When I entered my graduate program for higher education I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend… the list could go on. Of these different hats that I seemed to wear simultaneously the most challenging was being a mother and wife while trying to “prove” that I deserved to be in the program and that I was just as competent as my peers. I remember feeling so disconnected from my cohort because I could not engage like others did with faculty after class or during evening gatherings. While I was confident that I was making an impact on students through the work I was doing I began to feel within my program’s cohort I was not good enough because I could not devote the same amount of time they devoted to things within the program beyond classes. It almost seemed like having a daughter was viewed as an inconvenience or hindrance to being “actively engaged” beyond class. I was fortunate enough to have supportive faculty members that understood the challenges I faced as a new mother and wife in the program. I was fortunate to also have a few peers who have become good friends because they decided to take an interest in me and actually learn about my contributions to the campus community and capabilities as a professional. They were all great supporters then and continue to be a support system for me today.
As I entered my first year as a professional, new to Residence Life, I faced similar challenges. I found myself measuring my success by what others around me were doing. I was the only entry level professional in my department with a child and spouse and I watched others devote countless hours after programs or normal business hours to their staff and students and I was not able to be as available as my colleagues. I felt as though I was not doing enough but at the same time did not know how I could possibly do more. It was easy to suggest bringing my daughter to certain events or evening programs, but that was a strain on my child because my husband worked evenings so I would still need to prepare her dinner and bathe her, which would have her going to bed close to 11pm some nights, to then get back up at 7am for preschool.
I finally realized that I was my biggest critic. When I began to simply own the fact that I am a mother and that alone makes me phenomenal, I began to look at things much differently. What makes me even more phenomenal is that I find ways to be there for my staff, students, and my family. I make an impact just as equally as others, it just looks different sometimes. I then began to wonder if there were other women that struggled with this feeling of being “less than” as a professional because they had maternal responsibilities. What even causes these feelings? This is something that I feel should be more openly discussed especially with new professionals. It’s easy to simply say to just be confident in the work that you are doing but until you have experienced what its like to feel this need to always prove yourself and feel like the 100% that you give is not enough, you may not really understand the internal struggle that takes place.
So why did I choose to write about this particular experience in my life? To motivate and inspire other graduate students and new professionals who are women with families that require their attention. Having a child does not make a woman less competent or less capable of doing her job, it just may look a little different in how she does things because she has another life to take care of. And many times I think as women we do not give ourselves enough credit for all we are capable of doing and have done not only in the profession but in our personal lives as well. If we are not proud of the many hats we wear and how we balance everything, who will be! Women already are often times fighting an uphill battle to climb the ladder of success and it seems the ladder gets longer when you consider being a mother and an African American woman. I have not discussed my feelings about this because I did not want to appear weak and as a result I internalized my feelings and I overworked myself to the point of neglecting self-care; well not anymore. I hope that this snapshot of a fraction of my story can inspire, motivate, or spark conversations among women in higher education that may encounter similar feelings and support women trying to navigate career growth, motherhood, and anything else in life. I can only be me and that IS more than enough!
DeAnnah Reese is a Residence Hall Coordinator at the University of Delaware. Find her on Twitter: @deannahstinson.