Here’s a good article from her series Winning Tenure without Losing Your Soul at Inside Higher Ed by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “Balance is a Myth.” Some of the commenters are angry or disappointed to hear this, but I think she’s right:
Most tenure-track faculty members I work with seem to believe that they can achieve harmonious balance in their lives during the tenure-track years. To me, this is a problematic expectation because the structure of tenure-track life is one in which there’s far more work to be done than time in any given day. Let’s be clear — if you have a stay-at-home partner who does the vast majority of household labor and child-care, you may be able to achieve balance in your life during your probationary period. But most of you are juggling multiple roles and care-giving responsibilities above and beyond new course preparations, heavy teaching loads, multiple service assignments, and ever-increasing research expectations. And you’re often doing so with little social, financial, technical, and/or professional support in your departments, as well as varying in levels of assistance at home. In this context, the expectation of a balanced life seems just plain unrealistic. I’m not saying this is the way things should be, but unfortunately this is often the way things are. And when we operate in the world according to how things should be, we can end up feeling like one of my mentees, who recently confided: “trying to achieve balance is just one more thing I feel like I’ve failed.”
Right on. “Balance” as a goal in life always seemed too fuzzy and Oprah-esque to me anyway. So long as you don’t get evicted or do any irreverseable damage to your heath or family life while seeking tenure-track employment or while on the tenure-track, then I’d count that as a “win.” But, no one can be Superprof, Superresearcher, Supercolleague, Superpartner, Superparent, Superchef, Supersuper all the time. And the last thing that will enhance your research and writing productivity is large helpings of guilt and inadequacy.
A few years ago at a conference, I fell into a conversation with a senior scholar who is at the top of her field, with three very well-received books out plus three edited collections. (I just checked–she’s published two more edited collections since then!) At the time, she was in her mid-40s with two very young children and the Chair of her department, and she was just about to take over the editorship of a major journal. I asked her how she did it all, and she said that 1) her husband’s career was part-time, and that he followed her career and did the majority of the kid stuff; 2) even then her kids ate a lot of McDonald’s food; and 3) she probably has a higher tolerance for chaos than most people. She wasn’t pretending to be Martha Stewart or Groovy Earth Mother, on top of all of her professional accomplishments, and I appreciated that a lot. Most people will be honest with you about the price they and their family members pay or have paid for their professional successes. It only looks like glossy perfection from the outside.