Recent studies have found that those of us who transitioned to remote working environments actually worked longer hours during the pandemic. This past winter I taught a 22-credit semester, which equates to fifteen weeks of time and a half, and I cannot even blame my boss or workplace. I chose to fill my hours with additional emails, zoom meetings, and grading. Nor can I really say I did it for the money, as I have probably the only profession in the world where I get paid less for overtime. I have a base salary for thirty credits and anything over that I receive a fraction per credit hour of what I receive for the first thirty. Madness! Yet, I gave my time away for a bargain, and I signed up for two leadership roles voluntarily. Now I am left to wonder why I don’t value my time more?
Growing up on a farm, I was instilled with a very strong work ethic. Work was how I contributed to the household; it was value. When I whined about spending my summer days toiling in a field, my day would always say, “Think about how good you will feel when you are all done.” And I do clearly remember how good I felt after an afternoon of weeding or picking rocks, riding home in the back of the pick up truck, the wind drying my sweat. While I am grateful for my upbringing and I do think working hard has helped me succeed professionally, it cannot be how I define my worth. I’ve read enough theory on capitalism to know the harm of basing my value on my productively. Yet, still, when faced with pandemic anxiety and ennui, my go to coping mechanism was to sign up for more work. The idea being, at least something of value will come out of my quarantine time at home.
This coping mechanism was coupled with the very unfair reality that pandemic childcare labor fell disproportionately on moms. I was the parent working from home, which meant that I was the parent supervising virtual schooling and enrichment activities and preparing lunches and snacks, while also teaching and running a department from home. Inevitably, I constantly fell short of the type of parent and professor I wanted to be. My own health, both physical and mental, was largely ignored unless it interfered with work and childcare. Amelia and Emily Nagoski describe this mindset as Human Giver Syndrome in their book Burnout: “Human givers must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs.” I discovered this book while trying to multitask my housework and intellectual curiosity by listening to podcasts while I clean because I am all about getting the most out of my time.
I am lucky that I have been given a brief respite from emotional labor, as my classes have ended and my children are in school (geophysical school), so I can take the time to really assess what I have learned over the past year and set new goals for post-pandemic life. First and foremost, I have learned that work and parenting should not be the whole of my identity nor should they be ways to cope with anxiety or avoid less comfortable ways of interacting with the world. I hope in this brief break to begin looking at other rewarding facets of life, picking up the projects and plans I abandoned for being too self-serving or too vulnerable, such as writing on a blog.