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Lab Mom

Lab Mom spent 15 years as a Lab Manager in Academia before off-tracking in 2010 to stay at home with her two daughters. She blogs about the juggling act of motherhood and a science career, which encompasses a lot more then the cliche work-life balance.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In conjunction with many of the other bloggers on Lab Spaces today, I am going to share my perspective on work:life balance, a topic I am familiar blogging about. *grins*

What am I supposed to do with this?

My perspective is that of a working mom. As a lab manager I am fortunate to have a much more consistent work schedule than many other mothers in science, but that does not mean it is is easy by any stretch of the imagination. There are so many things that make it nearly impossible for find true, consistent balance when you are a mother and a career scientist:

The extra financial burden
Finding good affordable childcare
The extra time required when you are responsible for another person/people
The lack of accommodations for things like breastfeeding, sick days, emergency back-up childcare
The fact that science isn't always a Monday-Friday 9-5 job
The constant self-doubt that you aren't doing a good job at home or at work
The feeling that you just don't have it together

And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
But what would I say is the biggest problem I face when it comes to balancing motherhood and a science career?

That is easy: THE GUILT.

Guilt is a common thread that runs though all of those situations. Guilt is the emotion that frequently drives the decision making process surrounding all other work:life balance issues. Guilt is always there, from our families, our friends, our coworkers, and worst of all, from ourselves.

Guilt is the one crisis we never can seem to avoid.

As scientists it is easy to say working mothers need to look at career and parenthood with a rational, scientific perspective, and leave the guilt out of it. But that is an impossible command. Being a mother is an emotional, passionate and irrational enterprise. Unlike how you have been scientifically trained, you make decisions with your heart, not your head.

This melodramatic roller coaster of motherhood is unfamiliar territory for someone whose professional life revolves around the scientific method. It is this dichotomy in thinking that makes balancing parenthood and career so difficult and so different than balancing all the other aspects of your life.

As a mother who has been on both sides of the career (both working full time at the bench, and being home full time) I have a greater perspective now, but I don't have less guilt. I have learned to manage it, and live with it, but it will always be there. Influencing my decisions, and changing my perspective, no matter how hard I try to rationalize it away. it will forever be a blessing and a curse.

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” ~ Elizabeth Stone, author and mother of 16

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Blog Comments

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I think the guilt is the worst part. You nailed it.

Genomic Repairman
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Amazing post LabMom and you add a really good perspective to the situation.

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The guilt is a huge part of it. In addition, many postdoctoral fellows, etc live far from home (often an ocean-away from home) and can’t rely on their families for support in case of emergencies (sick child, closed daycare, etc)

Genomic Repairman
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Now is scientific mother guilt worse than Catholic guilt?

Dr. O
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Great post...and I love the quote at the end. :)

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Guilt is a useless emotion. I think I've posted about it in the past. If I could only figure out how to get rid of it.

Lady Scientist
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Great post! And the guilt strikes me a lot (and I don't have a kid), but just guilt about not balancing my work and life better.
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