Homework, housework, work, work, work

I recently saw a link to this article about how students often feel pulled between their homework and housework. My first thought was, “of course I feel I am being pushed or pulled in these two directions. I’m a mom, and the housework feels unending—especially the laundry!”

My homework also feels limitless, but it’s just mine. No one else has to eat dinner prepared in my messy bibliography, let alone to find a clean outfit in my stack of library books. My dissertation homework is mine alone, which is what makes it so fun but also impossible to prioritize.

Add to this the fact that my spouse’s work is connected to a whole community of people who all have a stake in his success. There’s nothing like having a spouse who’s in the middle of a big community development project to make my dissertation work feel incredibly selfish and irrelevant!

Sure, lists of tips for navigating this balancing act are helpful. But understanding and changing the triggers for this conflict would be more helpful for me. I think there is something in there about being raised with a certain mindset about women and moms who do most of the cleaning and organizing of the home. Plus, there’s something about how I am motivated by my emotions; how I feel is too often what causes me to make certain decisions. I want to feel useful, productive, and connected. But I also want to feel like I’ve accomplished something significant.

In the meantime, it’s back to the dissertation so I can FINISH and graduate, get a decent job, and earn enough money to hire someone to do the cleaning chores for me!


Response to Marche, Case for Filth, NYTimes Sunday Review Opinion

A Response to Stephen Marche, “The Case for Filth,” New York Times Sunday Review Opinion

Published: December 7, 2013

Many of my esteemed friends and associates have shared this article recently, but I must be totally missing the point, because to me this article reads like one long justification by the author for NOT increasing his responsibility for the chores around his own home and therefore inviting his readers to do the same. As if just because other men don’t do housework means he doesn’t have to. As if learning to brine a turkey is enough to compensate for generations women who have done housework, not because it is a source of “pride and joy,” which he seems to imply is a necessary aspect of any activity worth male attention and energy, but because that was the unpaid job that society let them aspire to.

From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows  husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)
From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)

He recognizes that modern women are drawn to domestic activities like making candles, knitting, and raising chickens. But what he misses is that these are *hobbies*, not chores. This isn’t evidence of some persistent, cultural, and gendered gravity that pulls women down into the grind of housework in spite of several generations of feminist resistance to a sentence of a lifetime of housework.

He then uses an example from the show Mad Men, infamous for romanticizing male chauvinism, to illustrate a connection between carrying out our shared domestic responsibilities and the web of sexual intimacy. After describing a sexy scene in which Don is “rewarded” by his wife Megan for fixing a sink, the article’s author concludes that, “there is no solution to the economic injustice of housework any more than there is a solution to human desire.” No, in this scene, Megan is aroused by her desire to be accepted by her husband who is aloof and unfaithful to her. The plumbing chore seems to be a symbol of his willingness to return home, and she has such a low self-image that she is willing to accept whatever leftovers or crumbs he offers her.

From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows  husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)
From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)

No. The solution of “no solution” is what we say as exasperated and exhausted wives and partners who have consistently picked up the broom and scrubbed the toilets. It is not an argument from reason. This is pathos in its raw and pitiable form. Yet, this is supposed to be the “good” news: that women are doing less because they simply can’t do it all: full-time work outside the home, parenting, and household chores.

That women are doing less housework is also evidence that the feminist movement has been successful in giving more women more choices for how they lives their lives. But the fact that men haven’t changed their tendencies shows the limits of a movement that has focused on the rights and responsibilities of only one gender.

From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows  husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)
From the National Science Foundation, a recent study that shows husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week. (images: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_images.jsp?cntn_id=111458&org=ns)

His conclusion, “the only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it,” is the only thing he CAN say given his unwillingness to change his standards or take on more responsibilities. Of course, he is modern enough to never prescribe anything to women.

In its most fundamental form, marriage, monogamy, and co-habitation are about living out the most generous hospitality, one in which we welcome another into our very lives. It’s about preparing a space to share with the other in mind, body, and soul. He must be a terrible roommate.

Timers as a basic life-hack

Using a timer is one of the best and simplest life-hacks EVAR. I first became aware of this time management hack several years ago when someone suggested I learn about the Pomodoro technique which involves creating a task-list, chunking out the work into smaller 25-minute pieces, and training myself to concentrate wholly on one task for each 25-minute work-block. The simplicity of this method appealed to me. I’m really turned off by complicated productivity apps and techniques; please, keep your worksheets and special products away. I already have everything I need to do a better job at managing my attention and time and being more productive.

iPhone Timer (built-in app)
iPhone Timer (built-in app)

Note the two main components of this method: 1) Write out my task list. This means putting pen to paper (or perhaps typing it out on my screen) and naming the (ambitious? impossible?) list of things I want to accomplish in my day. Even David Allen, the Getting Things Done productivity guru, underscores this important step to increasing productivity. He describes this process of clearing one’s memory of all the little things we are constantly trying to remember as having a “mind like water.” In other words, this step is about what gets our attention, the task at hand or all the interrupting thoughts that try to sneak into our minds. I often feel busy and my attention is constantly being pulled to distractions: ideas to remember for other writing projects, household chores I have to take care of, items for the grocery shopping list, emails to send, phone calls to make, references I need to look up—the list of details is endless. But, writing these down helps me clear my memory instead of going over and over the same list in my mind.

Once I’ve decided what’s most important for my concentrated attention, 2) I use the timer and work on one task at a time. This means choosing the most important thing on my task-list and focusing on it for the time-interval. It means taking a break at the end of my time-block, standing up, doing a few squats or stretches to get some perspective on what I’m working on. If an idea or question pops into my mind that’s not related to my current task, I just write it down and let it melt away. When the buzzer goes off (or the crickets chirp!) at the end of a block of time, I know I need to finish my task. Estimating how long it takes to do big projects is not one of my gifts, but I’m learning to be better by reflecting on how much I was able to accomplish in each block of time and then doing the math to see how much more time I’ll need to complete a project. Even if I’m not done with my task, I take a break, get some water, and refocus. This way I can scan my task list, wrangle my attention away from niggling details, and muster the resources to finish the task in the next round with my timer.

Pomodoro Timer (free app https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/pomodoro-time-management-lite/id323224845?mt=8)
Pomodoro Timer (free app https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/pomodoro-time-management-lite/id323224845?mt=8)

I downloaded a free Pomodoro app and practiced their method. My productivity improved, but I quickly realized that for many of my projects, I needed more than 25-minutes to get “in the groove.” An easy alternative is using the timer on my iPhone and setting it to longer chunks of time. I find 40 minutes is about as long as I can work without hitting the brick-wall of distraction or boredom.

25-minute and 40-minute chuncks of time are great for reading and writing projects. As a parent, I often use my cell-phone timer for much smaller chunks of time. Sometimes I’ll use the timer and get everyone (especially my husband) to tidy up our living room for ten minutes. Toys, mail, laundry, dishes, clutter—everything gets put away and cleaned up! Ten minutes is a short enough period of time that it doesn’t feel onerous, yet long enough to actually make a difference in the house. Other times I’ll set the timer for 3 minutes when I need to measure out the length of time my son sits in time-out. Thankfully, he doesn’t need time-outs very often, but when he does, I want him to know that I am being fair about the length of time he must sit quietly on the step. Just as it’s important that he understand the reason he is being disciplined, it’s also important that the discipline itself doesn’t seem arbitrary to him.

And there you have it, one little “life-hack!”


Yesterday was the first session in our Parent and Tot Swimming class and I forgot to go.

I’ve been talking about starting swim classes with our son for weeks. I stressed about getting up early on the morning registration began, and I stressed about signing up for the “right” classes. I emailed the Athletic Centre office about getting a summer membership pass. I remember thinking to myself that the first week of swimming overlaps with the last week of SportBall. I had that nagging feeling I needed to get the class schedule onto my calendar so I’d prepared. I endured that anxious feeling I get when I know I’m falling behind with the keeping-our-family-organized chore as the paperwork piled around my desk.

And what happened? All those anxieties and stresses slipped my mind as I was at home trying to make supper and keep up with the rest of life. Oops.

Oh well. We’ll just have to make the most of classes starting next week!

Priorities for Working Moms

There are too many reasons to feel guilty about missing out. Too many reasons to resent SAHMs who get to spend their days with their kids and too many reasons to wish DH would take on more home-related chores. [SAHM=Stay at Home Mom / DH=Darling Husband]

This short blog post on Mama PhD at InsideHigherEd.com describes how one academic was inspired to devote more time at home with her kids on non-urgent but important interests. Her comments are based, roughly, on the Eisenhower method matrix illustrated below in the grid.

Who needs another lesson on time management? Well, I do. Sometimes it seems like almost everything feels URGENT and IMPORTANT. The blog author Tropp points out that this strategy gives her a way to attend to other priorities that are not in crisis. But the things that are non-urgent (folding laundry and putting it away, unloading the dishwasher, and countless other domestic tasks) still need get done because not doing them presents a problem. And even though my instinct is to avoid doing things in quadrants III and IV, these activities are the things that make life more liveable. Le sigh.

Welcome to my sty, I mean home.

Based  on habit 3, "put first things first" in the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Based on habit 3, “put first things first” in the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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.

GTL for mommies

Gym, tan, laundry might work for single dudes, but for moms we get to add in a few extra steps to the cycle: Daycare, Gym, skip-the-tanning-it’s-bad-for-you, Shower, Work, Daycare, Dinner, Clean-pasta-sauce-off-all-surfaces, Bathtime, Bedtime, Laundry, Pay-the-Bills.

Rinse and repeat until subject is 18 or self-sufficient enough to manage his/her own transportation, nourishment, and personal hygiene.

(image: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/mommies.asp)
Busy mommies (image: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/mommies.asp)