Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

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By Tracy G. Cassels

My daughter was born at the end of June, 2010.  As a graduate student, that fell half way into the summer term (which runs from May to August) meaning that I got to take the first couple months unofficially off and my maternity leave didn’t start until September.  Being in Canada, I had a full year and so I was able to enjoy, stress-free, a full 14 months with my daughter before going back to school.  I knew from others how harrowing the “going back” can be for those who would prefer to stay at home and be with their child—you’re looking for daycares, worrying about separation, what will be missed.  And so I decided that I was going to make this whole school thing work while taking care of my daughter.  I was slated to teach a lab component for the introductory graduate statistics class for our Psych grads and so made arrangements with my labmate to watch my daughter while I taught (1 ½ hours a week) so that she would be close if something happened and it would minimize the time away as I would be able to see her right before and right after – no travel time.  The rest would get done during naps, while my daughter played, and at my dear friend’s house whose son is my daughter’s best friend.  And while I expected it to be difficult, I didn’t expect to feel shunned and looked down upon for trying to make this work.

Going through this term (it’s still not finished) has been cause for more stress and heartache than I had imagined.  My daughter did not take to the idea of me leaving her to teach, no matter how short the time, meaning my labmate has been stuck with a fussy, upset little girl most weeks.  It doesn’t help that there aren’t other kids around and though there are toys (we are a developmental lab), it’s just not the most fun of times.  Some weeks she’s come to class for comfort and has not been ready to leave right away, meaning a 5-10 minute hiatus to teaching.  One week she even had to come to class with me as my labmate was at a conference, my on-campus back-up was away on vacation, and my husband couldn’t work from home as he had work requirements that precluded it.  I had hoped throughout all this that I would have some level of understanding from people.  That they would realize that I am trying to do the best for my daughter while also completing my obligations at teacher and student, but I was wrong.

At the student level, it’s actually been okay.  I’m not where I’d hoped to be with writing, but my supervisor is happy with the progress and so I can live with it too (especially as I take time to write here as well).  In fact, I would be remiss not to mention that my supervisor and the head of graduate students have been phenomenal in supporting my decision to be a mom first and student second.  But my teaching?  Well, that’s a different story.  Turns out some of the students aren’t so happy.  Enough so that they’ve gone to the main professor in the class to complain that at times my daughter interrupts the class and they don’t like it.  So I get an email telling me to find arrangements that don’t involve her coming to see me when necessary (and in fairness to him, he was very nice about it but clear that I had to do that for the students’ sake).  I realize that teaching is much like any other job – students have the expectation that when you go into that classroom, you belong to them and will give them 100%.  In one sense, it’s not an unrealistic expectation given our society, but as a mother, it’s ridiculous.  The moment I gave birth, my daughter became the person that will always have a large portion of my attention and thought, even if she’s not with me at that given moment.  It means that when I enter a classroom, I will focus on what I’m doing, but my daughter doesn’t cease to exist and if she needs me, she will come before the class.  In my mind, as long I make sure they get the information they need, I’ve done my job, even if there are a few 5 minute breaks in between.  It’s easy to say I shouldn’t have taught this term (something I would agree with given my experience), but it’s too late to change that.  The expectation the class has is that a child wouldn’t ever set foot in the classroom – again, not unreasonable given our society’s set up, but I question the set up both for parents and for children.

Look, I get that a crying baby sucks to listen to.  I get that it can be a distraction and I would never just let my daughter scream while doing nothing about it.  But what I don’t get is the hostility towards it.  Who does it really benefit when we keep a parent and child separated for such prolonged periods?  Do we not recognize the fact that we were all children once and perhaps some of our own mental health problems stem from the fact that we were treated as if our feelings and needs didn’t matter?  How do we expect to thrive as a society when any infiltration of a child into an adult domain is viewed as inherently negative?  I, for one, would love to see all workplaces offer on-site daycare, and not just full-time, but part-time and hourly as well.  Let parents be close to their kids, visit them during the day, breastfeed them, cuddle them, and be able to get work done as well if that’s what’s necessary for families.  Personally, I like to think that if my department had a full-time and drop-in daycare service it would be utilized by many of the faculty and students.  If that had been the case, my daughter probably would have been happier (other kids and toys to play with), I would have been more comfortable and my class would have been fine too.  And having kids around the building all day would make child-related disruptions a little more normal and we would be offering students a chance to learn about what it is to be considerate of our smallest citizens.  Maybe we would lose some of that insane productivity we seem to thrive for in society, but the social bonds and general happiness that would come in its place would, I think, be well worth the cost.

In short, I’m sad and I’m pissed that our society doesn’t respect the familial bond and the ways in which parents try to care for their children.  Instead of being made to feel like shit that I’m doing what I am, I would have preferred a bit more openness and understanding from some.  Then maybe what I’m doing wouldn’t be such an anomaly – more parents would feel comfortable ensuring they have a healthier work-family balance.  I know that things probably won’t change in the immediate future, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

Were you able to balance your work and family life?  Did you run into any obstacles with how you wanted to make things work?

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  1. says

    I’m having issues at work at the moment. Up until now they’ve been fairly accommodating, but as I’m a nurse they have now requested that I work nights. I’ve explained I’m breastfeeding and my daughter won’t drink expressed milk, but they’ve basically said ‘tough’. I can’t possibly leave her 14 hours without breastmilk!!! We also co-sleep, which would make working nights virtually impossible. I’ve been to my union and am currently climbing the ladder of management taking my issue higher and higher. I have every expectation that I’ll eventually get to the top and be told I have to work nights, deal with it. At which point, I’ve told them flatly, I will quit! I will not put my work above the health and well-being of my child. I will give up my hard-earned career and experience, and quit!

    Sad isn’t it!

    • says

      Lindsey – that’s horrible! There must be something in your contract that allows you to refuse nights. You’ve got a family! I will never understand how business (hell, hospitals) can do that. I’m sure there are those who would take the night shifts and so let them and let you care for your daughter. I’m completely outraged and saddened to know that you’re probably not the only one!

      • says

        Yep it is. No there’s nothing in my contract. I’m contracted to work 24 hours a day. I can apply for flexible working, which is what I’ve done. My manager refused my application, so I’m currently in the process of appealing it to her manager. Her reason for refusing my application is that it’s not fair on the other nurses. I’ve spoken to most of the other nurses and they’re all really supportive of me, and don’t see what difference my working nights would make, as it would only mean me working 2 nights a month, which is easily covered! There are plenty of people who would prefer regular nights, but because of stupid work policies they’re only allowed to work 2 weeks of nights a month. It’s ridiculous! I just feel like she’s doing it on principle!

        I just don’t know what they expect me to do! I actually prefer to work nights, and used to request them before having my daughter. And I’ve explained that to my manager. I’ve asked her what she expects me to do, as my daughter won’t drink expressed milk. If I’m not there she’ll spend the whole night screaming in hunger! Because I work 8 hour shifts through the day she makes up much of her feeds through the night, which isn’t easy on me but I cope. My manager just kind of shrugs and carries on talking about giving her expressed milk. It’s so exasperating! I’m not trying to be difficult! I can’t leave my daughter to go hungry all night! It’s like pulling teeth!

          • says

            No. If you’re working nights you have to work your share.

            Well, we’ll see what happens I guess. Either way I’m not working them. I’ll either win my case or quit my job. My child comes before everything. I just find it incredibly sad that the working place is still so unsupportive of parents, despite all the rhetoric!

  2. says

    Hey Tracy, I haven’t actually read this yet (sorry, too busy with Amtgard cake!) But just got a notice from google that our back and forth email conversation was flagged as spam and rejected because my email address has ‘sent too many unsolicited emails’. It said it would continue to try to send my most recent email (I did answer you) for 2 more days. Can you add my email to you addy book so it can go through? Or would you prefer me to switch to another box/fb? You can delete this here of course, just wasn’t sure how else to get u since evolutionaryparenting email is saying I’m spam!

  3. says

    Hi Tracy – just thought I’d give you an update on the above work situation that we spoke about before.

    As expected, I was ultimately told I have to work nights. So, as I told them I would, I quit! I have six weeks left to work and then that’s me gone. Another experienced staff nurse bites the dust. In the meantime they have made me work the nights, as expected. I refused to work one, and have been disciplined for breach of contract – a final written warning. (Not that it matters now). So I didn’t have a choice but to work the rest. And as I imagined, it was horrific! My daughter was up most of the night, my partner didn’t sleep at all through the night, and I was up for about 36 hours twice in one week. It was positively unsafe for me to be working as a nurse and driving my car in such a state! Not that my managers care, as they’ve scheduled me onto nights again in a few weeks. *sigh*

    Anyway, I just thought I’d update you. :)

    • says

      That is flat-out awful, but frankly, good for you for quitting! I realize that cannot have been an easy decision, but you’re completely right that it was just dangerous to have you up for so long, driving, and caring for others. When will businesses and governments realize that sometimes a little accommodation can go a long way??? What do you plan on doing now Lindsey?

      • says

        For the minute, nothing. My partner will be having serious surgery in the next few weeks, so I need to be home to care for him. We’re gonna cut our expenses to frugal levels and live on his benefits and my savings for a while – see how things turn out.

  4. Mary Trussell says

    I personally feel pretty lucky in that I was able to take 10 weeks with my first son and then 8 with my second son, only 18 months apart. I am a veterinary technician and not only was my employer very accommodating in making sure I was safe during my pregnancy by allowing me to sub in the reception area, but have since accommodated some schedule changes so I am only a part-time employee now. The biggest challenge I am finding is when my children are sick. Which, sadly, with two little ones who attend daycare 2 days a week, can be often. I call out of my job at least 1time monthly if not more so I can stay home and care for one or the other. While I have not been given any warnings about this being an issue, I feel nervous and replaceable every time I have to call out. But, like you Tracey, my children do now and always will come first so I will have to keep my fingers crossed my employers, who have been in my shoes at one time, remember these young years are difficult and I remain a valued employee. It is no fun worrying about your job being in jeopardy due to being the best parent you feel you can be indeed!

  5. Dr. Elizabeth says

    I really appreciate this article. I too, am struggling with this. I moved my practice to my house, so I could still see patients and care for my daughter, versus quitting practice all together. I scheduled patients with breaks in between for nursing, and I tell new patients up front about the arrangements, and that if the baby needs me, that comes first…so this might not be the right practice for them….most people have been great, but I am always surprised by those that aren’t. They still get the care they need, though it might be spread out over a longer appointment time- and I then usually undercharge them for the visit- since I feel bad about inconveniencing them. We give a lot of lip service to “doing what’s best for our kids” and then when it comes down to it- it’s the adults who are selfish, needy and demanding! I am trying so hard to make it all work for everyone. Thanks for writing this- and good luck!!!

    • says

      That’s awful. Here you are doing far more than should be required and still get grief. I don’t know if it’s that we live in a society where people expect they should come before everything or if we just value children so little. Either way, it’s highly disturbing. I wish you the best of luck with your practice!!!

  6. Kellie says

    Just found your site and am loving it. Thanks for doing what you do. This post took me back to when my son was born. It was a tough time. The non-profit organization I worked for (in the US) didn’t have a formal policy on maternity leave and we were too small to be covered under FMLA. My boss, however, was from Canada and I naively thought she might have some compassion because of the great policies CA has. She did not. She gave me 6 weeks and said “your job might still be here after 6 weeks”. The birth was traumatic for both my son and me. He ended up in the NICU for a week and my recovery took months. He had breastfeeding challenges (tongue-tied) and also had some food intolerances that resulted in weeks of pain and crying (screaming) for him. Six weeks definitely wasn’t long enough for my recovery, let alone time with my child. But I felt I needed to be grateful for the time I had. I remember pumping in my workspace and it seemed every time I started the pump, my boss would call me. At first I was working while pumping but eventually I stopped answering. To make it even worse, the daycare we were going to, which was a Montessori, was not supportive of breastfeeding. The director told me coming to feed over my lunch hour would be disruptive.

    I remember thinking to myself every day, “This is not natural.” And it wasn’t. It’s how this culture operates, but it took everything I had in me to keep it up. It almost seems women are punished for having children.

    When I think back, I wish I would have been able to set stronger boundaries. But it seems there was a lot working against us. We did the best we could at the time but it still saddens me to think back to it. So, again, thanks for doing what you do to support parents who are trying to parent with intention.

    • says

      I get so sad reading stories like yours and yet there are FAR too many of them. I also find these attitudes of others ridiculous. If they knew even the smallest amount about child development, I would imagine it would be impossible for them to continue to hold these views. Sadly, the idea of being “fine” has permeated our culture and in turn made people believe that children can, and more importantly should, handle this type of adversity early and often. It’s utterly unfair.

      Kudos to you for persevering for as long as you could. Even what you were able to do will benefit your child in the long-run!

  7. Roxana says

    I like to think I’ve beein lucky in my case. We actually planned my being pregnant during my last year at the university so that I could stay at home for a while with the baby and get a job after I felt more confortable leaving for work (our magical pre-baby number was 6 months, double the maternity leave in the Netherlands.)
    I come from Romania where I grew up with the ideea that my maternity leave would be 2 years, it was hard to accept the local 3 months mark.
    The moment I got pregnant I became sick and foggy and spaced out. I barely finished the first semester and finally let go of the ideea of doing my internship pregnant. I figured it would be ok if I worked 2-3 days per week employing my family to baby sit.
    After my awesome high needs daughter was born I got anxiety separation at the thought of me leaving. So I delayed doing anything until she became 8 months and I got a Fantastic ideea…starting an own company and doing that as an internship. So far my teachers have been amazingly supportive (i couldn’t get anyone to sit with my daughter for a future appointment but the teacher seemed very happy at the thought of me bringing her with me!). For an all boy school (computers,IT) I feel amazed and happy at how supportive everyone has been.
    I did have a slightly negative experience with a project during pregnancy where the students I was working with had put an unreasonable ammount of pressure on me to perform tasks I’d already refused ( We’re all bad at some things…).
    But so far so good!

  8. Linda Julia says

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I have a grandmother to take care of, a family and a full time job. I had been waiting for a doctor’s appointment for my grandmother for 2 months. When the day finally arrived, my daycare arrangement fell through at the last moment. I had to take my 15 month old with me, along with my grandmother who is in a wheelchair. It was either that or waiting another 2 months. Plus I had already taken the day off work. When the doctor saw me with my son, I could see it in his face he just hated the idea of me having my baby with me. When my kid started babling and smiling at him, trying to get his attention and trying him to get to smile, the dr told me to never againg bring my kid, as he did not want to strain his voice talking over the baby…..needless to say I was furious. If he had only taken a second to really look at me, he would have noticed how inconvenient the whole situation was for me. Perhaps he would have realized that taking my son with me was an obligation and not a choice, because even thought Im always with my kids whenever im off work, pushing a wheelchair and carrying a 15 month old that is not yet walking is uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous. Its sad that my community and the world we live in at large is so disregarding of the needs of children. Even when they are quiet and not crying they bother. I’ve heard of an ob’s office in my town that has a sign on the door banning children. It’s ridiculous if you consider obstetricians attend only women. I understand if there is a procedure to be done, you would not be able to take care of your child if you are alone. But completely banning kids?

    All I can do is not go to that doctor’s office anymore. And I let him know why. At least I had the opportunity to speak my mind and let him know I had many responsibilities in my life and that my kid is at the top of the list. That I was not going to leave ky kid with just anyone for the sake of his voice and that if he was unable to deal with that then he was not the best doctor for my grandma.

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