I Left A Tenured Academic Position, But I Am Not A Goner: A Working/Parenting Post By Anne G. Sabo

6 years ago
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I didn’t leave a tenured position as a college professor to “stay at home” with my child and “not work.” I left because I felt my body scream against the thought of not being with my child, and because I wanted to write. I wanted to write, and not the kind of clever academic wrangle appraised by peers. I wanted to write something of meaning, for myself and for those who care.

I naively expected some credit for my decision. But our culture likes to differentiate between “working moms” and “stay-at-home moms.” And even if nostalgic lip service is sometimes paid to “motherhood,” what’s really held up high in our achievement-oriented culture is the “do-it-all-woman.” In other words, ours is a culture that essentially pays no respect to any mom, be she a “working mom” or a “stay-at-home mom.” Expectations are warped (for all that a woman “ought” to be able to do), and compensations are absent (for all the real work taking care of and raising a child does involve).

In this cultural environment, I find my work constantly belittled or ignored. In the eyes of our culture, I am dismissed as a stay-at-home mom who dabbles in some mama blogging.

I found myself in the clear the first year I was “at home” with my child. Not knowing I was pregnant, I had applied for an unpaid year of leave to complete a book based on research I’d done during a sabbatical a couple of years before. The plan was to live in my native Norway for a year; there, I would write while my husband pursued his graduate degree.

With a new baby, I didn’t get too much writing done, but some. And a lot of reading while my daughter nursed. I wasn’t “expected” to get anything done, however, because in Norway, new parents receive a year of fully paid leave to “stay home” and take care of their child.* This year is typically spent with other new moms (and some dads), going for walks, hanging out in coffee shops, taking baby swimming classes, and so on.

By the time children turn one in Norway, they are guaranteed enrollment in a government-sponsored daycare, and moms (and dads) return to work. The (primarily blue collar) moms who after this first year continue to “stay home” or take up part-time work are targeted by the educated, gender-equality-minded middle classes for perpetuating traditional gender roles.

But neither my daughter nor I was ready for separation when she turned one. Or when she turned two. Everything I read about the child’s need to develop attached relationships with her parents and/or select caregivers in her first two to three years of life resonated with my guts. We couldn’t afford to pay for a daycare provider with low child-to-caregiver ratio, or a private nanny (incidentally a position that is targeted also for perpetuating class differences). And I wanted to breastfeed for as long as both my daughter and I wanted it. As she turned one, and then two, I was still nursing her frequently.

Had we continued living in Norway, I know I would have found myself extremely lonely, misunderstood and without like-minded people.

In the US, we do find ourselves surrounded by quite a few like-minded people. Who like us struggle to navigate the very imperfect circumstances that affect parents here. Ideally, my husband and I would have liked to share the load of doing paid work and parenting. Unfortunately, in our culture, it is nearly impossible. Part-time work usually does not come with benefits, and a part-time position typically implies more than 50% employment although it does not pay the proportional amount.

And then there’s childcare, which–if you’re looking for attentive caregiving–is outrageously expensive compared to the median US household income (and at this point, we bring in way below). There are many problems with the lacks of paid parental leave and affordable quality daycare in this country, including how it prevents many women from pursuing breastfeeding, while it forces other women (and sometimes men) to forsake their own work (aside from their work parenting) to “stay at home.”

I breastfed my child till she was three and she told me there was no more and stopped nursing. She still wants me to lie with her in bed for nap till she’s asleep. As a “working mom” outside of the house, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain that kind of relationship for so long. But as a “stay-at-home” working mom, I have been and still am.

Which brings me back to where I started. Close friends know I am a “working” mom, even if I’m not cashing in much (or any) on my research and writing. But I know there are other “friends,” acquaintances and former colleagues who perceive me as a goner.

Tellingly, the year my husband and I shared our days between writing and being with our daughter, a year that was financed by a substantial writing grant I had received and a student loan he’d taken out, I was the “stay-at-home mom” and he was the graduate student. Even if I was the one who had an income for my work while he was accruing debts.

What I want is more awareness of and respect for the many different ways in which women (and men) combine their work parenting with paid work. And ideally more flexibility, options and support for women and men who want to divide their time between themselves as “stay-at-home parents” and “working parents.”

Credit Image: Generation Bass on Flickr

* To receive paid parental leave in Norway, parents must have been employed for at least six months prior to the birth or adoption of their child. The pay is 100% of their former salary if the parents opt for 47 weeks of leave; 80% pay for 57 weeks. Parents are encouraged to share this paid leave; in fact, the father must take a substantial part of it or the parents lose this part entirely. Lawmakers are considering ways of ensuring even more equal sharing, opposed to which some are voicing concerns on behalf of women who want to breastfeed beyond six months based on recommendations from the World Health Organization.

Anne G. Sabo, Ph.D., is a former academic turned mama- and sex blogger, author and freelance writer. Her “mama blog” is at Quizzical Mama. Visit her at Anne G. Sabo to find out more about her work and writing.

Originally posted at First the Egg.

Quizzical mama, aka Anne G. Sabo, PhD, is a former academic turned mama and sex blogger who recently founded LOVE, SEX, AND FAMILY, a site devoted to progressive human sexuality information. As a college professor, she taught numerous courses in women's and film studies. In her New porn by women blog she writes about sexual politics and re-visioned porn. Her Quizzical mama blog is an educated and personal approach to the politics and philosophies of parenting, often addressing controversial issues and reflecting on different cultural values and practices in the US and her native Norway. She lives in a small Minnesotan college town just south of the Twin Cities with her husband and their toddler daughter. (Photo: Agnete Brun)