Does work/life balance even exist, or is it a mythical concept (like a unicorn) that only seems to apply to women? Why should I kick this concept to the curb?
Mommy guilt hit me like a freight train when my oldest child, now 11, was in kindergarten and I was out of town at a conference on the day that her Kindergarten class was singing at a seniors home. Through tears, she said to me: “all the other mommies in the class were there. Where were you?” In that moment, I knew that work/life balance was achievable only in the most superficial way. Yes, the flexibility of academia meant that I could leave work at noon to attend an important assembly at my kids’ school (while putting those missed hours long after my kids were asleep). I also could attend scientific meetings important to my academic growth, while keeping on top of at-home committments through hotel room Facetime calls. However, mommy guilt followed me in both arenas. I consistently felt a step behind my colleagues without children, who had the ability to work late to get a grant completed before the deadline, whereas missed deadlines had become my middle name. Mommy guilt also followed me in my personal life, where I found myself feeling inferior to parents whose schedules gave them the flexibility to drive their children to school, and attend every performance. Once I accepted that work/life balance is not only unattainable (for me) but, in fact, a destructive aspiration (for me), the sting of mommy guilt finally began to lessen.
What would you say to mothers who feel that heavy societal pressure to balance it all and be the perfect parent, partner, and employee?
About 5 years ago, a group of academic moms in my field and I decided, after sharing similar experiences about work-life imbalance (and a glass of wine) at a conference, that we would meet as a group annually and use this time together to honestly and non-judgmentally support one another in our struggle of the perpetual juggle of academic life with the demands of parenthood. We each take turns discussing our joys and struggles in the personal/professional dance, and we laugh and we cry with one another. We each set a personal goal and commit to the group that we will try to accomplish that over the next year. Based on the immense support and validation I receive from this group of amazingly accomplished academic moms, I would encourage others to similarly seek community in like-minded individuals. You can all celebrate work-life imbalance together!
Dr. Brotto is a mother of 3 children: an 11-year old daughter, and two sons aged 9 and 6. She is a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health, and the Division Head of Gynaecologic Specialties at UBC.