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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Having It All Project: Dr. Jessica Smock

Dr. Jessica Smock is another Twitter find, and even though her child is much younger than mine, she seems to be coming to many of the same conclusions about motherhood that I've arrived at myself. She blogs at School of Smock and co-edited The HerStories Project, a book about female friendship. Check out how Jessica is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I never imagined that one day I would become a sort of stay-at-home/working mom hybrid. When my son was a few months old, we moved from Boston -- where I had lived since college -- to Buffalo, NY, my husband's hometown. I had just finished the interviews for my dissertation in my doctoral program in educational policy. When we moved during the summer, I had imagined that I'd be done with my dissertation by the winter, and then I'd go out on the academic job market that spring. It was really difficult to complete a dissertation while staying home with an infant in a town where I knew practically no one. (That's an understatement.) But that extra year gave me time to reflect and realize that I didn't want to have a traditional career in academia. I had started a blog, and I realized that I wanted to pursue my first love, writing. And I also knew that I wasn't cut out to be a traditional, full-time stay-at-home mom. 

The flexibility in my day -- my two year old is in preschool for a few hours a day -- has given me the chance to pursue writing projects that I never could have imagined when I was researching my dissertation. Along with my writing partner, Stephanie, we're publishing an anthology of female writers' essays about female friendship, to be published in less than two weeks!

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I had a magical moment in the middle of writing my dissertation where I just realized that spending a good portion of my day doing housework was making me unhappy and taking time away from getting my project done. I decided to experiment and see what would happen if I drastically lowered my housework standards. Since then, I haven't looked back! And I've written about my "housework manifesto"! Our house is often a complete disaster, but it no longer stresses me out. I've also learned that it helps all of us if I encourage my husband to do more of the "invisible labor" of running a household: the planning, the invisible details of everything from remembering when medication needs to be given to planning out what my son will have for lunch at preschool the next day.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
When my son was a little over a year old, I started to get really upset that I wasn't making more progress on my dissertation. I had been hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours a few times per week, but I found that I wasn't able to concentrate when my son was in the house (he's a very loud toddler!) and it was too much of a pain to lug around tons of books to coffee shops. I wasn't meeting my adviser's deadlines that he was making for me, and I realized that something had to change fast or I wouldn't graduate that year. I immediately began to research preschools and enrolled my son in one that I loved. After my son went through a difficult transition of his first time in child care out of the home, I made fast progress and finished all of the writing within two months!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
Since I began blogging, I've met so many accomplished writers -- academics as well as journalists and fiction writers -- who have become my role models. They prioritize times of day that are most productive for them to write but also spend much of their days with their children. I've found it so helpful to talk with them about how to be both flexible and productive. 

I was a teacher and curriculum coordinator for more than a decade in schools. I realize now that teaching and raising small children wouldn't work for me. I'm an introvert and need a great deal of quiet time to process, reflect, and do my own projects. I know that I wouldn't be able to combine spending my days teaching children -- although I loved teaching -- and then return home and be an effective, happy parent. Teaching takes so much mental and physical energy that I don't think at this point -- when my son is so young -- that I'd be able to combine parenting and teaching.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. When I was 18, I wanted to be a writer. I had written a novel in high school and was an editor of my school newspaper. I was sure that I would either write fiction or become a journalist. Absolutely certain. I got off track of that for many years, but I think my 18 year old self would be proud that I returned! 

However, I don't think my 18 year old self could have predicted that I would get married at 35 and have my first (and possibly only?) child at 36 and then become a stay-at-home parent. I was just figuring out how and why feminism was important to my life then, and at that point, I probably would not have thought that being the primary, care taking parent was compatible with the type of feminism that I subscribed to. I'm still a feminist, but I know that life is far more complicated than what I had envisioned so long ago!

Relate to what Jessica is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Questions? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

4 comments:

  1. I let my household work go as well and have a cleaning service come in every other week to make sure that the floors get done every now and again and I'll never look back, either!
    I think my 18-year old self would be surprised that I got married so late in life and had my son even later...but other than that, I think there are similarities as well! Loved hearing more about your process, Jessica!

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  2. My 18 year old self would have never guessed she would be a stay at home mom. Like you, she would have thought that was incompatible with being a feminist. Fortunately she grew up and learned that life isn't black and white!

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  3. I just loved reading this,Jessica! So interesting to read about the evolution of your path, and I appreciated hearing some of the things that have worked to help you achieve balance and a lower stress level. And of course, thrilled to be your HerStories partner!

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  4. My 18 year old self would never have imagined that I'd be a stay at home mom either. Now that my two are off at universities across the country I am exploring the world of the "empty nester". I am doing things that I have the time and want to do. I am very happy that I was lucky to work from home when my guys were little and that I was able to do so much with them. It worked for me.

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