Tag Archives: student affairs

Being It All: Reflections from a Student Affairs’ Parent

 

By Tina Tormey, Assistant Director of the Sophomore Year Experience at The College of New Jersey

Just about a year ago, I returned to work after taking 10 weeks maternity leave with my first child. I knew juggling parenthood with a live-in mid-manager position would be challenging (especially since my partner works evenings in an ER with a highly inflexible schedule), but I hadn’t fully conceptualized what the experience would be like. Since then, I’ve been reflecting and hibernating as I figure out what it means to juggle parenting with career. 

My type-A, super gold, organized self who typically has a plan A, B and C felt fully prepared, but a little trepidacious, when my first post-baby August training arrived. We were down 30% of our live-in professional staff, but my late night schedule miraculously worked around my partner’s nights off, except for a couple days that had totally baby-friendly evening events.

And then my kid got sick. A fever that nearly resulted in a 2am trip to the ER when it crested 105.3 and a level of misery that we later learned was the result of coxsackie disease (a painful, highly contagious virus that just required a steady dose of Advil or Tylenol and a level of patience I found myself lacking).

I found myself feeling resentful. My plan was messed up. I wasn’t sure if I was resentful of my sick child or a job that required so many evening commitments or my inability to juggle it all. I felt like I was failing my family, my job and myself.

And, then, in the midst of cuddling a miserable kid, I picked up the July/August issue of Atlantic Monthly which had a cover story called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” (link) As a girl, I didn’t daydream of frilly weddings and a future as a princess but I envisioned a future where I’d be a super fabulous redheaded version of Carrie Bradshaw living in an amazing loft in Manhattan but coming home to a doting husband and kids (2, of course) every evening. I pictured this perfectly schedule 9-5 work day with out of work hours totally committed to my family. A fabulous life. So that article spoke to me. It was about me.

 

Essentially, the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, said it’s not possible to have a family and still maintain the same career trajectory of our male counterparts—at least not with the way the modern workplace functions. She challenges us to create family-friendly work places that re-evaluate the need to be physically present in the office, values family commitments, re-imagines the traditional career arc, is open to creative solutions to the work-life balance problem and enlists men in developing solutions.

 

It was such a freeing thought. Until I read that article, I was internalizing my failure to DO it all (or at least do it the way the pre-momma me would have done) as my personal inability to keep it together. I was thinking that I was failing because I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t committed enough or wasn’t organized enough. But that wasn’t it at all. The reason why this didn’t all FEEL right is because I WAS getting pulled into different directions. And it was impossible to be all to everyone. But the overachiever, goal-oriented person in me is still struggling to figure out where my place is as a working mom. And although I write about my experiences as a mother, I recognize that there are many dads in the field of student affairs who take on a very active caretaking role and who feel similarly.

 

I still find myself questioning what is on my personal and professional bucket lists. Moreso, I wonder whether those two buckets can merge into one or whether it’s just oil and water: separate and with one always on top. Or I wonder if now that I chose to be a working mom, I’m even supposed to have a bucket list. 

 

I’m still contemplating and testing the waters, but here’s what I’ve determined so far:

 

1. Balance doesn’t exist in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have both a rewarding career and an amazing family/personal life. Our access and reliance on technology in this high-touch, high tech world means that we need to be conscientious about creating that balance for ourselves, since it doesn’t come naturally. For me, it means that on the nights or weekends that my partner has off, I do my best to avoid work commitments. During my son’s dinner/bathtime routine, I create a work-free zone. More recently, I’ve tried to create a tech-free zone as well by leaving my iPhone in my work bag (unless, of course, I need it to film a super adorable kid). I also am starting to recognize that balance may not be a daily thing but a weekly or monthly thing thanks to Kelly’s blog post. So, for example, work monopolizes my life in August–nights and weekends included. But this year, my September and October has included two long weekends traveling to see friends and family, apple picking, pumpkin picking and a couple afternoons off to sneak away to a matinee with my partner.

 

2. Higher education and, in particular, student affairs, needs to make huge advances in rethinking effective work strategies. One of Slaughter’s criticisms were inflexible work environments that require long hours at the office. She says employers need to recognize the value and need to allow employees to work at home or off site. In higher ed, we pride ourselves on flexible work environments. I certainly felt that earlier in my career. Rough duty night? Come in late the next morning. Lots of evening programs one week? Take off early on Friday. I no longer feel I have those opportunities. A solid 3.5 days of my work week are in meetings. And as we work to create more collaborative work environments, that meeting schedule gets more intense. The field needs to rely more on working meetings not simply update or planning meetings. We need to consider non-meeting opportunities to the group work that we value for it’s ability to provide enriching experiences for students. I cannot be an effective employee if I spend my day in meetings and spend my night doing the work that was created in those meetings, yet on some weeks, that is my life. I’m still figuring out how to best follow my own advice on this one. Some practices I currently employ: trying to provide staff with discussion/brainstorming items in advance so those that need time to reflect and research can be ready to discuss ideas immediately and I also initiated a 15 minute Monday morning check in meeting where staff are encouraged to let others know what they’re working on this week, reminds the group of information they need from others to complete those tasks and inform us of important events and share deadlines that impact the group. It’s a standing meeting. And it never lasts more than 20 minutes but it saves several e-mails and phone calls.

 

3. Have a personal mission statement. Follow it. On days or weeks when there is too much to fit into the hours you have, having this mission statement will help you cull through and remove the low-priority items from an overwhelming task list. You will find that there are things we regularly add to our task list that don’t really need to get done. Or they can be delegated to staff who are itching to have opportunities that will help them prepare for and better understand your position.

 

4. Employ good time management practices. Stay on top of technology that can help you be more efficient, but know when the old-fashioned way works best. I use Twitter to curate news (general and higher ed) that I want or need to stay up on the profession and identify new trends. I am still a fan of keeping my to do list in a notebook (the act of writing it down helps me remember and being able to quickly color code my list with things complete and things in progress helps me get a better sense of what really needs to get done), but I love shared online schedules. I’m still figuring out the right balance of phone versus e-mail communication–many times, a phone call will take much less time, but phone call or in person interruptions can be a disruption to someone else’s productivity, so I try to tread carefully and plan those interruptions early in the day or right before or after lunch. These tends to be times my colleagues are getting reorganized and settled.

 

5. Find your time. I am too tired and unfocused to do more than basic data processing or a review and update of my task list after 8pm but I LOVE the solitude of getting some work done in my pajamas with a hot cup of coffee at 5am. Yes, I said 5am. This is MY time, reserved to catch up on work, pursue personal research interests, read or simply catch up on the latest episode of Parenthood or Grey’s Anatomy. When do you think I wrote this post?

6. Find your family time. As I wrote earlier, evenings are totally committed to my nighttime routine with my son. I leave work on time and I don’t think about work as we play, have dinner, do bathtime (my FAVORITE) and read books before bed. Afterwards, I might cruise Pinterest looking for craft ideas for us to do on the weekend. Or I’ll troll Amazon indulging in my love of children’s books (book buying seems to be the one way I spoil my kid!). I also recognize that my work and family life are not totally separate. So when it’s appropriate, Charlie is joining me for some of those evening or weekend commitments. He’s facilitated me meeting students who live in our complex (we now have a neighbor who is trying to learn a few children’s songs to add to his repertoire when he plays guitar outside our apartment). He joined me in making sure our Behind Closed Doors training experience moved along in August. Since some of my staff have used him as a marketing ploy for their Halloween program (“Charlie would love to see Halloween decorations on all of your doors this year…”), he will co-judge a door decorating community development experience with me. And he loved attending his first baseball game during a professional staff social this summer. As a result, I have the benefit of having a kid who has naturally learned to be flexible, social and friendly. As difficult as it is to balance both work and parenting and as much as I think there’s work we need to do to create more family-friendly work practices, this ability to let work and family merge at times is clearly a benefit to working in student affairs versus some other fields that lack that flexibility.

 

Most importantly, I try to find balance in my expectations.  And I find that I am using Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker’s response as a mantra of sorts:

For much of my life I believed that “having it all” was the goal. But I guess now, I’ve come to realize that so much of what brings me joy, satisfaction and peace with the life I live is my unbridled desire to ”be it all” — to offer up my biggest, fullest, greatest self in each and every situation that comes my way. 

 

What advice do you have for working parents feeling pulled in two (or more!) different directions? What can student affairs do to create workplaces that lend to being family friendly and encouraging all staff to create balance?

 

Atlantic Monthly Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

Forbes Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2012/07/18/what-is-having-it-all-after-all-4-outstanding-women-respond/

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Do as I say, Not as I do!

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By Kelly S. Hennessy

Tis the season for everyone to take a breath and reflect on the past few months.  Student affairs professionals know all too well that the months of August and September are exhausting.  In order to take a breath, I feel that a big dose of humor is needed to realize that during the months of August and September, for a great many of us, we all do things that we would never teach our students.  So please sit back, relax, and reflect with me on my many wonderful “Do as I say, Not as I do” moments from these past few months.  It is my hope that you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, as I know you find yourself in very similar situations during the beginning of the semester.

1.)    Eat healthy:  Often we teach our students about the importance of eating healthy while at college.  However, during the month of August I find that I can go 14 hours without much more than a large dose of caffeine.  (I believe that I should purchase stock in Starbucks based on the amount of coffee my staff purchase during these months.)  Or on the very next day I find that I am eating cookies for breakfast and BBQ food from an event for lunch and dinner.   Sometimes dinner is a handful of animal crackers dipped in leftover cake frosting followed by peanut M&Ms for dessert (my meager attempt at getting some protein).  Every year I find myself saying “next year I will not gain the training 15!”

2.)   Exercise regularly:  When I discuss stress with students or student staff, I often talk with them about getting out and doing something active (running, swimming, intramurals, club sports) however during the month of August and September I stay in shape carrying around several large binders (extra important workout for aging backs), props for training, materials for 3 programs or events for one day, and speed walking from one meeting to the next.  Not a typical method of exercise, but hey it works!

3.)   Live a balanced life:  I say this to my professional staff all the time, with the explanation that balance means different things to different people.  But during the month of August, balance means I will get to other things besides work in exactly 27 days.  Balance also can be interpreted more like rollover minutes. Whatever fun I would love to have during the last months of summer are saved up for the wonderful months of fall.  For every time I did not get to go to the beach in August, I will go to the pumpkin patch in October.  For every time in September I could not get off campus to get an iced hazelnut latte, I will get a warm pumpkin spice latte in October.

4.)   Plan ahead:  I am a 20 Gold (for you True Color’s professionals), which means I love check lists, planners, and everything organized.  However, during the months of August and September if I have not planned it out by the end of July, then it will not get done until the end of September.  The best example of this is that I make or buy my son’s birthday invitations in July for a middle of October birthday!  But once August hits, I feel like there are days that I am living like an undergraduate student again.  Finishing training sessions the night before, hoping that there is no huge crisis, power outage, or computer failure that will keep me from accomplishing my task that is due the next day. The non-urgent, less important tasks that aren’t as time sensitive simply get moved directly from my August “To-Do list” to the one in September–or, heck, even October.

5.)   Get enough sleep:  August and September are the months when I am most exhausted and running on empty.  I have a serious LOVE/HATE relationship with these months.  The hate stems from the fact that sleep is my best friend and I get very little of it during back to back to back 17 hour days.  This year I figured I would solve that problem and bring my favorite blanket to work, so I could catch a few ZZZZs between opening halls and Welcome Week events.  So in a way I am sort of following advice that I would give other staff.   This approach also meant that at times I would head off to a program with bed head or creases on my face from slipping in a 20 minute nap. Even after 27 long days of working it is difficult to find sleep because all of those family and friends you neglected during these months want to do fun things with you and you want to do amazing things with them.  So for me my 1st days off were spent by going camping in an RV with 8 other people, including jamming 5 kids under the age of 6 into one room.  Most people would find this exhausting and I admit it was, but balance for me was spending quality time with all the people I love.  I can sleep another day.

6.)   Try new things:  Okay, finally some advice that I do manage to do very well during August and September.  I always find that I am trying new things during this month in order to get to know my professional and student staff.  At times these new things might mean climbing up a 15 foot pole, or running around like a chicken, or some other crazy thing.  The lack of sleep often means that I don’t have the energy to say no to team building experiences that might be a little more out of my comfort zone and a little more on the embarrassing side.

7.)   Spend time with people you love:  This one makes me laugh because most student affairs professionals know the feeling of not being able to do much of anything with friends or family (beyond their immediate family) during the months of August and September.  No weddings, no funerals, no dinners out, no beach, don’t call, don’t ask, I will see you in September.  The great thing about this profession is that it draws so many wonderful people that you are surrounded by people you enjoy on a regular basis.

So although I hope that my students are learning from my words and not my actions during the busiest months of the year for student affairs professionals, I do hope that they understand that I love my job.  At the end of all this craziness the WHY is the important part that brings me back for more crazy Augusts, Septembers, and Octobers.  I know what we do has an impact on students and help them have a more enriching experience while in college, which is how I know there are so many other wonderful professionals that are also living through these crazy months… we love working hard in order to provide the best experience for our students.

Feel free to share some of the funny things that you find yourself doing during the first 3 months of the academic year!

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Community Building Blocks

 

Let’s state the obvious:  It’s August.  As students prepare to flood our residence halls, student centers, recreation facilities, classrooms, and (let’s face it) every other space on campus, there are two words on my mind: community building.

It’s a phrase that gets tossed around like a hot potato.  We build community in physical and virtual spaces.  From Facebook to floor meetings, we see ourselves as the facilitators of endless conversations that lead to life-long friendships and satisfied alumni.  Whether we are actually planning the programs or just creating the atmosphere, community building is a top priority for student affairs professionals.

Until today, I never thought about looking outside of student affairs for true community building and collaboration.  It was the Involvement Fair, the student organization training, the community service day, and all other activities that I looked to for inspiration.  That all changed when I visited A Better World Cafe, a community cafe just a few minutes from campus.

A Better World operates on a “community cafe” model, partnering with a local soup kitchen and a nonprofit organization to provide healthy and accessible food for all its patrons in the area.  Food is grown organically and locally on a farm that is harvested by volunteers and provided to the cafe chefs, who base their menu on whatever is in season and what is donated by local residents.  Patrons who frequent the cafe pay what they can – meaning, they can donate an hour of their time as a volunteer, or just provide a donation if they cannot afford the full suggested price.

The community cafe model, to me, is community building at its finest.  Not only does it involve all its members (volunteers, patrons, staff, local residents, farmers, and more) but it empowers them to build relationships with each other for the greater good of the community.  I aspire to create a community among my students where our work is geared toward making change and making an impact, not simply achieving a large turnout at an event or counting the number of retweets we get.

What can we learn from the “community cafe” model that is different from the communities we are currently building at our institutions?  Where else can we look for inspiration in community building?  Feel free to respond here or follow me on Twitter @kristaknj.

For more about A Better World Cafe and their model, visit their website: http://www.betterworldcafe.org/. Their food is amazing!

Krista Kohlmann
Programming Coordinator
The Jersey Alliance

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