In loco parentis: real life role conflict and role strain

Thanks for not giving up on the blog and me.  September and October knocked me down, but I am slowly standing back up.

Everywhere I look, all I see are Rogue Cheerios.  Residuals from my work and personal life are spilling over everywhere.  The ungraded papers tucked in my suitcase on vacation with my family. The missed call from my husband while I’m counseling a student. The unreturned messages from students pinging on my phone while I play Zingo with my daughters.

In Intro to Sociology, I teach my students about role strain (the competing responsibilities of an individual role) and role conflict (when the responsibilities of different roles battle for prominence), but I haven’t articulated how role strain and role conflict happen at the same time.  The competing, similar demands of my role as an educator and my role as a parent have me gasping for air. 

In teaching role conflict and role strain, I use “the good mother” or “the good professor” as archetypes for understanding how competing roles work.  I am quite secure in knowing that I embody neither of these roles on even my best of days.  The good mother is selflessly devoted to her family and her partner, subjugating her own needs and balancing the responsibilities of parenting and home life with whatever else fills her plate.  The good professor is selflessly devoted to the life of the mind, engaged wholly in scholarly pursuits.

I am A good mother and A good professor, but I am not that good.

I never realized how much parenting I would end up doing at work when I’m away from my own small children.  Every semester, I end up spending hours with students, discussing future plans, their major, or their experiences with roommates.  Most colleagues would tell me that the parenting I’m doing for my students is not my job.  I respectfully disagree with them.  New research from folks at Hamilton College confirms that the development of relationships with trusting adults on campus is associated with greater retention. One of the reasons I knew I would make a great college educator is that I respect the chaos of their lives and I enjoy watching them discover their newfound adulthood.

Many folks would never choose to work with college students but I feel particularly grateful to be in their lives at such a crazy juncture.  I have to feel grateful because I’m doing some of the parenting that other parents cannot or will not do for their kids while they are away at school.  I have to place the same confidence in the people who care for my children while I work.  I feel grateful for our childcare professionals–they love our children just as much as we do.  Down the road when my children leave our home, I hope my girls will find someone like me that they can trust, too.

My proverbial cups are full, overflowing, making a mess, but I should not complain.  I’m employed and I have two amazing little daughters.  I just feel the weight of the roles I fill and right now they’re heavy.  I take the responsibility of being a good mom, partner, sister, friend, educator, and citizen very seriously.  Right now, the responsibilities of the roles feel eerily similar to one another and the lines between where one role starts and one roles ends are too blurry for me to discern.  Worse yet, I know that the role strain and role conflict prevent me from being the best version of my self in any of these roles.

I’m comfortable in the gray area, though. I’ll have practice for those teenage years with my own girls and thank goodness I don’t have to face those years for at least a decade.

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About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in academia, family, higher education, kids, lessons learned, motherhood, parenthood, personal, sociology, students, teaching, work. Bookmark the permalink.

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