Choices?

Combining work and family life often leaves me wishing that I had a time turner like Hermione did in the Harry Potter books (is that what it was called? a time turner? I’m not sure…). Struggling to manage all of her school-work my favourite character of the series found a device that would allow her to loop back through time to essentially do two things at once. Last week I had an emotional and frustrating time making a decision about whether to devote some time to my thesis work or spend that time with my family. In Alberta, Canada, last Monday was ‘family day’, a holiday, which meant that L was home from work and we had a long weekend. In thesis-land there isn’t really such a thing as a weekend in terms of having time off but I do tend to put work on the back-burner (or further back on the back-burner) during the weekends. Monday, however, is usually one of my good work days because R is in preschool and I just have Z at home. I also have the looming deadline of last Thursday to get something out to my supervisor.

I wanted to spend time working and I also wanted to spend time with L and the girls. He was taking R to the local ski hill and suggested that Z and I join and watch for a short while. R was extremely excited at the prospect and I went along, albeit with the nagging feeling that I was failing at the work-prioritisation that I have been shooting for (and boasting about a bit too). At the end of the day I feel pretty f***ing lucky to have a) a family I love so much and want to hang out with and b) work that I am actually excited about. I am enormously privileged to be in the position of staying at home with my kids and working on my thesis. BUT, I do think it’s important to recognize how my role as primary caregiver for the children/home makes it difficult to define space for work. L wanted me to go to the ski hill to watch them, yes, but he also wanted to go because he couldn’t mind Z and ski with R at the same time. And he wanted to ski with R (he is a bit obsessive about skiing at the moment). If I’m honest, I balked at being assertive about my work at least partly because I didn’t want to jeopardize my ‘loving mother/cool wife’ status. And that irks me. Yes, it is my responsibility to take that assertive bull by the horns and get better at claiming that space and time for work for myself. BUT, the social rewards I get for not being assertive (gold stars on my ‘loving mother/cool wife’ reward chart) are tempting. I am not any less loving or less cool if I prioritise work but it certainly feels that way sometimes. I get sick of the emphasis on personal responsibility all the time. I want social and cultural supports in place to help me feel less like I am choosing between my family and my work, and prioritizing one over the other all the time. I want affordable, high-quality childcare. I want recognition for the labor of domestic work. I want to challenge the hierarchy which always seems to value paid work over unpaid (be it domestic work or studies). I want to not have to ask, beg, and constantly strategize and organize to squeeze an hour of writing into my day. So, it is a struggle and a recognition now, with a week of hindsight in place, that I don’t have to choose between gratitude and frustration or personal responsibility and external support. So often we frame things as ‘either/or’ choices and hierarchies where we have to assemble a pecking order, and set it in stone.  At least, that is a tendency I notice. ‘Choose: family or work’! Choose: gratitude or frustration and anger! ‘Choose: qualitative or quantitative’! When our choices are framed like this, they are not really choices. There are always limited available options and there are always consequences for our ‘choices’ and ‘priorities’. These binary oppositions don’t help anyone. And they always leave me feeling lost. I am grateful. I am frustrated. I am angry sometimes. I am really happy most of the time. I am extremely privileged to have the support that I do from my family but I refuse to erase the structural inequalities which so often shape our experiences and our options.

Back to the thesis itself…I submitted a ‘chapter sketch’ – which is a euphemism for a partial draft – of my methodology/methods chapter. I’m happy with the progress I made even if there are many many blanks to fill in. Next on the agenda: some reading on the concept of value in cultural studies/popular culture for my theory chapter and then a return to my data in order to begin work sketching out findings/analysis chapters and to feed back into my m/m chapter by fleshing out some of my thematic discourse analysis strategies. I have a deadline of the end of March to have this work done and sent to my supervisor.

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