In general, when I see blog posts or articles talking about work-life balance, the main theme is how to balance work and babies. I am not dismissing this as a real and important issue, but for childless workaholics like myself, it’s not always the advice that we need. It was very refreshing then when last week I came across this post from Tenure, She Wrote, entitled “Family is about more than babies“. The post is about how the writer had to go home and help her aging parent recover from a nasty injury, and about how things like that are a big part of what we mean by “family obligations”. I was especially struck by her concluding paragraph:
“When we talk about work-life balance, family-friendly workplaces, reasonable expectations for tenure and promotion, family leave and so on, we need to recognize that this isn’t just about babies and young children. It’s about all of us with any sort of strong personal connection with another human being.”
This resonated with me on so many levels, and it also helped me put some things in perspective. Mainly, it reminded me that even though I am not directly responsible for keeping young humans alive, I do have family obligations that I take very seriously, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about prioritizing those over my job. For example, I try to visit my family at least once a year. This is not a trivial task, since they live in Venezuela and it is expensive and difficult to get there (and I imagine many of the International readers of my blog have even more expensive and difficult places to go to see their family). This eats into summer research time, and into Winter break time, so I don’t get as much work done during those breaks as someone who may have family living a few hours away.
This semester was particularly difficult for me. First of all, my grandmother was very ill in February and it was very hard to experience that from far away and to not be able to help in any way. Part of the problem was that due to recent issues between the Venezuelan government and the usual airlines that fly to the US it is very difficult to find plane tickets, especially last-minute ones. Secondly, there is a lot of turmoil in Venezuela (which maybe you have heard about) making me fear for my entire family’s safety combined with a feeling of extreme sadness for my country and its people. This distracted me quite significantly from work. I spent a lot of time on the phone and on Skype, reading the news, and not grading or doing research.
For a while, this feeling of dread for my family was compounded by a very real feeling of guilt about not giving enough focus to my job. I think the point of view that this was part of my “family obligations” is therefore a very healthy one. I should have been grading in a more timely manner and doing more research this semester, that is true. What I think we need to learn is that sometimes you have something more pressing that needs your attention, and this will invariably happen when you have “any sort of strong personal connection with another human being.” I’m not sure I was the best I could be at my job this semester, but what I have decided is to just cut myself some slack. I know many of us go through difficult times, and we have to remember that we are human, that we do have strong connections to other human beings, and that it is OK if their well-being is high on our list of priorities. It’s funny, though, that I have to say this so explicitly. It’s an interesting business, the one we’re in, that we can’t always feel justified in not being 100% committed to our work. But a lot of this is self-imposed, and what I propose is to give ourselves some room to be just human.
I am sure many of us have similar conflicting feelings of dedication to our jobs and to our families, so please share any thoughts, strategies, and coping mechanisms in the comments section below.