Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Two-Headed Problem: A Letter to my Daughter

"Mommy, why does Daddy always have to go back to work after dinner and miss my bedtime? I want him to have a different job so he can be home."

This week, my husband, who is also an academic but who, unlike me, is on the tenure-track, was besieged by professional responsibilities: candidate dinners, night grad classes, faculty senate meetings, social gatherings that represent important opportunities to network and appear like a good member of the "community." To make up for the lost time, he woke up earlier than usual to go into work and prepare for class. Many weekends every semester, he is also away at conferences.

My daughter, who is four, was getting fed up, which lead to the quote above.

I want to tell her how lucky she is that her daddy has the job that he has, given the academic job market, heck the general job market. That not being an academic does not guarantee better hours; one of her classmate's dad is always on the road for his non-academic job. Another one of our friends is overseas in Afghanistan, leaving behind a wife and son only a little younger that she is. That daddy is home more nights than he is away is a gift we can give to her.

I want to tell her that all of the extra work that he does is, in part, because he has won external funding, increasing his work-load, but also increasing our take-home pay. That mommy and daddy are up to our eyeballs in debt because of all of the extra schooling we did to get where we are, and those bills have come due. All of our small luxuries (like going to McDonald's) come from mommy and daddy working hard to make sure he gets tenure and I get renewed year after year. 

I also want to tell her that her father and I have made every decision we could to try and maximize the amount of time we can spend together. I gave up a tenure-track job so our family could stay together. We live a block from campus so we don't waste time in the car driving to and from work. We could move to a bigger city, but we would sacrifice at least two hours a day in drive time. I know many, many other academics (and non-academics) who sacrifice even more than that. 

But I also want to tell her that, in that moment, I wished we both had different jobs. Jobs that didn't pay my husband twice as much as I am making, even though we have the same qualifications and essentially the same job. I wished we didn't have a job that requires us to work 60-80 hours a week just to fulfill the minimum requirements. I wish that my work wasn't what is pushed aside in the name of the quest for tenure. I wish I wasn't stuck with the entirety of the "second shift" of cooking and cleaning. I wish I wasn't also left all alone all those nights (and mornings) that my husband has to go back to work. I wish weekends could be weekends rather than a negotiation of who gets to go to their office to catch up and which four hours we'll get to spend all together as a family. 

But I also want to be a good role model for her, show that I don't resent my situation, or that I am settling. I don't want to raise the proverbial "snowflake" and shelter her from the harsh realities (which really aren't that harsh). But, I also need her, at that moment, to go to bed and get some much-needed sleep. I am overwhelmed in that moment by anger, shame, and fear, none of it directed at her, but all of it so powerful that I almost start to cry in front of her. 

"I know you miss your Daddy. I miss him, too. And every night isn't like this, you know that. And, you know that Mommy and Daddy work hard to make sure you and your brother have everything that you need. We both love you very much. Daddy will come up and give you a kiss goodnight when he comes home."

I come up later to find her curled up with a picture of her and her father, asleep. I go back downstairs to try and work on my own teaching prep, my own grading, my own research, alone. I am grateful for everything we have: our health, our house, our jobs, our family and friends. I just wish I had a little more time to enjoy it, together.

Addendum: After I finished writing this, I was completely emotionally drained. My two-year-old son woke up early from his nap and we were able to spend an hour together, snuggling in his bed, reading together. Sometimes all it takes is just an hour. I still stand by this post, but today I feel a lot better than yesterday. 

4 comments:

  1. I understand where your daughter comes from, kind of. My dad works all the time even when he doesn't have to because he's scared of losing his job. I'd gladly rather him take another job and spend more time with our family, but he's become socially awkward in every situation because he works so much. He doesn't have an academic job, but he's only suppose to work 40 hours a week (He does a heck of a lot more and he's one of the oldest guys at work around 50)

    I'd prefer him to stay home more often and earn less money, but he won't listen to us. It's like he uses work to get away because he doesn't know how to interact with us although it stresses him out. He makes enough to pay all the bills and my college tuition without loans (and I have a merit scholarship that covers all tuition. So he just pays housing and extra fees).

    While I'm older so I don't miss my dad at bedtime, I do wish he would actually talk to me about more than college things I've already taken care of. While his higher pay is nice, it's not what really matters to me.

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  2. I can definitely relate to this. I have an adjunct position, but am also the Director of our intercollegiate Speech and Debate team, which requires a lot of weekend travel. I am lucky enough to be able to take my 2 YO daughter with me on some of the trips and to have a family member who can take her when its not possible. But, we miss a bunch of fun stuff that happens on the weekends. I also miss fun stuff because I often teach classes in the evenings, which is when regular working people schedule their fun stuff. But, I also realize that working 8-5 offers me zero flexibility in when I fit in work - and at least with teaching, if its a particularly difficult day, I can sacrifice some time grading/prepping during the day and do it at night, allowing me to spend time with her or just veg out a bit. I don't have to be working in an office all day. I also really appreciate the summer flexibility (although I work during the summer as well, but again, I have control over the time when I work). I guess in a way, the time is probably similar if not slightly more than a private sector job, but it lends itself to having a lot more flexibility, both in WHAT I choose to do and in WHEN I choose to do it. And that, for now, is enough to keep me in a relatively low paying position. :) My husband is in a similar position at another University and he travels even more than I do, so in many ways, I feel like I am the lucky one. But, our family dynamic is definitely a strange one compared to most families. Glad to hear you got to feeling better...it can be exhausting, emotionally more than physically...

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  3. I really appreciate and applaud your candour. It's really difficult to make such hard choices, especially when they impact your kids. I hope that you feel supported and validated by the comments on here!

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