Becoming a parent made me better at my job

January 18 | Guest post by Rachael Jordan
Rachael and her son at graduation!
As I was approaching my last year of grad school for my Master's in English, I had been dating an awesome, goateed, tattooed locksmith for a few months. That Christmas, as I was choosing my thesis advisor and getting ready to embark on the challenge of writing a full short story collection, my body started to feel a little weird. What I thought was nerves over the impending thesis, we came to find, was actually our little droidlet beginning to grow. Surprise! The following August, my son was born.

I took a semester off from my program and went back five months later to complete one last class, my entire thesis, and teach the last class of my Teaching Associate's career. And, somehow, I finished. This past May, the droidlet and his dad cheered me on as I walked across that stage and officially became a Master of English (I just pictured myself as a Jedi. Heh.).

Luckily, I got hired right away, as an adjunct faculty member for two different colleges. This meant I went from having a breezy summer hanging out with my son to teaching five classes, four days a week. At first, I was very, very scared I wasn't going to make it. However, now that I am charging into the second semester of this schedule, I realize that being a mom has actually improved my skills as a professor.

Before, when I was teaching as a Teaching Associate, I would do something like stay up all night playing Lord of the Rings Online or watching Dr. Who episodes on BBC America and then the next day realize "Holy crap, I have 25 essays to grade before tomorrow!" Then, a caffeine-out eight hour shift at a local coffee shop would commence the next morning. Though I rallied at my students about procrastination, I, myself, was a procrastinator.

Now, with little guy, I literally cannot do this anymore. Much to my free-spirited, spontaneous chagrin, I was forced to start managing my time and it's improved my life. I now have scheduled times to grade and do work, where I am only focusing on my students. This means that when I'm with my son it is all about him. Before, the priorities in my life would get handled when I thought of them (or remembered) and now, I'm making a conscious effort to get everything organized.

Before the droidlet, I didn't really have boundaries between my home life and my "school" life. I would answer emails at all hours of the night, accept late work from students without giving them too hard of a time, easily reschedule appointments, and always keep their essays out and ready for feedback. Now, I'm much more effective in my teaching and interaction with my students. I still have my open-door policy, open communication, and support. However, now, I have more structure. I make it imperative for students to make and keep consistent appointments. My students know I won't be staying up 'til 11 to check emails, so we handle issues during my office hours or after class. I've established a clear boundary of when and where we can discuss work which allows my students the academic and individual support they need while allowing me to come home, confident that I've done my job.

Having the droidlet while working has also forced me to not be so hard on myself. When I first began teaching, I was wracked with the "mama guilt." I felt guilty for being happy at school even when I was away from him. I felt guilty for being gone eight hours a day four days a week. And the guilt was double edged. I'd then feel guilty at home chasing him around and reading books while a stack of papers burned a hole in the back of my head from my briefcase. I felt guilty just snuggling on the couch after he had fallen asleep for a nap because I could be lesson planning. And then the guilt even started to slip into my relationship with my partner. There was guilt over falling into bed with hardly a word to him because I was exhausted from my new schedule. Guilt that our apartment was never clean.

Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

The problem was that I was trying to do everything. Be the most amazing professor my students ever had, be super mom, be the perfect partner, do all the laundry, wash all the dishes, feed all the snakes, clean the whole house, "No thanks, I don't need help, I totally got this" — when I definitely did not have it.

Then, one night, I asked my partner if he could cook dinner three times a week. He was stoked. Then, I started taking the droidlet to the park more frequently (being out of the house makes me less likely to clean or want to do work). Then, I started to schedule time at school to actually benefit my students in an efficient and effective way. I started asking for help — swapping lesson plans with other professors, having mini "dates" with my colleagues where we could voice frustrations and achievements so that when I got home I could talk with my partner about his day. All of these little "yes, please, I need that" completely changed my life around.

My son has taught me so many things. One of the greatest — the one that has helped me be a better partner, professor, and mama — is to be able to ask for that little bit of help. And I've come to realize that people are more than willing and happy to give it.

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  1. Amen to this! I am still learning the lesson of not trying to do and be everything, but one excellent reminder for me was the book "Ask For It." It mainly focuses on how women can ask for pay raises but also talks about asking for and negotiating in all areas of life in order to focus on what you want out of life. I need these reminders frequently to keep me from getting overwhelmed. Thanks!

  2. Awesome. This is what I needed: a shake of the shoulders saying 'get organized before droidlet comes!'
    Thanks for sharing and congrats on your family and degree! :o)

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this. After nearly five months of off-time or freelance work randomness (read: lots of time with my baby girl) I'm about to go back to work fulltime. While I'm super happy about getting some financial stability back into our lives, it is SO hard knowing that I'll be gone from my baby bear for roughly 10 hours a day! I keep telling myself that us not having to stress so much about money will also mean us being able to save up money for things down the road. We found a great nannyshare and I know she'll be in good hands, but DAMN it's hard. A colleague of mine shared her mantra with me, the one she told herself as often as needed when she went back to work after having her baby: I am working because it is the best thing I can do for my family right now. And it is the truth!

    Kudos to you for seeing the large number of bright sides to your situation…it makes me inspired to see them in mine :)

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  4. I love reading about strong women such as yourself, putting things into perspective and finding that way that works for you. The bonus: you are happy with it and that's all that matters. Love this! It's very inspiring.

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  5. You know what's crazy? I got many of these benifits when I had a dog for a small amount of time (fostering a dog for a friend who was studying abroad). I think that having someone or thing be dependent on you can be a very powerful positive force against procrastination.

  6. This is great! I really like how you describe parenthood as enhancing who you already were and making you better that the things that already made you you. And hurray for asking for help!

    I will say, as a fellow academic, that my first semester back once I was a mother, I was an absolute machine in my self-discipline and time management skills. For the most part, I am still more efficient at planning classes and writing exams, etc. But, almost 2.5 years into this gig, I've definitely resorted to my pre-parenthood ability to delay grading as long as possible through various time wasting mechanisms. I think this is also because my son sleeps through the night now so I know that a few late nights won't kill me. When he was 8 months old, I could never take that risk as I was so very sleep-deprived and one night of my going to bed too late could ruin me for a week!

    Anyway, thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you for this! I was just talking to my dad about the same topic this evening. When I went back to work when my son was 5 months old I realized I needed to seriously kick some ass to justify being away from my sweet little guy for 9 1/2 hours a day. Being a mom has made me want to make every minute of my workday worthwhile. It's taken a while to get that other part — the balance and giving myself a break — right, but I'm getting better at that, too. Balance is hard, but I'm so proud to be a hard working mama who's trying to get it all right (even as I make mistakes along the way).

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  8. "Before, the priorities in my life would get handled when I thought of them (or remembered) and now, I'm making a conscious effort to get everything organized."

    Key point that I took to heart.

  9. You just made me super excited for my impending graduate with a Masters in Music, gown and tassle with baby picture! I got lucky with timing I'm due in 6 weeks my thesis is approved and my defense is next week (my defense is an hour of classical vocal stylings lol baby sticking his feets in my lungs increase the challenge). I try not to think about the real life challenges I'll be facing trying to be a full time opera singer and academic (keep your fingers crossed that I get that Grant allowing me to specialize in Romantic Scandanavian Music) the fact that your doing it (with a little help) gives me hope!

  10. So lovely hearing from a working mama. I'm an English teacher and LOVE my job so much, when my body finally gets round to cooperating and getting knocked up, I know I will to back to work full time when the baby is 5 months. I know lots of people won't understand it and won't think its right, but I feel so strongly I want to provide a stable financial situation and I want my child to grow up seeing that their mum has a carer and be proud of them for that. My mum was a single parent of three and stayed at home with all of us and while she was and is the most amazing mother, now my youngest sister is at college she feels very upset because her whole life had been us and it makes me sad for my mum, as an adult I really wish she had been able to make a carer for herself…I guess often our parenting decisions can reflect our upbringing.

    I also want to add that I have so much respect for stay at home mums, like I said my mum was amazing, I just know it won't be right for me.

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  11. I love this article!! I feel much the same way– I'm working from home with a three-month-old and it has made me way more disciplined… I'm learning to take advantage of the time when she is sleeping in my lap or nursing to get my work done, instead of wasting time and avoiding work (and feeling guilty about it) like I used to. Before I could procrastinate because I knew I WOULD get it done, somehow, eventually… now, like you, I realize that I CAN'T count on getting things done if I put them off, so I'm a lot more disciplined. I also plan out what I want to do each day and JUST do that, with no guilt about doing more if I finish early. I'm learning and adjusting all the time, but so far I completely agree with you that having a baby is making me a better teacher… or at least not a worse one, which is good enough for me!

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  12. Woohoo to another student mom! I got pregnant 3 weeks after I went back to college, and 3 years later I'm about to graduate. He has made me realize that it's all worth it. I always tell my mom I work my butt off because of him. Having an understanding partner makes it that much better. *high five* and congrats!!

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