Ecosystems of work, study and relationships

Eduardo Kobra's Chelsea mural, photographed from the High Line in NYC in 2014

Eduardo Kobra’s Chelsea mural, photographed from the High Line in NYC in 2014. Because: relationships. And New York.

How do you do all the things?

I’ve made the conscious decision to be there for my kids while they’re little.

My husband is actually great. He makes the kids’ lunches on Fridays.

I can’t go for that promotion. I’m planning to get pregnant / I’d have to put my kids in after school and vacation care / My husband works full time.

I wish I had the support you do.

How does your husband cope when you’re away? Poor guy!

It’s not the role I wanted but I’m so lucky my work has allowed me to come back part-time after having children.

Wow, you’re amazing!

These are some of the comments that I’ve heard said to myself, to other women or by other women. Meanwhile, my husband has had comments directed his way such as:

How do you cope when your wife is away?

How did you manage while your wife did her PhD?

I bet you haven’t eaten a good meal in months.

Do you get your wife back now?

So it’s Daddy Daycare today?

Wow, you’re amazing!

There seem to be assumptions at work about both the nature of the PhD and the gendered nature of work, study and home. In this recent vlog, Professors Tara Brabazon and Steve Redhead talk about the relational aspects of the PhD experience. Tara talks about the online blogerature that links doing a PhD to divorce or relationship problems. I wonder why that is.

Maybe it’s because the PhD can feel like a lonely experience. It is a hard but wonderful slog that happens inside the head and on the keyboard of the candidate. It must be difficult for a partner or family member to understand what is actually happening for the person conducting research. Conversely, the PhD takes the candidate away from their partner or family or friends while they thrash about with their research and their thesis beast. I imagine that relationships can suffer and people in the candidate’s life can feel abandoned, left to their own brand of loneliness while the candidate furrows their brow in seemingly indulgent internal struggle, disappearing into inner worlds, or like I did, off to cafes to think and write.

The PhD also happens over a long time. Years. Sometimes three years and often longer. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years in some cases. And one thing that is guaranteed across such a project is that life will happen. And get in the way. Inevitably, challenges will arise outside of the PhD, whether that be around health or finances or children or career or loss. In my three year candidature, I had some very tough personal times that had an impact on work and study, and on me personally. Life events can put a strain on our delicate ecosystems in which all our commitments interact.

I like Tara and Steve’s approach of supervising the PhD candidate’s whole life, including their web of relationships like partners and children. It takes a holistic view of the PhD, framing it as a collaborative work, rather than a lone journey.

Gender also seems to play a part in common comments about study, work, and their impacts on relationships. Why the frequent assumption that when a husband goes away, wheeling his case out the door with reckless abandon, all is as it should be, while when a wife goes away, she must fill the fridge and freezer with nutritious groceries and organic meals, pre-organise all child care arrangements and tape her itinerary and a list of important phone numbers to her husband’s forehead? Why the oft-joked-about assumption that a husband would struggle to run his own household or look after his own children? My husband and kids have a great time whenever I travel. Granted, they eat more chips and play more iPad than when I’m at home, but I am waved off and welcomed back by smiling faces, just the same as my husband when he goes away.

There are some who have fun with gender assumptions. On Twitter, the @manwhohasitall account makes fun of gendered comments often directed at women, by re-framing them for a male audience. This article on how to avoid a ‘manel’ (all male panel) gives some of the excuses used to exclude women from presenting and paneling.

Jacqueline Lunn here talks about the culture of women feeling grateful for part time work. I can certainly relate to the notion of being appreciative of being allowed flexibility in my workplace, rather than advocating for my bigger dreams, especially when I first returned to work from each of my maternity leaves. 

But I also acknowledge that working part time was a choice. I deliberately sought the time and flexibility that would allow me to do good work while being a good parent. I couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, have accepted an amazing full time position while my children were pre-school age as I wanted to avoid using before, after school and vacation care if possible. I’m also well aware that my choices are highly personal and privileged. They have only been possible because of the support available to me, in the form of my mum, my husband, friends and bosses. That my husband runs his own business has meant that he has the kind of flexibility not often offered to men in the workplace. Why so few cries for men to ‘Lean out!’ of the workplace for a more balanced life and enriched relationships with partners, family and children?

The choices my husband and I have made are far from perfect; that is, they’ve involved compromise and prioritising. But they are what has worked for us at various times. They have been fluid and shifting choices, as situations evolved. 

Our individual and collective ecosystems of relationships, work and study are delicate and mercurial. My hope is that individuals, partners and families are increasingly able to make the choices that work for them at any given time, without being bombarded with judgement or assumptions from others or media.

Advertisements

Powerful & unforseen consequences: our butterfly impacts

#leaningenvironments - evolution of a new edu-revolution?

#leaningenvironments – evolution of a new edu-revolution?

 A cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland—a small disturbance in the complex mechanism of life on the Earth—can bring to a standstill the aerial traffic over an entire continent. ~ Slavoj Žižek

With the start of the Australian school year almost here – a year in which I am working to implement the teacher-growth model on which I have been working for two and a half years – I have been thinking about what it is that makes a trusting, impassioned, vibrant community of continuous learners.

Ok, as both the subject of my work and of my PhD research, I have been doing more than thinking about this. I have read close to 300 references and written about 85,000 words around effective school change, what makes effective leadership and what kinds of learning teachers find transformational. I have blogged briefly about some key ideas to anchor school change, about the importance of embracing discomfort for growth and about my own learning environments.

Tonight I was participating in the #aussieED Twitter chat when Australian educator Adriano Di Prato tweeted that ‘developing a leaning environment that is welcoming, warm and safe is a fundamental aim of every classroom.’ Now, I knew that Adriano meant ‘learning environment’ when he typed ‘leaning environment’ in a fast-paced Twitter chat, but it got me thinking: How are schools ‘leaning environments’?

It reminded me of psychologist and professor Ellie Drago-Severson’s notion of ‘holding environments’ (which I wrote a bit about here) in which she asserts the importance of teachers feeling ‘held’ by their learning and working environments, especially if positive change is to take place.

It reminded me of Costa and Garmston’s notion of ‘holonomy’ (explained in the Cognitive Coaching course material) in which the parts (individuals) and whole (organisation) are interdependent.

It reminded me of this great moment last year when a group of commuters on an Australian train platform used their leaning-together momentum to tilt a train and free a man trapped between the train and the platform.

So I tweeted back about ‘leaning environments’, and all of a sudden we were back-and-forthing about how the word ‘lean’ might apply to school environments. Would it be about individuals ‘leaning in’ to the community, to opportunities, towards each other? Could it be about students, teachers, parents and leaders ‘leaning on’ or ‘leaning alongside’ or ‘leaning with’ each other? Might it be ‘leaning out’, away from those things which should matter less but sometimes drive schooling (high stakes testing, grades, league tables)?

the power of a Tweeted typo

the power of a Tweeted typo

Fellow edu-Tweeter Melissa Daniels noticed the banter and asked whether this could be “the education revolution that started with a typo?” leading to another discussion about innovation, revolution and the evolution of ideas, all in 140 character bites.

Tweet @debsnet @DiPrato @PensiveM

This was an invigorating discussion for me, not because I thought it was to be the next big thing in education, but because of the thrill of the unsurprising serendipitous connections, conversations, ideas, thinking and challenges that come out of conversations and connections with like-minded like-passioned others. Here was a vibrant online environment of trusting, holding, leaning (in, out, on, with, alongside), impassioned, creative, continuous learners.

It also reminded me of our unforseen impacts. We never know the impact of a conversation, a word, a decision, or a typo.

I have noticed this in my self, in conversations or moments which stay with me until an idea bubbles to the surface. I have noticed it in my work with teachers and students, who often take some time to realise what moments or relationships have shaped them. I have noticed it in my PhD research participants, many of whom told me that the very act of being interviewed for my research changed something for them, opened something up, surfaced a reflection or became a moment of learning.

So, don’t ignore life’s typos. Even the seemingly tiniest things can have powerful & unforseen consequences.

You never know when you might uncover the next revolution.

Small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy, can lead to massive alterations of your end result. ~ Kevin Michel

Montenegro by @debsnet

Work-family fulfilment: The elusive sweet spot

I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all. ~ Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

Usually this édu flâneuse blog is focused on teaching, education, school leadership and research, although I have written about self, travel and gratitude. This post, which was incited by reading Annabel Crabb’s 2014 book The Wife Drought, is about partners, parents and families grappling to find collective fulfilment. What does it mean to be a partner and parent in a world where everyone is leaning in?

my two boys adventuring

my two boys adventuring

Recently, as the mother of a two and a four year old, I went on a work trip, my first solo travel since the birth of my eldest. Apart from the very occasional overnight (drop-off-at-bedtime pick-up-at-breakfast) sleepover, I had never been away from my children. My husband had travelled consistently since they were born, but this experience was new to me. As I strode at a grown-up pace through the airport, wheeling a single teeny carry-on, it struck me: this was the first time in five years, since first falling pregnant, that I had conceived of myself as a singular entity, a human being in my own right. Of course, there was still the invisible umbilical pull, but this experience of thinking-only-of-myself was both foreign and like slipping on my softest old comfies.

It got me thinking: What makes our lives whole? How do we prioritise family time, husband-wife time, career time, self-care time and home time? Can we be whole or can we only be compartmentalised parts? Is there a work-life-family-self sweet spot?

lean in to sandcastle building

lean in to sandcastle building

I like Jennifer Dulski’s concept of the Work-Life Mashup. Be with people you love and do the work that matters, she says. Focus on what’s important. I also resonated with Rosa Brooks’s response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: lean out! More is not always better. How about also leaning in to family, happiness and wellbeing?

A good friend recently leant me Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives. Crabb’s message is that, in order to achieve any semblance of work-family happiness, women need support in the home and men need more flexibility to step out of a traditional work model.

Men: supercharged by wives but missing out on lives

“Men’s careers rattle along uninterrupted,” says Crabb. Their wives are the “invisible power-pellet” which makes them more able to succeed in their own careers. “For fathers, having a family gave them a competitive edge,” while for women children make her, “less likely to be employed.” Men don’t tend to take time out from their careers when they have a family. As their children are born and grow, their work lives rocket forward on unbroken trajectories.

The downside of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker is that fathers are excluded from “a universe of experience … and that’s a sad thing.” Why is a dad looking after his own children called being “Mr Mum” or “Daddy Daycare”, instead of just ‘being a parent’?

My husband recently went to the weekday parent induction for our eldest son’s new school, and he was one of three dads there; the other forty-plus parents were mums. Hopefully he was seen as neither a hero nor a novelty; just a proud, interested and loving parent.

Half-crazed superwomen: doing it all not having it all

Crabb cites studies and statistics which show that women are the ones who tend to adjust their schedules and take on the lioness’s share of the caring and housework responsibilities. She describes this as the age of the “half crazed ‘superwoman’” who attempts to ‘do’ work and family in equal measure, all while having “that feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one does not have a job. To do any less feels like failing at both.” Women tend to step back, step out, or figure out acrobatically-flexible ways to scratch together a work life while their children are small, or pay others to care for their kids.

I have heard an employer say, “if you want efficiency, hire a part-time mum” and Crabb asserts that she uses “every scrap of the day like an Italian farmer uses all of the pig.” We all have our multi-tasking, time-saving routines. I wrote here about the way I approach my PhD schedule. And there are always circumstances under which the delicate ecosystem of childcare, work, family and self, tips on its axis and sends us sprawling.

Social media: help or hindrance?

Social media allows us all to connect to others and share our lives. While my professional social media is focused on my intellectual interests and cultivating professional conversations, I use my personal social media to share moments of beauty or delight which I’ve carved out or stumbled upon: a sunrise at the beach, my children playing happily, a wonky birthday cake I made from scratch. My aim is not to craft an image of work-life-mashup perfection, or to suggest that this social media output is my complete reality. This is the highlights reel, not the whole picture! Crabb warns, though, that women who try to make work-family-life juggling appear easy can’t complain when the world doesn’t notice how much they are struggling to maintain their appearance of effortless togetherness.

For some, social media posts are an additional pressure. Apparently there is a thing called ‘Facebook life envy’. The mother who sees others’ decontextualised posts might wonder: How will I assemble a perfect outfit, while making grain-free dairy-free sugar-free recipes from whole foods grown in my own garden, mixing my own eco-organic-fairtrade face scrub, engineering creative craft activities, hand making personalised Christmas cards, and take a ‘no filter’ photo of a house sparklingly clean from all-natural chemical-free cleaning products?

We need to remember that social media is not life. And our lives are our own to live. 

social media is not reality

the highlight reel: social media is not reality

Finding the Work-Family Fulfilment sweet spot

Crabb concludes The Wife Drought by suggesting that we become accepting of men taking time for family or working more flexibly to achieve their own work-life-family contentment. Men should be able to lean out, she says, without being the subject of ridicule or novelty.

I’m lucky enough to have the kind of mutually supportive relationship that Tanya Plibersek talks about in Crabb’s The Wife Drought. My husband and I support each other professionally and share what we do at home. My husband believes in me as a mother, a wife, a researcher and a professional. He supports me in my dreams: to nurture a happy, connected family; earn a PhD; build a satisfying career; have a love-filled joyful adventurous life. And I support him in his: to be a present, treasured father to our boys; build a family legacy with them; grow his own businesses; develop his reach and impact; nurture professional connections and make a difference to the industries in which he is immersed.

We need to believe in each other’s capacities for awesome, and in each other’s dreams.

It may not be easy or perfect, and my husband and I may live our weekday lives by the ding of an Outlook calendar, but we both want to actively parent our children and be – really be – in their lives. We both work a semi-flexible working week. We share housework. We both have times when one of us is parenting our children and the other is working or traveling. We have lots of time when we are all together. Our boys see us, I think, as equally their parents. They experience us as a whole family unit in which we all work together to support each other as we seek individual and collective happiness. These choices are based on our beliefs. I know many happy families who make different, equally fulfilling choices for their own circumstances and principles. Each family needs to find its own changing recipe for the sweet spot of ‘this works for us, for now’ and ‘this makes us happy’.

Perhaps discussions about work-family-life fulfilment should be less debates in which we tally the percentage of housework done or hours worked or dollars earned by each partner. Can we focus more on talking with our partners and our employers about how we can support each other in our dreams for our selves and our families? What might that look like for our particular family, based on our visions, dreams, opportunities and resources?

There is no “invisible power pellet” or perfect one-size-fits-all recipe for finding the work-family-life-happiness sweet spot. We can only make choices which work for each family at any given time, riding the ebb and flow of life’s messy randomness together, and with a view to serving each individual (parents and children) and the whole.

carve out time & space for joy & simple pleasures

carve out time & space for joy & simple pleasures