Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Surviving Grad School 101: Balancing Work and Family

Rosemary O'Leary began the discussion with her own background:  her mother started work on a PhD once her youngest child started school.  She also shared her challenge of finding good job opportunities for her and her husband (an economist, also with the Maxwell School) where both of them were wanted, and then raising their daughter (and a child from a previous marriage) with two busy research careers. 
What works for them:  They arrange their class schedules on opposite days, so the one not teaching can prepare dinner, chauffer, chaperone, etc., split household duties, and they renegotiate when this ceases to work.
Daughter has been to many meetings and defenses.  Rosemary reserves an hour a day for herself which she spends in the gym (similarly, one of the participants learned to play an instrument); she firmly believes that this helps her be better at everything else, and that its a good model for her daughter.  She doesn't go to all the meetings she would like--sometimes its Larry's turn. Ask for help.  The waiting list for the daycare at her previous institution was 150 families long; they called weekly to check.  She suspects they just got tired of the phone calls and moved her to the top.
Specific questions:  How did you survive the time between when your daughter was 10 and 14?  Rosemary shared her remembrance that she had personally loved when her mom had asked her opinion, and the realization that this was true for her own daughter.   Between homework and extracurricular activities and sleep, do kids even do chores anymore?  Time crunched moms often find it more expedient to do it themselves rather than supervising or taking time to teach to do task correctly.  But this ends up a disservice to both.  Rotate responsibilities, and accept that things won't necessarily be done as well for now. When Rosemary was a child,  there were 7 rotating tasks, including "the expediter" who made sure all the other tasks were completed.
She asked participants about their particular struggles:  time, staying upbeat, a little time in the gym to keep sane, getting kids through it, too.
Two of the participants took the same route as Rosemary's mom, and are now pursuing degrees.  Other successful strategies:  ditch unsupportive spouse (especially if abusive), move into a smaller place with easier upkeep and less opportunities for mooching by adult children. Some solutions don't work for everyone:  Theoretically we could "farm out" cooking and cleaning, but not on most student budgets!  This discussion was facilitated by Rosemary O'Leary, Distinguished Professor of Public Administration; Distinguished Professor and Phanstiel Chair in Strategic Management and Leadership; Co-Director, Program for the Analysis and Resolution of Conflict; and Senior Research Associate in both the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and Center for Environmental Policy and Administration at Syracuse University.  It was co-sponsored by the Graduate Student Association as part of their yearlong series Surviving Grad School 101.