February 26 2017

Guide for the Guild

compass roseThe Guide for the Guild is a year-long series of blogs posts submitted by AAR members in response to the Status on Women in the Profession Committee's work-life balance project. To learn more, visit SWP's page on the AAR website.

by Judith Plaskow, Manhattan College

cars driving on a highway

I have been in a commuting relationship for almost thirty years. While the specifics of my commute are shaped by the fact that my partner and I live a three-hour drive from each other, I have learned a number of lessons that I believe apply to a variety of situations. The most important is to be together when you’re together. Commuting is not all bad. It allows partners to focus on their work when they are apart and heightens the preciousness of time together. When my partner and I are living together (when one of us is on sabbatical, for example) and feel as if we can talk at any time, it’s easy for us to go a week without a substantive conversation. Ironically, this happens less often when we check in daily by phone (yes, we still use them) and then have weekends together.

by Wendy Crosby, Loyola University Chicago

A lit interior window at night

I never thought I would become a night owl. I was never one to pull an all-nighter, and I refuse to let a sleep deficit build up. But, here I am, staying up past 4 a.m. and sleeping past noon every day of the week. I've seen the sunrise before heading to bed more times than I'd like to admit. This crazy schedule allows me to balance doctoral studies with the moments of married life I value most. The life of a PhD candidate can be hard, but almost no other job or position would allow me this kind of flexibility.

by Courtney Wilder, Midland University

black and white photo of several pocket watches

That there is an AAR conversation on work-life balance reminds me of a very funny and too-close-to home tweet from the Twitter account called Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay): “Yes, I've heard of work-life balance. I gave a workshop on it last week and am co-editing a related special issue to which I'm contributing.” More beautifully, the poet Adrienne Rich asks in Twenty One Love Poems: “What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about?” We might consider what kind of worker turns her words into her life, and back again, so that the lines between speech and writing and work and life blur?

by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion

Working moms and stay-at-home moms have a tough life. Whether we work or stay at home as we raise our children, we will come to an inevitable point in our lives when we have to “let go” of our children and allow them to grow and become adults. Whether dropping them off at college or sending them off to the army or other major events, we must face the reality that they are leaving the “nest.” For some of us this will be a great time of joy, but for others, it will be a time of loss, adjustment, and big change.

For women who are professors, there is the added stress of how to manage your children while trying to maneuver through the academy. There is a growing amount of literature out there to help professorial moms navigate the academy so that they can be successful professors in their own respective areas.

by Maria Liu Wong, City Seminary of New York

Henri Matisse's "Tea in the Garden" (1919)

“Work-life balance” is a tenuous phrase. Is it possible to imagine that there can ever be real balance, or is it something we might think of instead as a “work-life proportion” in a particular season of time? A mother of three young children ages 2 years to 9 years, working full-time as an administrator and faculty in a seminary, and having spent the past three years of my life working on a dissertation on women and leadership in theological education, this notion of “work-life balance” has been on my mind A LOT. In a recent conversation with my pastor—a very busy man himself who spent a season of his life as primary caretaker for his sons while his wife was working the day shift—I was challenged me to think beyond the idea of “work-life balance,” but more in terms of proportions of time spent doing one thing versus the other.

by Mary E. Hunt, WATER

Privilege is a major factor in life/work balance. Sure, all of us can learn how to say no, put exercise first, eat healthily, get plenty of rest, and set up date nights. But race, class, sexual orientation/identity, age, ethnicity, etc., play pivotal roles in our options and whether we can exercise them.

I do not mean to imply that only privileged women can live balanced lives. Many do not. But colleagues who are loaded with debt, supporting parents as well as children, dealing with complex commuting arrangements, facing health challenges, and the like simply do not have the same luxury to decide whether they will start their day at the health club or end it with a massage. Achieving life-work balance becomes one more item on an already too long to-do list. For many colleagues survival is the goal.

by Amy Elizabeth Jacober, PhD

Even as I write this, I am watching my children play in the backyard. I woke early had a cup of tea, finished one article to hit today’s deadline before making breakfast. Today was a banner day. There are plenty of days that I wake early with the best of intentions only to find a small child wanting—no, needing—to be held for the precious twenty minutes before we really hit the ground running. I have to make choices. My students, quite frankly, rarely care if they have to wait an extra day or two for feedback. There will always be one more comment to make, one more reference letter to write, and one more chapter to edit. I am a Type-A personality by nature, and in previous years I really could accomplish a ridiculous amount. That is still the picture of who I am in my head but reality is that there are just not enough hours in the day.

by Kimberly Carfore, California Institute of Integral Studies

Every morning is the same—my day begins with a trip to the coffeepot. On the way to the kitchen I pass a printout of my thirty-week marathon training schedule posted on the wall next to the refrigerator. With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I glance to see what my body should prepare for later in the day—two miles, eight miles, 12 miles? I say “what my body should prepare for” and not “what I should prepare my body for.” This subtle distinction embodies the way I balance my work and life as a doctoral student.

by Kate Blanchard, Alma College

blurred image person taking a photo of a mirror

When it comes to the time-related aspects of achieving work/life balance, I’ve been luckier than basically every working woman—certainly every working mom—I know. My graduate program in Christian ethics was necessarily supportive of its procreating students, so my “good years” were not “eaten up” by grad school. I got a job at a family-friendly college, highly understanding about parental duties (even to the chagrin of some of my child-free colleagues). My family has inherited enough money to enable us to live well in this rural town on my modest salary, such that my introverted spouse has happily been a stay-at-home dad for years.

by Lisa Nichols Hickman, Duquesne University

"Parable of the Good Samaritan." Oil on canvas. Jan Wijnants, 1670.

When a nurse is exhausted by the ills on his hospital floor, we might diagnose the problem as compassion fatigue: A form of traumatic stress disorder affecting overwhelmed caregivers, compassion fatigue takes a physical, financial, vocational, emotional and spiritual toll.

Diagnosed among nurses and journalists, Nicholas Kristof has argued that compassion fatigue has become widespread because of pervasive news media coverage of crises around the world. I wonder what compassion fatigue looks like in academia?

In the medical field, compassion fatigue is exhaustion from caring. Perhaps a new, related diagnosis is needed for life in the twenty-first century: How do you describe someone who is exhausted, not from caring, but simply from living?