Top Ten List for Staying Sane as a Professional, Teacher, Partner, and Parent

May 13, 2022 0 Comments

By the time I finished grad school and took my postdoc, I knew pretty well what I would have to do to be a successful researcher: grants, grants, grants, papers, a good lab, and functional students and staff. I was also (am) married to a great guy and I knew I wanted a family and a good quality of life. The problem was that I had no idea how to do both at the same time, and I had no good role models (I trained in an academic department where one of the young professors passed out on his desk and had to be rushed to the emergency room with a perforated ulcer). Although this list is not complete, the following 10 items have become non-negotiable parts of my life and are the cornerstone of my ability to keep all the balls in the air.

1. Identify and respect your priorities: Take the time to make a list of the tasks that you must complete. With each item on your “must do” list, include a clear deadline or time commitment. Some things may not have a deadline, but they will still be priorities, like “exercise 30 minutes every day” or “sit down to dinner with my spouse and family at least 4 nights a week.” Other things, like “enroll Jack in the Summer Care program” or “submit a new manuscript” should have firm deadlines.

2. Be Organized: Use the list you generated in #. #1 to organize your life and your calendar. Email systems, telephones and PDAs can be of great help in this effort and travel with you. Coordinate your schedule with your partner or spouse to make sure household chores are covered. Discuss and develop a system for dividing domestic musts. For example, my husband and I have 2 children and we both work full time. We have divided the weekly chores so that he does and folds all the laundry and I do all the shopping and cooking. Although both are important tasks, we both feel that we are contributing to the family and all of these tasks are accomplished.

3. Keep communication open: As difficult as it may be at times, it’s essential to keep communication channels open both at work and at home. For work, this might mean talking to a department head, a mentor, or even a trusted colleague to say, “Hey, I’m really working to do a good job here and at home, but it’s a challenge, so it would be very helpful if you could let me know if you think I’m having trouble getting things done here or contributing to the Department.” Do the same with your spouse or partner, in fact, in my experience, this is even more important as minor things in a relationship can initially fester into big problems if not addressed in time. The motto to keep in mind here is Communicate Early, Communicate Often.

Also remember that communication is a learned skill. Practice it until it becomes second nature.

4. Expect the unexpected: I know this is a cliché, but another cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men sometimes fall apart” is actually true and makes flexibility necessary. a meeting at work or a grant deadline, you’ll wake up to a flooded basement or a vomiting child and someone has to grab one for the team. Agree in advance that you will change these days of sacrifice, although it will never be convenient for either of you. Keep track of these days and remember to respect each other’s races! Of course, if it’s “your day” and your partner has a job interview for a great new position and you’re not under pressure, be flexible and thoughtful and open to changing things up a bit; in other words, use feel and be nice.

5. Save time by spending a little more money. In the long run, you only have two things to spend: time and money. If you want to save on one, you’ll have to spend the other. Therefore, seriously consider investing in services that take care of some of the household chores, such as house cleaning. Even having your house professionally cleaned once a month goes a long way and saves you a lot of time! Many cities also have grocery delivery services that allow you to order groceries online and have them delivered to your home for a small fee (~$10).

6. Pick your battles: Decide which things are non-negotiable for you and which really aren’t that important at home and at work. For example, there are so many things I used to worry about that I don’t sweat anymore.

7. Learn to do two things at once: help your child with his homework while you wait for him to finish washing. Talk to a friend on the phone while you cook dinner. Plan your adventures so that everything in a neighborhood can be done in the same trip. Catch up on your email while you wait for school to end.

8. Learn to say no. This applies to work and school. Clearly, there are some things you can’t say no to, like when your boss asks you to do an important task or your baby needs to go to the doctor, but there are plenty of things you can say no to. An important one that we have negotiated with our children is the number of non-school activities they do. Although there are almost endless options and interests for children in this field, our children can choose 2 non-school activities (including weekend activities) each semester or school year. This reduces the chaos of overscheduling them and us, and ensures kids have enough time for schoolwork and just “hanging out.”

9. Ask for help. When there is too much to do, ask for help at home or at work. This goes totally against the “super parent” self-concept that many of us have, but we all know, deep down, that we can’t do everything right all the time. One life-saving arrangement for our family is to trade care with another family on teacher training days at the school. This cuts in half the number of days my husband and I have to cover when the children are not in school, but still allows us to use some of those days to spend time with our children and their friends.

10. Be kind to yourself and to others: remember the golden rule “Do unto others what you would like them to do unto you?” As cliché as it sounds, I repeat it to myself often when I feel stressed, moody, or ready to make a sarcastic comment. This doubles for your spouse or partner; you two are on the same team, and teams never win when there are fights and discrepancies between the ranks. Make sure you take care of your relationship by spending time together without kids and sometimes without each other. Everyone needs some “me” time, and no one more than working parents!

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