The work/life balancing act


There are mixed opinions about being an academic and a parent and, as far as I can tell, there are more negative stories out there than positive ones. In this light-hearted blog, I outline five reasons why it is great to be an academic and a mother.

  1. The world of a child

A child’s perspective on the world is always fascinating but a child’s perspective on the world of academia is even more wonderful. Just last year, we brought our four-year old daughter along to my book launch. She expressed her deep disappointment that contrary to expectation, there was no official countdown as part of the launch. It seems that she expected the Play-School Rocket Clock and for the book itself to be launched into space. She was not at all impressed with the speeches and the champagne but the tasty canapés might have made up for it.

Four months later and I was heading off to Germany to present a conference paper. For the next ten days, every aeroplane that was spotted in the sky was confidently identified as ‘Mummy’s aeroplane’, even if it was only a Qantas flight to Townsville. Strangely, now that I have returned, every aeroplane that is sighted is still referred to as ‘Mummy’s aeroplane’ even if I am not on it.

  1. Children think only about the short-term

Children are excellent motivators because they focus entirely on the present and the immediate future. Rather than planning the year ahead, or the next five years as we must do for our performance reviews, my children expect my academic article to be completed tomorrow, my second book to be published this week and the outcome of my grant application to be announced within the next month! In this sense, children make impossible-to-please supervisors. Nevertheless, their perspective reminds me that time is short and that focus and diligence is key.

  1. Children ask the hard questions

Children are renowned for asking hard questions and awkward ones too. The least desirable ones have to be about giving birth, but there are some beauties about work too. A classic example is: ‘Mummy, if you don’t get that teaching award, can we still go to the coast?’ or ‘Mummy, that’s not the most important thing to us right now’, or ‘Mummy, if you don’t go back to work tonight, will you lose your job?’ All of this is great preparation for teaching. If I can confidently answer a question from my five-year-old, I’m pretty sure I can tackle any question a twenty-year-old throws at me.

  1. Children keep adults grounded

My children get far more excited about the large, brown cardboard packages that arrive on our doorstep than the long-awaited publications within them. They immediately turn their minds to thinking about how to transform that box into something marvellous: a new toy, a new prop, a new backdrop for play. It reminds me that there is no end to a child’s creativity and that that same creative spirit is part of my own work.

Children are always listening – even when you think they aren’t (this is a warning, folks). My husband and I were in the midst of a discussion about a difficult person we know. The children were up to their usual antics and we were quite sure they weren’t following our mutterings until my daughter turned to me and very confidently said (with all the wisdom of Socrates): ‘Mummy, you can’t change people’. Of course she is right.

    5. Children make wonderful bookmarks (double entendre fully intended)

In the early years of school, I can guarantee that there will be a continuous supply of remarkable drawings to laminate and transform into bookmarks. Sharks, mermaids, dancing girls, stars, rabbits, personal messages and spirograph drawings all grace the pages of the scholarly books in my office. It is a never-ending source of delight to discover these little gems in the course of a day.

I suppose, to put it simply, children really do help you to keep your place, know your place and stay in place – just like the colourful little bookmarks they make.

[This blog is dedicated to my children, to all of the parents/academics out there and to the year ahead. A warm welcome back to all of my readers. Aesop’s Fox wishes you a happy, healthy, balanced and productive 2019.]


The new look rocket clock designed by artist Shaun Tan (ABC TV: Play School)