I was never a “kid person.” We all know these people. These are people who made money babysitting in high school, always knew what to say to kids to make them giggle and dreamed of a big family. I did always hope I would be a mom, but never really quite understood what made those little people tick. As much as I despise parenting analogies related to student affairs work, I will also confess that I got a bit of the “parenting fix” from helping my fantastic students every day.
“Oh, but things will change when you have kids.”
I’m sure there are a number of women out there who have heard that unsolicited advice from many wise and experienced people as much as I used to in earlier phases of my career. Today, I’m a parent to a little boy who is almost seven. He just lights up my life and he is definitely the force behind most everything I do.
Before I was married and before I became a parent, I remember thinking about having children as a decision that would require me to choose a priority for my work or a priority for my family and that choosing one meant that the other would be guaranteed to suffer. Just flip the channel and you could also then hear “you can have it all, but just not at once.” Who do you believe? Can this all work in student affairs? Many have written of the “mommy wars” and the rift between women about the decision to work full time or make raising children the full time job. There’s also a certain radio commercial I hear regularly that asks me if “I’m concerned that someone else is raising my children while I’m at work.” (insert daily expletives here and nearly miss driving off the road).
You will never hear my husband talk about anyone judging his career choices and he’s a model dad when he makes a point of getting home in time to have dinner with us. He also doesn’t experience what happens when you’re at the birthday party with the group of moms that all volunteer in the classroom. “Oh, you work…” I don’t know that men stand around judging each other’s life choices.
I’ve made the decision to stick with a pretty overwhelming job in student activities even after becoming a parent. This choice is one that meets some criticism (hoping it’s a good guess that my mom isn’t reading this) and there are even more critics who think I am nuts for pursuing my doctorate. I decided to start the doctorate, although going at a slow pace, because of my interest in investing in my own future. I stay in the job, even if at a frantic pace, for much broader reasons.
My response to these critics is simple. Being in student affairs makes me a better parent. Parenting also makes me a better leader in student affairs, too!
- Parenting has taught me the true meaning of the word “emergency” and how to apply that to student affairs.
- Student affairs has taught me that there’s a way to offer both challenge and support to my students and that the same goes for my son.
- Parenting has taught me a new definition of “busy” and student affairs has prepared me well to meet that challenge.
- Student affairs has taught me about the definition of “inclusive,” and it has helped me to teach my son to be someone who will open his mind and heart to those he encounters from different backgrounds.
- Parenting has taught me that there are only a certain number of hours in a day and that you have to choose the fewest number of #1 priorities. There’s no way to manage the student affairs workload without this same level of focus.
I know that I’m also in a place where I need to model a level of mastery of these roles for my staff and for my students. When we interact face-to-face about this topic I want them to know that the work/rest of life balance equation isn’t something to be solved. The work/rest of life negotiation process can be one that is a challenging but rewarding journey. It’s all about your individual formula and has a lot of influence from your partner, your career, your coworkers/friends, your family, and your personal goals for yourself.
Sometimes choosing the right path means heeding the advice of the wise “board of advisors” in your life. Other times, it means heading your own way. You are the only one who can write your own rules for what “balance” means.
I’m not saying I have it figured out by any means, but I’m compelled to tell you that trying to embrace all of the gifts this combination in life can offer is a pretty amazing combination of awesome.