Monday, August 01, 2005

Mommy Dearest & the Princess Syndrome

So this weekend I was thinking about parental role models. I was having one of those we-might-become-actual-friends conversations with someone who is leaving. She said she thinks it's very important who your parents are, whether they were the oldest or youngest sibling in their family, that those kinds of factors determine how you handle responsibility, compromise, all those kinds of interpersonal skills you need for working on teams and getting along with friends.

So I was thinking how, the last couple weeks, I've definitely been having doubts about my wanting to do science badly enough. My generation is the first one in my family where the women have had a chance at a Career. My mother was psychologically abused by her parents, which she then proceeded to do to us. Telling your daughters they're stupid does not make for future confidence and success in competitive academic careers.

Anyway I've more or less forgiven my mother, who never did have a career. She has mellowed and so have I. And she can't influence me the way she did before. But there is still the influence of genetics on my philosophy. My mother is not the sort of person who handles interpersonal interactions well, she finds them stressful and tends to burn her bridges too easily when she gets fed up with people. Obviously I have the same tendencies, but I'm trying to practice my Daily Tao and cope better with these things, not be perpetually paranoid, etc. I've definitely made some progress in the last few years.

But part of me just thinks, well maybe the women in my family are just not cut out for this career stuff. Maybe we all have this kind of Princess Syndrome: I'm ready to retire now. I have a really hard time feeling sorry with these people who are retiring and talking about how they're terrified they'll have nothing to do.

I feel like I've already been working so hard for so long, with no payoff in sight. By the time my mom was my age, she already had kids, and that was really all she had to worry about. I don't want kids, and I'm not saying being 'just a mom' is easier than being a scientist, but sometimes I think getting to stay home every day would be a pretty cushy set-up. To some extent you'd have more control over your environment, whom you have to interact with and when, more control over your schedule. Lately coming in and putting in the hours seems incredibly taxing, and I have a really hard time picturing myself doing this- or any other professional job- for the next 30 years.

It's the whole idea of having a full-time job and constantly worrying about doing well enough to keep that job, and still having to be a grown-up and take care of all those grown-up things, like dentist appointments, car insurance, hair cuts, shopping for clothes.... Especially for girls. We are just expected to do so much more to look the right way, and it's a lot of work to look good! It just seems like too much to keep on top of it all.

I guess I was thinking about this because this weekend we bought something for our house and it was missing a part. So we had to take it back. The time it took for us to exchange it seemed like a gigantic imposition, it screwed up our whole schedule. I was thinking about this friend of mine who has a 9-to-5 job as a technician and is constantly shopping, returning, exchanging, and shopping some more, for clothing and house supplies. I was thinking about how many hours of your life that adds up to. I'm just amazed by people who can be so organized and on top of all these things, and they never seem anywhere near as tired or fed up as I am, and I'm neither organized nor on top of all these things! How do they do it???

I was talking with my boyfriend about how we don't have any time, and how we both need a wife (or a mom). It's funny, it's only dawning on him now that it's nearly impossible to work this many hours a week and still do laundry, go to the grocery store, cook something occasionally... there just isn't enough time. Of course I knew this already, but he was always willing to put up with eating out, doing laundry last-minute, and cleaning only when absolutely necessary. Needless to say we're both growing out of our tolerance for that kind of lifestyle. And I'm starting to wonder if I don't need more help. He doesn't have time to pick up the slack at home, either, and we can't afford a maid or grocery service. But sometimes I wonder if a big pile of money wouldn't solve a lot of the stress I'm feeling right now.


At 1:54 AM, Anonymous bjoern said...

Hey, I hear ya! Instead of the money, an additional 5-6 hours for every day would help, too. Just for the grocery, laundry, cleaning and sleeping part! Let's change the day from 24 to 30h, eh? Let's start a website and vote for slowing the earth down :-)
Good to hear other scientists feel the same way like my girlfriend and I :-)
Keep it up!

Bjoern - with similar job/funding issues

At 5:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, a career in science works best for those who can either afford to pay someone to run their lives for them whilst they're in the lab (I can't think of any bench-based jobs that pay that well so maybe this option i slimited to the independantly wealthy?), or have a devoted partner who wants to do this and can afford not to work (money again). Alternitivley we could slow down science so 12+ hour days are not required all the time. Unlikely, I know.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Theorygrrrl said...

My mother, who was a researcher in biology back in her day (now she is 60) usd to say that the biggest problem with us women being scientists (as opposed to men) is that we do not have wives. Miraculously she managed to do all these things in a very organized way. She eliminated a lot of unnecessary frills in housekeeping - no homebaked pies for us, for example, recruited my dad and even some of the kids to contribute to the housework, hired some help, moved closer to her parents (those were the days of limited daycare) and got things running extremely efficiently! It's amazing how she managed all this.


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