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By: Amber Kinser
I am writing this month about my foibles from last year, in an effort to confess my maternal humanness and to try to direct some of my thinking in the year ahead. In last week’s Dr. Mama post, I contextualize this focus on “atonement” and write about my first topic: food and the preparations of family meals in particular. This week, I write about work.
Mothers who work in paid employment generally do so because they must; I do have to earn a living. Now the conditions of that paid employment, of course, is another matter. We learn from the advocacy work of organizations like MomsRising, for example, that rights such as fair pay, maternity leave, paid sick days, and flexible work continue to elude mothers in the workplace, and this is certainly, to answer the questions posed by the MamaBlogger365 initiative, one of the most pressing issues confronting mothers today. And there are other issues. Like being allowed to cop to the fact that you’re a mother and an employee at the same time, and so have more on your plate than workplace interests or tasks. Or like being really engaged by the work you do but not able to invest any passion in it because, if you live in the U.S., for example, you’re so tapped out by mothering in a climate that adopts an ideology of “every family is an island” rather than “it takes a village.”
In my job right now, I am fortunate enough to not be plagued by the MomsRising points noted above, but I do confront the latter two issues and I do confront them simultaneously with other, more deeply personal matters. Among these is learning to be invested in work to the extent that it nourishes me, healthily detached from it to the extent that it doesn’t, and focused on opportunities to feel peaceful quite outside of work. Because I love my job and because I spent an enormous amount of time and energy—not to mention student loan money—learning how to do it, and OK, yes, because I’m a bit of working fiend (probably not workaholic, but close), I have an exceptionally difficult time cultivating such a healthy relationship to work. My affection for and investment in my work makes me feel like it just sort of extends ‘naturally’ from me and lots of times it doesn’t feel like work so I find myself talking about it or ensconced in before even realizing I’ve let it intrude, again, on the rest of my life. Plus, as a graduate student and then a professor, I’ve worked 20 years now in a climate that invests much energy into erasing the already blurry boundaries between work and home (if by ‘erase’ you mean facilitating the intrusion of work into family life, but impeding the ‘intrusion’ of family into work life; and that is what universities and workplaces more broadly mean).
I’ve been attending to this effort quite pointedly for over four years now, but I still am not satisfied with my level of investment in work; I am overinvested in it. And last year, because I took on an administrative position, I was especially caught up in it. I’ve gotten better over the last four years, I think, but I’m not good at it yet and I think I probably suffered some setback in my effort because of my new position, in which I am responsible for managing a large number of people and a vast amount of detail. I’d like to learn to how to enjoy my job while keeping obsessiveness about it at bay, while not letting its highs and lows dictate my energies, while not letting my interactions with other people at work determine how I feel about myself or ruin an entire day. I’d like for these facets of work to matter less to me personally rather than function as so piercing and deflating. I still am no good at keeping “shop talk” at the shop; I’d like to learn how to do that. I’d like to learn how to ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’.
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* Tips on work/life balance here