Academia and Domesticity

Sharon September 6th, 2004

The two don’t go together very well, do they? Academia requires sustained periods of concentration, freedom of movement and comparative instability until your middle year, a lofty perspective. Domestic life, especially life with small children, means constant interruptions, at least arguments for stability, a very narrow perspective. The traditional solution is to hire a lot of help - nannies and daycare centers, cleaning services or housekeepers, a lot of takeout, lawn services, etc… And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that - it certainly helps in job creation. But I’m uncomfortable passing off my domestic labor onto poorly paid women, who then, to do my work, have to leave their children with even more poorly paid labor… And I fear we can’t afford to pay them well.

So mostly, we do it ourselves. We keep the house passably clean, grow the garden, mow the lawn, put up the food, take care of the kids, walk the dog, clean the animal pens, and also attempt to write, teach and study. I’m not sure how we’re doing - I’m two years past my hoped for doctoral defense date, Eric hasn’t written much.

It is hard to go from toilet cleaning to the higher plains of Milton, from Green Eggs and Ham to the latest info on Gamma Ray Bursts. I’m not sure why we try so hard to do it all. I certainly don’t think our choice is the best of the bad lot out there. But it seems like one way to raise children who don’t think that toilets are someone else’s job. It also is a way to slow down our lives - the few times we’ve tried to have both of us working and teaching full bore, we’ve both been very tired and cranky, and it hasn’t felt as if we were serving our children.

Our struggle with this seems to be more common than not - most of my friends, most of them women, are in their early to mid thirties, and most of them are trying to figure out what they are going to be when they grow up (older?). The careers we trained and planned for don’t seem to fit with our other responsibilities, and some alternative is necessary, but what? Among my immediate circle, I know only a few women who are full-speed ahead in the career they spent their twenties preparing for, and most of those either have no children or have a spouse who is willing to take on the career crisis for them. Oh, there are exceptions, and don’t think I don’t admire them. But so far, I can’t be them, and still live the kind of life I want for myself, my husband and my children.

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