I have heard much discussion about and have even experienced some of the difficulties of being a career-oriented woman. The balance of work and quality of life—which often means family—is not always easy to maintain. One has to consider if and at what point marriage and child-bearing (and the thankless task of childrearing) will enter into the equation. Before of after tenure? Are you being justly compensated for the same work as your male counterpart? And maintaining the boundaries between the personal and the professional lives is always at the forefront—at least these are many of the concerns I have shared in my young career. I’m sure many of my female colleagues would agree that this is pretty normal stuff for us. It’s part of the social inheritance of being a working woman. We just have to charge it to the game and work it out to the best of our abilities. Most of us fare pretty well.
What I have heard less discussion about is the murkier waters of the career woman who has made it past many of the initial hurdles of securing a job, finding a partner, publishing, and procreating only to discover that the universe had something else in mind. For whatever reason, career woman is now a single parent. Now, the everyday tasks of raising a child aren’t really the challenge. There is certainly some adjustments to be made but we’re talking about Ph.Ds—career woman doesn’t miss a beat in that arena. But single parenthood creates all sorts of other interesting challenges for Lady PhD that I’m just dying to know about.
You see, I have found myself in this very predicament. The issue? How does one continue on with the business of academia as a single, black female mother? In my previous life, I maintained an active presence with my professional organizations. Usually I attend a minimum of two conferences a year. Now that I am sans spouse, that seems like an impossibility. Sure, I hear of parents who bring their children to conferences and expose them to the academic life. They make all the claims that it is great for the child’s development. I’m sure it is.
But you see, my current institution doesn’t pay me enough to incur the cost of flying my child to the conference site. And to be fair, I don’t see my son sitting quietly in the audience as I present. I’m just saying, you have to know your children and little man is much too….shall we say inquisitive for that. And further more, when I’m conference hopping, I’m always “at work” and I’m just not of the mind to bring my 4 year old into the work space. It’s cute and totally acceptable for other folks. I love to see kids in those spaces, but for the record—I’m just not that person. I prefer not to mix the two. Call it a personality quirk. Rather than polling for answers to my unique situation, I am much more interested in how other single parents—and I am not privileging mothers—who are also academics maneuver through the minefield.
Conference attendance is just one issue—but it is pretty important to a young, burgeoning scholar such as myself. Conference attendance is one of the forums through which I stay current in my field. It is a very important part of my professional development. What about others? I anticipate going on the job market this year—how on earth will I navigate invitations for a campus interview when I have no childcare solution for pre-school age kid? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or are there other professionals who have had to alter their professional paths due to unforeseen life changes? And if so (as I just can’t imagine there hasn’t been) why aren’t people talking about it!!!???? I am all about making the necessary adjustments to make life livable and work doable—I just don’t know what they are.
I don’t have any answers. I am navigating each situation as it reveals itself. But I am seeking community—others with shared experience who might provide some insight. After all, that is how we do things around here….right?