Finding My Balance

Magic Science

Please note: the opinions and experiences expressed in this blog post are my own and any statements I make about my personal experience with motherhood are not intended to invalidate or demean anyone else’s. We each have our own journey through life, and as women, we all have our own perspective on motherhood. This is mine.

To begin, I’m going to make two shocking statements: First, I don’t really like little kids. Second, I really hate crafts. There I said it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate little kids – they’re cute and all, and I really love mine, but…I’m not the person who asks to hold other people’s babies or who has a gift for engaging little ones. I certainly respect people who work with little kids. Preschool and Kindergarten teachers should be the highest paid professionals in the country. As for crafts? Hate really isn’t a strong enough word. I loathe all crafting activities. I have no skill for sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting, stenciling, or decoupage and I genuinely dislike doing it. I would rather teach the Krebs cycle than scrapbook. I’m just wired differently.

When I was in high school, one of my only options for making money was babysitting, but I quickly realized that childcare was not my arena of expertise. Playing with Barbies, trucks, Legos, playdough, singing songs, and making up games? Gouge-my-eyes-out-boring. I felt a desperate panic when I realized that I had to entertain the kids I was watching between dinner and bedtime. Taking care of infants was terrifying – they were tiny bundles of need and chaos. I could never discern what need hadn’t been met in order to quell the crying. But I needed the cash, so I did it. When I got a little older and had an opportunity to work in a lab as a high school intern, I fled the world of babysitting with relief. I loved the laboratory – it was clean, quiet, organized, and predictable. I was never required to be creative or engaging to diminutive humans. I was in my niche.

Fast-forward to my married life: Shortly after we were married, I became terrified that I would become pregnant while I was in graduate school. I had seen many women in my situation have their undergraduate and graduate degrees derailed by an un-planned-for pregnancy. I made monthly phone calls from my lab at BYU to my husband at work with the triumphant statement, “Not pregnant!” I dodged the bullet for two years and I graduated BYU with a Master’s degree in Microbiology.

Sparing you the circuitous journey of the next few years, my husband completed his schooling, had started a job, and I had found my passion for teaching Microbiology as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my husband one day. In essence he said to me, “You know, we both have fairly stable jobs now, and I have health insurance, so, um, why don’t we have a baby?” That’s right. My husband had to talk me into getting pregnant.

The moment I looked down at the positive pregnancy test, room began to spin, and my life flashed before my eyes. I could see it: days and nights with terrifying, chaotic infants. Years of crafts and playdough and Legos and trucks and Barbies. I felt that same desperate panic when I realized that in 9 short months I was going to be the one in charge of a tiny, chaotic, completely dependent little human. It was like babysitting all over again, except I wasn’t going home at the end of the night and I wasn’t getting paid.

After a month or so of pondering on my impending foray into motherhood, I’d wrapped my head around becoming a mother and I was actually looking forward to bringing a child into the world. I had found a peace somewhere inside me, and the panic had started to dissipate slightly. Then I had a miscarriage. The loss was immense, as all those who have suffered a miscarriage (or many miscarriages) know. So we tried again. I gave birth to my first son when I was 30. The second and third sons arrived when I was 33 and 35.

Through all of this, I never considered giving up my teaching job. In fact, I planned my pregnancies around the summer semester when I could take a break postpartum, and in all three of my pregnancies, I was teaching classes and labs until the day before I gave birth. After my first son was born, I was able to rearrange my teaching schedule so that I taught classes at night and on the weekend so that I could be home during the day. My husband would walk in the door in the evening, I would grab my bag, hand him the baby saying, “He’s poopy!” and race to my class. The quiet ride in the car to school gave me time to settle and center myself. An evening teaching undergraduates and pre-nursing students about science was a welcome reprieve. Teaching microbiology continually challenges and inspires me, and the opportunity to have an adult conversation maintained my sanity during those years when our boys were very young.

Please don’t get me wrong: I love my children with a fierce mother bear love that scares and confuses me sometimes. I have blogged before at Segullah and elsewhere about my experience with my oldest son, and our life’s journey with him has not been easy. My other two sons are beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, and kind, but at 23 months apart, their first 5 years were hard. Legos, Bey Blades, superhero costumes, Origami Yoda, and Phineas and Ferb adorn our life. Having an infant and a stubborn 2-year-old who refused to remove his Batman costume to go to the YMCA was a rough slog. Regardless, I’m continually amazed by the joy that they bring into my life.

Now that school is out for the summer, the afternoons stretch out in front of me like a marathon and I still have no idea how to fill them. I still am not any good at creative play, and I still hate crafts. But, we go on trips to the local science center, art museum, the pool, the beach, and the park. We don our lab coats and do “magic science” with baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. And there are days when I tell the boys to go and play while I close the door to my office so that I can work on the textbook that I’m editing.

I have come to accept, love, and some days even rejoice in my role as a mother. I feel the weight of this aspect of my life resting heavily on my shoulders. I’m keenly aware that my actions, attitudes, and involvement in my children’s lives have an immense, even eternal impact. It is a continual balancing act to meet their needs and maintain my professional life. I have made many sacrifices in my career, including giving up offers for full-time tenure track positions, in order to fulfill my role as mother to my sons. Recently, I stopped teaching entirely and began freelance writing work partly due to the fact that my oldest son’s medical needs had become more acute and I needed to have a job that I could do remotely from home or the hospital. But I have never considered giving up working. I love my children and I love my work, and daily I strive to find a balance between the two.

Pile of Cute

About Andrea R.

(Blog Team) is the proud mother of two living sons, aged 9 and 7, and Ethan, who passed away in early February 2014. She is currently working as a freelance science writer and blogger and will begin a PhD program in Science Education at the University of Central Florida in Fall 2014. When she's not juggling the laundry, her writing work, and the busy lives of her little boys, she likes to squeeze in a triathlon now and then. Also, her husband rocks.

20 thoughts on “Finding My Balance

  1. This expresses so many of my own attitudes about motherhood! Especially these statements – “I really hate crafts” and “playing with Barbies, trucks, Legos, playdough, singing songs, and making up games? Gouge-my-eyes-out-boring.” Instead of teaching science classes, I teach English classes on evenings and weekends. Though I have come to embrace that I really hate playing with toys and look for opportunities for field trips instead, I still have trouble discussing these thoughts with others unless I am fairly confident they feel similarly. I love my son, I am so glad to be his mother, and I am very grateful my husband and I can afford for me to be a mostly-SAHM, but I look forward to the time when I can go back to work 3/4 time during the day.

  2. I think there are many ways to be a good parent, and one thing I like about Andrea’s post is that she focuses on her strengths. I’m also not naturally someone who loves small children, didn’t babysit as a teen, and doesn’t want to work with kids for a career. And that’s OK. I also fiercely love my own children, but my parenting leans more toward leaving them alone to do their thing than seeing myself as their playmate or entertainer. Thankfully they are getting old enough to do their own crafts and they haven’t suffered too much from me not doing them with them when they were little.

    I also love the way that Andrea incorporates her job and her interests into her family culture. My oldest had a fabulous fourth-grade teacher last year who was passionate about science and taught my daughter all about it; I felt a little bad that we don’t do much with science in our house. Our family culture leans more towards literature, visual art, theater, and music. And, again, that’s OK. Perhaps my daughter will still grow up to be a scientist, and if she does I hope she will be as cool as you Andrea :)

  3. I love this Andrea! And I love that you don’t apologize for not loving crafts and creative play. As much as I love my toddlers and would not trade them for the world, sometimes I look at my husband’s back as he walks out to the car in the morning and wish I could switch places with him. I love seeing how you’ve made room for all of the things you love in your life.

  4. Motherhood is such a tangled work-it-out-as-you-go kind of sport. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I read through the links to your other posts as well, and I’m so inspired by your journey. Thank you for everything that you have shared. We all are dealing with uncertainty and inadequacy and your forthright honesty is so refreshing and reassuring! :)

  5. What are crafts???

    Only kidding. I share your loathing.

    Once again, Andrea, your authenticity in sharing your journey has given us pause to think deeply.

  6. This is great. I love the way you have a balance that works for your whole family and don’t worry about meeting everyone’s norm or expectations that at the end of the day just don’t matter as much as you and yours. And I’m with you on the scrapbooking.

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I was really nervous posting this because what Mormon woman worth her salt openly admits that she doesn’t like crafts? Or worse, little kids? Please don’t get me wrong — I love my kids, and I really love it when they have friends over to play. Babies and little kids are just not my strong suit. I feel much more comfortable teaching a roomful of college students or an adult Sunday School class than little ones. Everyone has their strengths.

    I think women in general and Mormon women in particular are really hard on themselves about their mothering, and we all just need to cut ourselves some slack. There are a million ways to be a good (and bad) mother, and each individual needs to figure out what works for them and their family. More than that, we need to all be confident in the decisions we have made in our lives. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for someone else, and that’s OK.

    Thanks for letting me lay it out there — I love the Segullah community!

  8. Here’s a secret of mine: I can’t stand Dr. Seuss. It’s nonsense. The rhythm of the books makes no sense to me and I was loathe to share them with my kids.
    Craft stores scare me, but years of being a Cub Scout leader and a Girl Scout leader means I can at least walk in them without shaking anymore. Baby steps.
    Scrapbooking? Like for real, paper and stamps? Pass. But online, for calendars and books? Sure.
    Being a mom is my favorite job, but I don’t know anyone who wasn’t a little bit terrified when they heard the words “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!”

  9. Oh, Random, AMEN. Walking into craft stores gives me hives. There are lots of great children’s authors out there besides Dr. Seuss!

  10. when faced with a craft activity that can not be avoided I move the supplies around, comment on the beauty of others project, move around the room and finally arrange to leave the supplies at the activity. I love the social gathering but don’t want or need more clutter. Thank you for letting me know I am not the only one who dislikes crafts and isn’t a fan of small children especially in groups.

  11. There’s a reason I don’t homeschool (other than not being certified in ABA) — I love my son dearly but I’d also like to let his teacher appreciate him!

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have grown up my whole life feeling deficient because while I do like some crafts, I never cared for young children or babies, and I started feeling like a freak in the typical LDS community. I hated Barbies (Jem was cooler), and I liked playing Hot Wheels and Legos.

    We all are unique, and we women need to accept that about ourselves and each other.

  13. I’m suppose to like crafts? Did I miss something? All these years I never knew that was equated with mothering. So interesting the different messages we have in our heads.

  14. Little kids are the worst! I really can’t stand kids, and I’m the PTA president! I’m only doing it to make the school better for my own kid, who I adore.

  15. I relate. I LOVE my little kids but I HATE babysitting and the nursery calling I had fifteen years ago (when my kids were 3, 2 and 9 months) was SO hard. I would MUCH rather teach gospel doctrine on the fly, with NO notice than teach primary. Seriously.

  16. Good for you!! We all have own lifestyles, interests, and needs. Just because we are female and can have children doesn’t mean there is only one way to do it. I love kids, especially those that belong to other people as you get to enjoy them and then give them back. Teaching Primary is my favourite calling, it is adults at church that I find difficult (some of them have way too much attitude).

  17. Beautifully expressed. I admire Your honesty, your love and your very cool job you actually get paid for. Although I am most definitely the crafty, play with toys type of mom you and I share the same sort of mother heart.

  18. Thank you for this! I am going to work in a few months, and while I am very sad about leaving my baby at home, I am also excited to return to my career — I am passionate about it and have just landed my dream job. It is possible to achieve balance, and I think it is important. You seem to have achieved it very well.

  19. Well, I think that good mothers don’t all come from the same mold. While my mom always watched us and made sure we were safe and would read to us, I don’t remember her playing with us or doing crafts with us. I played with my siblings who are close in age as well as friends and neighbors. My mom did attend ceramics and other crafting classes from time to time. Over the Summer, we each got a turn at going with her and picking out a piece to complete. I love to entertain children but have a lot of anxiety about their safety(did not have the same level of anxiety when I was 19 to 23ish). If I could have one other adult to supervise and I could have my own separate area to engage and entertain, I would have all sorts of activities from crafts, literacy, drama, dance and more.

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