Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Being a Mom Made Me Better At My Job

As I was approaching my last year of grad school for my Master’s in English, I had been dating an awesome, goateed, tattooed locksmith for a few months. That Christmas, as I was choosing my thesis advisor and getting ready to embark on the challenge of writing a full short story collection, my body started to feel a little weird. What I thought was nerves over the impending thesis, we came to find, was actually our little droidlet beginning to grow. Surprise! The following August, my son was born.
I took a semester off from my program and went back five months later to complete one last class, my entire thesis, and teach the last class of my Teaching Associate’s career. And, somehow, I finished. This past May, the droidlet and his dad cheered my on as I walked across that stage and officially became a Master of English (I just pictured myself as a Jedi. Heh.).
Luckily, I got hired right away, as an adjunct faculty member for two different colleges. This meant I went from having a breezy summer hanging out with my son to teaching five classes, four days a week.
At first, I was very, very scared I wasn’t going to make it. However, now that I am charging into the second semester of this schedule, I realize that being a mom has actually improved my skills as a professor.
Before, when I was teaching as a Teaching Associate, I would do something like stay up all night playing Lord of the Rings Online or watching Dr. Who episodes on BBC America and then the next day realize “holy crap, I have 25 essays to grade before tomorrow!” Then, a caffeine-out eight hour shift at a local coffee shop would commence the next morning. Though I rallied at my students about procrastination, I, myself, was a procrastinator. Now, with little guy, I literally cannot do this anymore. Much to my free-spirited, spontaneous chagrine, I was forced to start managing my time and it’s improved my life. I now have scheduled times to grade and do work, where I am only focusing on my students. This means, that when I’m with my son it is all about him. Before, the priorities in my life would get handled when I thought of them (or remembered) and now, I’m making a conscious effort to get everything organized.
Before the droidlet, I didn’t really have boundaries between my home life and my “school” life.  I would  answer emails at all hours of the night, accept late work from students without giving them too hard of a time, easily reschedule appointments, and always keep their essays out and ready for feedback. Now, I’m much more effective in my teaching and interaction with my students. I still have my open-door policy, open communication, and support. However, now, I have more structure. I make it imperative for students to make and keep consistent appointments.  My students know I won’t be staying up ‘til 11 to check emails, so we handle issues during my office hours or after class. I’ve established a clear boundary of when and where we can discuss work which allows my students the academic and individual support they need while allowing me to come home, confident that I’ve done my job.
Having the droidlet while working has also forced me to not be so hard on myself. When I first began teaching, I was wracked with the “mama guilt.” I felt guilty for being happy at school even when I was away from him. I felt guilty for being gone eight hours a day four days a week. And the guilt was double edged. I’d then feel guilty at home chasing him around and reading books while a stack of papers burned a hole in the back of my head from my briefcase. I felt guilty just snuggling on the couch after he had fallen asleep for a nap because I could be lesson planning. And then the guilt even started to slip into my relationship with my partner. There was guilt over falling into bed with hardly a word to him because I was exhausted from my new schedule.  Guilt that our apartment was never clean. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
The problem was that I was trying to do everything. Be the most amazing professor my students ever had, be super mom, be the perfect partner, do all the laundry, wash all the dishes, feed all the snakes, clean the whole house, “no thanks, I don’t need help, I totally got this” – when I definitely did not have it.
Then, one night, I asked my partner if he could cook dinner three times a week. He was stoked. Then, I started taking the droidlet to the park more frequently (being out of the house makes me less likely to clean or want to do work). Then, I started to schedule time at school to actually benefit my students in an efficient and effective way. I started asking for help – swapping lesson plans with other professors, having mini “dates” with my colleagues where we could voice frustrations and achievements so that when I got home I could talk with my partner about his day. All of these little “yes, please, I need that” completely changed my life around.
My son has taught me so many things. One of the greatest – that has helped me be a better partner, professor, and mama – is to be able to ask for that little bit of help. And I’ve come to realize, people are more than willing and happy to give it.