Archaeology and Motherhood: Thoughts from the Trenches
My decision to have children came at a time when my career goals as an archaeologist started to move forward. As a graduate student, I had successfully defended my dissertation proposal and I wrote several dissertation research grants in a very short time span. I also had high hopes of spending a year in Peru doing fieldwork for my dissertation. But sometimes, the best experiences in life are the ones that cause you to veer off your chosen course. As a new mother, this path led me to take a break from my research and devote myself to stay-at-home motherhood for two and a half years.
I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to stay at home with my infant daughter, but when she was two years old, I decided it was time to finish my dissertation. This transition back to archaeology and academia, while exciting, also inadvertently started a “crash of confidence”. I had spent the last two years changing diapers and watching Sesame Street. When I reconnected with my archaeology friends and professors I found that I had forgotten most of the lingo and skills that I once considered second nature. I am currently re-learning everything about archaeology and my research. It often feels like I am a first year graduate student all over again, except this time with a toddler firmly, and constantly, wrapped around my leg.
During this second go-around at building a career as an archaeologist, I have been reading about other women, some archaeologists and some not, who are mothers following their passions. In the book, Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself, Amy Richards dispenses some valuable advice: decide what you want, OWN it, and build a support network to achieve it. I argue that building a supportive network is most crucial because as a mother, accomplishing your own goals is best with help from a trusted, reliable community. Furthermore, one cannot build a supportive community without speaking up and sharing experiences. Being an archaeologist in academia comes with special demands that are not realized in most career choices. There are the daily demands, such as articles to write and classes to teach. Moreover, the demands of fieldwork and conference attendance can mean frequent and extended trips away from home. Being a mother comes with its own unique demands and responsibilities; my daughter loves, adores, and tortures me in a way that is unmatched by her relationship with other loved ones in her life. This often means late nights, early mornings, and special time devoted to her regardless of any deadlines that may be looming for me. As a single woman, I could handle the demands of my budding career. However, once I became a mother, I had doubts as to whether I could be both a mother and an archaeologist – the requirements of both seemed too much. To say that mothers need support, is not to say that mothers are weak – quite the contrary; it is to say that no one should mother alone. In our community, as archaeologists navigating the rigors of academia and as graduate students learning the ropes, it is important that mothers talk about their experiences without feeling chastised.
My daughter is now three years old and I am pregnant with our second child. Currently, I am writing my dissertation and active in public outreach. I am very lucky to have a supportive spouse, my family, my friends, my professors, and colleagues. Recently, I had my first experience of the collision of my family life and professional life when I was late to a meeting because my daughter threw a tantrum because she didn’t know how to use dental floss. This is the first of many collisions, I am sure. Archaeologists who are parents go through this (and worse) all the time; they survive, move on, and go about their day. It is knowing that we are not alone in the daily process of career and family life that is important.
First published April 2014 on Feminist Voices in Archaeology