Now that I'm on the happy and relieved side of dissertation defense, friends and family have been asking about my plans to attend my commencement ceremony. Initially I hadn't thought of it, simply because attending would require Maia to miss school, not to mention the 22 hours in a car with four kids for a mere three-day trip. But it became increasingly apparent to me that it would be a good idea to attend in order to acknowledge my graduation as important, especially for the kids, as well as for my parents that have been so supportive.
I had two commencement options: December 2013 or May 2014. After consulting my parents, I started to make plans to delay my graduation until May 2014, which was more convenient for them (and probably for us). It also seemed best for me professionally, as I'm not going on the market quite yet.
Then, suddenly I had a thought, a vague notion that something else might be happening that same day... what could it be?
No, it couldn't, could it? Could it possibly be the date of Maia's first communion?
Yes, indeed. May commencement and Maia's first communion are scheduled for the same date, less than two hours apart, in entirely different states.
Ugh! Just when I had started to make plans and informed everyone of my decision to delay until May! I had just finally started to get excited about it all, helping all the people who supported me to celebrate the completion of their fine work (and my sufficient work). What was I going to do?
When I told Jeff about the conflict, he said, "Well, we know which of those two events is more important."
It took a few minutes for me to process his comment, and to assent to it rationally (or supernaturally). Then I resigned myself to not being able to mark the occasion of earning my Ph.D. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how absolutely fitting it was for this conflict to occur.
I started this blog so many years ago as a sort of an apologia of my decision to undertake a doctoral program and parenthood at roughly the same time. And I still hold true to my dear friend Sue Sack's words that being a theologian makes me a better mother, and being a mother makes me a better theologian. I don't regret my choice, so to speak.
But at the same time, I also remember my dear friend Sharon Perkins' words that "When the going gets tough, just remember you're living your dream." The dream has been way harder than it appeared in the abstract. Surely, theology and motherhood are mutually enriching. But they are also conflicting; there's no denying it. My daughter's first communion on the same day as my intended commencement was just a sort of obvious example.
I have to admit that I've been somewhat negative in the past to women that have questioned me regarding undertaking a doctoral program and motherhood simultaneously. It's an invitation to conflict...and sleep deprivation. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and I generally advise women to avoid the doctoral program part unless they can't imagine not doing it.
Being a theologian mom means taking on a commitment to conflict. Here's a summary:
1. Theology NEEDS the voices of women. The Church is enriched by female perspectives, which further the theological discussion.
2. The women most able to contribute to the theological discussion are those who lack family commitments, especially to the burden (and joy!) of raising children.
3. The Church benefits uniquely from the perspective of women theologians who are living out the marriage vocation and raising children; the way to complement the childless female perspective is by adding this other one.
4. Marriage and raising children (especially a large family) take time and effort.
5. Time and effort spent on homemaking and child-rearing conflicts with time spent contributing to the theological discussion, whether in classes as a student or teacher, or researching and writing, or even just having casual theological discussions with colleagues.
-The more time and effort spent on homemaking and child-rearing, the lesser the time available to contribute to academia.
-The more time and effort spent on academic pursuits, the less time spent on homemaking and child-rearing.
Conclusion: Conflict. And likely an accompanying feeling of inadequacy, knowing that I could do more academically if it weren't for the kids, and knowing that I could do more as a mom if it weren't for the academics. There is no balance, just decisions about how to manage the conflict and how to hang onto academia in the midst of busy family life, so as to make a unique contribution to the Church using the voice of a married woman, who is "out in the field" doing the kind of theological research that involves cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, kissing bruises, reading Winnie the Pooh, doing school drop-offs, etc.
It's the conviction that the theologian mom perspective truly does benefit the Church that has kept me going through the past seven years as I strove to "keep my chapters ahead of my children" (and I did - five chapters, four children!). That, and the knowledge that conflict is not always bad for us. It challenges us to recognize our priorities, to admit our limitations, to have confidence in our strengths, to accept the situation with generosity and joy. Being a theologian mom is always a gift from God, whether the particular moment entails attending a child's first communion or being hooded and receiving a diploma. Yes, even conflict is sanctifiable.
And in case you're wondering, I'm hoping now to graduate in December instead. That has a lesser conflict - Eva will have to spend ten hours in the car on her fifth birthday!