design educator + mom

Design Educator + Mom = ?
Head, Heart, Hand, AIGA National Conference. Minneapolis, MN. Oct 2013. Pecha Kucha with Rebecca Tegtmeyer.

“Having a child was the worst career move I ever made.” That is the advice that was given to one of us during our pregnancy when asking an esteemed design educator how she balanced work and motherhood. While this response could have been in jest (still not sure!), the harsh pessimism is something much more serious and unfortunately, common. Being a working mom isn’t easy. Being a working designer mom in academia is dang near impossible. *Near being the keyword, there’s hope — we promise!

We’d like to present the successes, the ‘failures’, and the new-outlook of two design educators that also happen to be mothers. Marty has an infant son of almost one and Rebecca has a rambunctious toddler son. Managing a career as a design educator, that also happens to be on the track to tenure, has its good and uhm… ‘challenging’ moments. Factor in trying to figure out how to be a mom + actually savor some of those sweet fleeting moments and you have yourself a new research project. Not really, but kinda.

We’d like to share a humorous perspective on what it takes to manage this active lifestyle as well as stay current, inspired, and motivated. Challenges reside in the shifting schedules, lack of sleep, and the constant list of new mom paranoias to balance with the needs of students, project schedules, and endless committee meetings. Oh, and an active research practice! The positive is a new experience that offers a different way of looking at the world and even inspires our design process.



Hi, We’re Rebecca and Marty. Today, we’re going to talk about what we’ve learned (and stumbled with) over the past few years in our dual roles as Design Educators and Moms.This is us 6 years ago at our first Pecha Kucha, as grad students. We were still sleep deprived, but for different reasons.



Since then, we’ve secured tenure track jobs and had our first babies. So, we’ve discovered that being working moms isn’t easy (duh) and that being working designer moms in academia is near impossible. Factor in trying to figure out how to be a mom + actually savor some of those sweet fleeting moments and you have yourself a new research project. Not really, but kinda.



That is the advice that I was given while 5 months pregnant when asking an esteemed design educator how she balanced work and motherhood. While this response could have been in jest (still not sure!), the harsh pessimism is something much more serious and unfortunately, common. But, we aim to prove that is a misconception and that having kids can actually have a positive impact on your career.



Another misconception: that you can control nature! Sure, it would be perfect to have kids on May 6th aka the last day of classes, (or (even better) wait until after tenure) but biology may say otherwise. I had Jordi in March and have managed to proceed successfully on the tenure track — ie, my career didn’t end! It’s about planning and negotiation.



Ahhh, our perfect designer homes. NOW DESTROYED. Well, just partially. many people think “oh, you can work from home on your non-teaching days, it will be easy.” Yeah, right. Try responding to complex student emails while keeping your mess maker from disabling your printer.



When we do have solo work time, we find ourselves uber focused…it’s a type of focus that we’ve never experienced before. We are quicker to make decisions and get to the point. We’re also learning how to say no to things that might not really be in line with our larger goals.



Also, having kids seems to have made us a bit more emphatic to our student’s challenges. It doesn’t mean we’ve gone soft, but there’s just something that has changed. I always say that i teach design, but i also teach life skills and that’s where the empathy comes in. Realizing that many of our students are living away from home for the first time and figuring out basic things like: How do i feed myself? How do i do my own laundry? How do i meet a deadline? It must be the new found maternal-ness.



While being a mom has improved our ability to connect with students, it has also allowed us to set up better boundaries and protect our time. We’ve become more decisive and articulate about when it’s ok to contact us and when it’s not. Gone are the days of the guaranteed 11pm email response. Sometimes, we still feel like we need a moat.



This is a fun one. Having a young child literally forces us to get off of the computer and explore analog means of making. Whether finger painting, sidewalk chalk or building with blocks, it is a way to creatively reboot on a daily basis. Also, there is nothing quite like a peaceful stroller walk to help shake off a stressful work day and clear your mind to see a problem in a new way.



We’d be lying if we didn’t say this was hard. The U.S. has some of the worst support for working families in the world. We recommend doing your research, know your rights, reach out to other parents at other institutions to find out what they negotiated, and do the planning for your chair or dean. If you can offer different solutions, they may be more receptive and supportive.



The lack of support for working families manifests in many ways. There is still a stigma attached to even mentioning kids at many schools. Like Ghandi, we’d say “be the change you want to see in the world.” The more productive, hardworking, dedicated people who breach the subject of kids at work, the better. We need to see a paradigm shift and we are the only ones who can make that happen.



We feel guilty at home because we aren’t getting enough done with work and we feel guilty at work because we aren’t with our kids. Guilt is just a part of it, but we try to limit the overwhelming feelings by planning our time and finding good support care for our kids. If you know that your kids are in a good daycare, meeting other kids, being creative, learning and are safe, it allows you to focus more and let go of the guilt.



What’s free time??? Before babies, we had a ton of it and dammit, took it so for granted! We know we’ll get some eventually, but for now, this is a tough one. Gone are the days of leisurely scouring the internet for inspiration for class or randomly meeting for a beer. Everything is hyper scheduled with young kids. Important to schedule in some fun.



Something unexpected, besides the extreme lack of sleep, was that new areas of work emerged. I’ve co-formed a faculty committee to improve parental rights at the institution, created a poster series that advocates for women’s rights, and now here speaking on this topic. I’m excited to see what other opportunities develop.



We’ve become mentors. Due to the lack of transparent support for working moms, mixed with our openness about our experiences, we’ve become quick mentors to other new moms trying to navigate the complexities of negotiating maternity leave, balancing work and life expectations, managing the tenure track, and just general mental health.



So, this is a weird one. Having your body grow into unimaginable proportions in front of a 20 person audience on a daily basis is pretty strange. It was surprising and sometimes endearing when students seemed to care so much. Despite my proclamation that I’m pregnant and I don’t really want to talk to you guys about it.” Students wanted details.



One of the most life changing surprises is that we’ve lightened up and really learned to live in the moment. In most cases what we are designing doesn’t mean life or death for someone. Design should be fun, at least most of the time. It’s not that not design isn’t serious, but it’s important to keep it in perspective.



Despite the misconceptions and hard challenges, we’ve found that it is possible to be a successful design educator and a dedicated mom. It’s about being realistic with your goals, reaching out to your support network and focusing on what matters. And really remembering… tomorrow is always a new day. And having pictures of wonder woman around the office sure don’t hurt.



We’re not sure if we’re supposed to ‘Lean In’, ‘Lean Out’ or ‘Check out’, but we do know that if there’s any hope for us adding another kid to the mix or for others to be successful at being working parents, we’ve got to keep talking about these challenges, work to improve the support for working families in the US and try to lead by example. We’re determined to help create a paradigm shift for working moms and we hope you are too.



and… remember how we talked about scheduling in free time, we’ll at least we’ve factored in time to breathe. Thanks!