As a Residence Life professional, our free time is few and far between. When you add a family, your definition of free time changes. Heck, your definition of life changes. It is amazing to me how much my life changed since the birth of my daughter.
I love my job. I love my family. And I am here to say that you can do both successfully, even if you live on campus and have the hours of a Resident Director. It is challenging, but it is totally worth it.
There are many benefits and many hindrances to having a child while still living on campus, and there are tricks to making it work out for the best.
Here are a few tips to make having a family on campus a great situation.
1. Know Your Resources. It is very important to talk to your supervisor up front about what will be expected of you. It is also important for your supervisor to know what it is that you will need from them. Discuss maternity/paternity leave. Your supervisor can be your biggest supporter. It is important that they know what your limitations are. Your supervisor may also know more resources that are available.
Get to know the day cares in your area (if you need one) and find the best one. Don’t settle for anything less. Talk to your supervisor about the possibility of bringing your child with you to work. This is not always feasible, but it is worth asking if that is important to you. Note: As soon as the child is mobile, you will be doing less work and more child watching. I HIGHLY recommend finding alternative care at that point.
Get to know the other working parents at your university. Some may have experience living on with children. I found one colleague who was a great resource. Our school also formed a “working moms” group. If your school doesn’t have one, start one.
2. Set Your Priorities Immediately. Knowing what you want from your family, your job and knowing what you need to give is essential information. If you don’t set your priorities, someone will lose, whether it’s your family or your job, it always ends up being you. Review these priorities with someone you trust, whose opinion is paramount. Make your priorities known to all stakeholders. If they don’t have this information, they will always assume that they are your top priority.
There is one rule that I have found to be very true. Our Director tells the story of ‘Five balls.” One of the balls is made of rubber and it represents work. The other four balls are made of glass and they represent family, health, friends and spirit. When we are juggling all of these balls in life if the work ball drops, it will bounce back, but if the other balls are dropped they will crack break and even shatter. (1)
When your priorities are in place, everything else seems to fall in place.
3. Be Prepared to Say No. I have learned that one of my friends is the word “no.” I only refer to this friend when I need to. Because I do not take advantage of this friend, it is understood that when I do use this friend, it must be for a very good reason.
Some people see that admitting they cannot do something is a form of failure. I see it more as a form of freedom. When you say no, you know that someone is not expecting you to do something anymore.
August is a busy month for all of us. With training, orientations, and move-in, I know that I will have to say no to many, many things. This is a time of year that I know my presence for my job takes priority over my presence at my spouse’s softball game. By making this known I have gained the freedom to concentrate on my job, and I do not feel guilty missing that game.
If you can’t say no to others, you are continually saying no to yourself.
4. Lose the Delusion of a Non-Changed Social Life. As much as I would like to say that having a child has not made my social life suffer, I cannot. I do not let my child slow me down, though. (With all the baby gadgets they have today, there are no excuses to be slowed down!) It is not always fun to tell your work friends that you can’t go to a happy hour, or go to dinner, but we can’t always do what is fun. Work is work.
5. Find at least one hour a day that is just for you. Whether you are a mother or a father, it is difficult to find time just for yourself. This time is going to be your lifesaver. I choose to use my time being physically active or reading. This is time that my spouse knows that they will be taking care of our daughter. If you don’t have a spouse, find a friend who will be willing to take your child/ren for a while. Get off campus when at all possible.
6. If Someone Offers to Baby-sit, Take Them Up on It. It is, however, important that you trust the person who has offered. Since we deal mainly with students who have already developed their rebellion and attitude, it should not surprise you that there is a wealth of College Student Personnel people out there that would love some time with a young child.
Living on campus provides a number of great babysitters. College students are always looking for ways to make some extra cash. Fellow on-campus livers are great resources for watching your child. Never again will you have so many willing people to watch your child so available.
7. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries. For the sake of you and your family, set boundaries with your staff and co-workers. Because you are so available, it is crucial that all stakeholders are aware of what your boundaries are.
It is just as important for your family to know what your boundaries are. When it is staff meeting time, your family needs to know that you are only interrupted in case of an emergency. Using the example of August, your family needs to know what to expect.
Being a parent is not easy, being a parent on campus is even more difficult. It can be done. I feel that I am a better professional now that I am a parent. I feel that I am a better time-manager, task-manager and people-manager. My expectations of others people are different because I know and understand how they all started out.
I also believe that I am a much more honest, content and relaxed. If you are contemplating a family, do it in your time. This article is not to sway you in one direction or another; it is just how it has worked out for me.
Obviously there are more that 7 laws for being a parent, but these are just to get you started. Just as every child is different, so is every parent. The best thing you can do is find out what works for you and go with it. There are many people out there who will tell you what is best for you and your family. Cipher through all there advice and you will be a successful parent and employee.
(1) Written by Brian G. Dyson, President and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises
Submitted by Janna Lamison, Resident Director at Rochester Institute of Technology