I’m back! After a short hiatus to have our baby boy. My latest post reflects on how to juggle academic life and parenthood. You’d think the two don’t mix but in fact, they do - it just takes a little time, a lot of patience and some smart planning (of course). Why didn't they give me a manual for this?
Image credit: Good Housekeeping Magazine
Rightly or wrongly I have always found my work in academia a little selfish. It’s my passion, I enjoy my discipline but being honest it can be all-consuming at times, whether that be teaching, research or consultancy. I get lost either in the admin or the enjoyment. So, when you throw a kid into the mix you can't sustain your old ways. I mean that by saying firstly you need to keep your head above water and then to find a new way of juggling both of these priorities.
How is it that we are so prepared for birth of a new baby? The endless appointments and milestones. Yet, when you are a week-in postpartum finding your feet with a baby no one is coming running with useful advice: its a case of sink or swim. So for those of us who do want to juggle their academic career and parenthood here are some tips I have learned - some of my own (as a new mum) and others from well-seasoned parents.
Lower your expectations... for a little while
This doesn’t mean you don't have to be on your ‘A’ game but just be a little kinder to yourself. Don’t try and conquer the world in one go. You are not going to be able to get lots don't in a single day. Little and often wins the day. I’m taking this advice myself! Trying to deliver multiple projects with a newborn is a bit of a mission - even writing this blog post took some negotiating with my 8 weeks old (he’s currently sleeping: win! ).
Dependent on how you decide to take some leave during this period it’s still nice to stay connected to the real world. It all depends on how you feel but for me certainly staying engaged in my field has been a nice shift in amongst the mummy duties. I’ve also had some consultancy work underway and although it has been tough to juggle, I think it has helped me navigate my new role as Dr Mummy and given me at times a little relief from the day-to-day maternity experience.
Time to reflect
See this period as an opportunity. Got a side hustle you enjoy? Want to branch out into a different area? See this step away from your every day as a moment to take a step back and reflect on what you are doing right now. If there is something you want to explore or do which will be useful to you later down the line why not explore it a little now. While you might not be able to do it all perhaps dedicate a little time even if it’s just an hour a week to exploring your next venture. All those hours add up to something.
Take care of yourself
There is no doubt that motherhood is a big change not just in terms of the little life you now have in front of you but also for you and your family. So, try and make some time for yourself. It doesn’t take much - a little hour here or there will keep you sane and recharge your batteries. I'm a lot nicer after a good sleep!
Oh my gosh! This is on a whole other level, but you get good fast. Those parental neurons are firing up if you need to dictate that email while feeding your little guy. You’ll get faster, find workarounds for things but just be patient it will come. P.S baby brain is a real thing! Embrace the tech for this purpose... my Apple Watch is paying dividends here - checking things on the fly sometimes makes life easier. Gone are the days of sitting in front of the laptop for every single meeting. It’s now outdoor gear on, baby carrier and a set of Air Pods. This means the meeting is done, exercise done and a sleepy Bub (nice one). Embrace the tech and the fresh air - has Covid not taught us anything? Virtual writing retreats are a thing too - schedule them in amongst naps or family day care so you have some focused time if that is available. Regardless of your time zone, there are plenty of retreats available online check out Twitter #suaw (shut up and write) sessions. These are great to keep you focused when you are in work mode.
Remember the days are long but the years go by fast
Get ruthless with your calendar
Ok this is where you will make your life a hell of a lot easier. See that iCal/Outlook calendar you have - you now live and breathe it. If it ain't in there it’s not happening. Get a sense of how your weeks ahead are shaping up. Share each other's appointments and don't forget to schedule some breaks in too. Last week for me it was a haircut - oh the small wins. This week it’s a full day to work with a client. Prioritisation is key - so be clear on the stuff that will bring you the most value. When you are working just get stuff done: good is good enough - perfectionism can be saved for another day. Remember a task will get done in the amount of time you give it. Write everything down too - the baby brain is real so get a list to keep you on track - Apple reminders work a treat.
Shake things up a bit. In amongst the kid stuff and if you have some reading to do for work, follow Max's advice - get your kid's books out and you get yours out. It’s still quality time. For me, it might not be on my newborn son's list of exciting topics but sometimes during the week we park Winnie the Pooh and get a journal paper out or whatever it may be and read aloud. There’s still reading and cuddles so it’s a good deal for both of us.
One thing that shocked me the most during my pregnancy and postpartum was attitudes of others. You can feel like you are disappearing into the ground when you go through the early stages of motherhood. You can be overlooked for projects, your opinion not sought after as much as it was before or get the sense that a new role is no longer on the table. But from those women who I have spoke they say don't hold back on your career decisions. Sure you might be pregnant or just had a baby but that doesn't mean you can't go for that promotion, change your role or try out a different project or simply pause. I changed role while heavily pregnant and I'm glad I went for it. The experience of parenthood somehow helps you see your goals more clearly and the minutiae that once existed begins to falls away. You gain clarity.
Don’t feel bad for wanting to keep your career on track or doing whatever the f* you want when it comes to this juggle. Whatever you want to do can become achievable and it will get easier. So far, I’m 9 weeks in and it's much easier than week 1 - so I'm rolling on that basis. Keep going and at the end of the day take or leave everyone’s advice (including mine) you need to figure out what works for you. Life is so much sweeter with our little guy and I think Dr Mummy has a nice ring to it. Thank you so much to all of the contributors for this post - I’ve linked them below via our twitter feed!
Read my twitter conversation with