Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Scientist or Mother: My Split Personality

Why is it that it seems I can never really be comfortable in either of my two worlds?

By day, I work as a post-doc doing some pretty ground-breaking work on one of those cool research projects that you see on Nova. I love my work. The elation of finally getting an experiment to work. Probing, and then finally answering, questions that will lead to new discoveries and maybe even contribute to the welfare of society. More than this, educating those beneath me. Showing someone how to think through and experiment to get it to work right the first time (okay or maybe the second or third). To explore the unknown. These are my passions.

But in my field, there is always someone hungrier. I used to think that it was someone single who didn't mind flooding all of their time into their work. Someone who had nothing else, and therefore derived all satisfaction from work. But now, I see with new eyes. There are those who have families, children, sometimes young ones, who do not have the slightest problem with working strings of 12 hour days, or traveling to conferences for weeks at a time. Who are these people? They are simply people who want it more. And no matter how much I love my work, the thrill of discovery, or the beauty in the world around me that science can elucidate, they will always be there.

On the other hand, at night, I turn into super Mommy. My husband attends night school several nights a week. In many cases, I am responsible for putting two young children to bed, performing what chores I can, and staying sane. I am fortunate that my husband earns a good living. But this has been a mixed blessing. We live in a neighborhood that is affluent by all standards. Unfortunately, I have found that as the neighborhoods become more and more wealthy, the women are less and less likely to work. At my daughter's preschool, I would estimate that well over 80% of moms are stay-at-home. They get together for playdates and coffees. They have bakesales. They plan elaborate birthday parties. I simply cannot compete. On the weekends and the evenings, I find myself wishing that I had more time. More time to make that extra-special Halloween costume for my daughter (which by the way I wouldn't see anyway since I will be at a conference that day giving a talk). I wish I had more time to teach my daughter the songs that I learned growing up. To help her with her violin practice (which I have played all of twice in the last five years due to lack of time).

On both fronts I feel that I am missing something. I serve two masters, and I cannot give myself completely to either, and I wouldn't want to. But I am so tired of having to turn down a 5:30 meeting because I have to leave to meet the nanny, of carefully planning experiments so I don't have to work late or come in on weekends. I am so tired of turning down the upteenth invitation to do something at my daughter's preschool at 10:30 on a weekday. I am tired of other mommies asking me what I do and responding with "oh!" I am just tired.


At 9:29 PM , Blogger Sandra Porter said...

I tried being on the PTA. I think the other members were glad when my term as secretary finished because they could hold meetings at 10 am, when it was convenient for everyone. It's tough being a mom who works "outside" of the home and even tougher when you're Ph.D. since to most of the other mothers you're some kind of freak.

At 5:41 AM , Anonymous ruth said...

got here coming from the tangled bank. i hope you don't mind me butting in and leaving a note.

i can feel the frustration in this entry. it's tough, but we all try to make the best of our situation. it's a constant struggle to find and stick to that life-work balance, and you're right, it's tiring!

At 2:58 PM , Blogger TQA said...

Trying to be both a parent and a scientist is extrememly unfun sometimes. Early childhood goes by at a constant "blink and you miss it" rate for the first few years, or at least that's what it feels like sometimes. I haven't found a way to do both yet that doesn't leave me feeling pretty much torn in half. The only thing that does make it tolerable is knowing that I'd be even more miserable if I wasn't trying to do both.

On the bright side, it will get easier. Now that the kids are older, they can come into the lab (or the field) with me. I can make what I do part of their lives, and keep them involved in mine.

At 3:21 PM , Blogger wildvineyard said...

I try to use humor to disarm all my feelings of inadequacy. I am proudly the worst mother in the world. Now that my older son is in public school, he gets more days off, and I have to bring him to work with me. A couple of days ago he asked me if he could go to school where I work because it is really cool, and then he could be with me every day. I wanted to cry. Even the worst mother in the world gets it right occasionally. And even the best mother in the world can raise little monsters. We just have to stop judging ourselves so harshly.

At 11:16 AM , Anonymous Far Away said...

I don't know if you read comments to old entries, but I discovered your blog only today, and was fascinated. I'm a grad student in Israel, having two kids around your age, and a high-tech (high salary not much at home) husband. Good luck on getting everything to work! it's hard, but it is done by more and more women. Hope it would be the standard some day..


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