research funding organization that she was applying to. Guidelines were announced one day before the end of term at Christmas break and the submission deadline was one day after the return to classes after break. Her daycare was on break at the same time which meant she was hit with a double-whamy. I have often reflected on the irony that our daycare is closed when I seem to need them most—during the week of Christmas and that week before classes resume in January. I often have so much work to do during break that I just can’t figure out how to get it all done without a lot of extra stress and anxiety as I contemplate whether I can meet my deadlines. Of course, this is more than an ironic arrangement; one could argue that it reveals a wilful ignorance on the part of administrative staff of the needs of an important sector of students and faculty.


Her solution was to alternate between working into the wee hours of the morning a few nights a week and recovering by spending time with her kids and going to bed extra early. It’s a tried and true model for making the days longer. And it also depends on having a spouse or partner around who is willing to fill in the time-gaps where necessary.

Part of her question revolves around a similar issue I’m facing. How much of myself do I invest in my research? Do I think my research is important enough for me to dedicate myself to it full-time? Am I willing to continually make sacrifices in order to see this through? In recent days, I’ve been trolling the internet for part-time job opportunities. Not an academic job or teaching job. Just a job that pays me money. We’re at a point in our family life that we really need two incomes in order to keep our bills paid.

I am second-guessing this decision to seek work as I read Carter’s reasoning behind her motivation to keep pushing forward through the difficult work/life balance. Her first point comes from her passion for her research question concerning human consciousness. As she puts it, “I simply don’t see why anyone should have to cut themselves off entirely from such a big part of their life, as matter of course, simply because they have children.” Her second point is about her sense of responsibility to make a return on the investment she has received throughout her education and training from her government.

It’s hard not to conclude that these idealistic attitudes about the costs and benefits of being a researcher are more easily expressed from her position of being an employed academic. I’m not being cynical.  I also hope I’m not mis-reading my jealousy for her achievements as defeatism, but it still seems like life would be easier (or at least we’d know how to pay all our bills) if I found a part-time job.

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