Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In grave danger of growing, or, on being 40, a mom, wife, and grad student, part 2

This is a two-fer. That means that I am writing this blog post AND using it for an assignment that's due today (nevermind that today is almost over.) Get it? A two-fer... as in "two fer the price of one."

Here goes...

We read "IN GRAVE DANGER OF GROWING: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROCESS OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT" (Charles Seashore, Washington, D.C., June, 1975) and I was surprised to find that some of my cohort-mates found it depressing. I, personally, found it validating and freeing in many ways.

This article, which explores the reasons, perils, and pitfalls of folks entering into intensive academic programs (yeah, those are professional development, too), was spot on in many ways for me. First of all, it spoke about the family issue. This is something I ranted about back in June upon completing my first week of grad school (On being almost-40, a mom, wife, and grad student) Now I look back and consider how much that's been ratcheted up by the additions of my full-time job, my eldest back in school, my youngest back in speech, and the impending (damn, how did those sneak up?) holidays. 

In all seriousness, though, it's not just the fact that I'm trying to keep life as normal as possible for my family (O.K., those Saturday classes and every Monday and Wednesday nights are REALLY starting to cut into quality time with my brood), it's the fact that this program has forced not just me to change, but everyone close to me. 
"...these close friends and family are also forced to re-experience some ways that they had become dependent upon the partner turned student, and thus face up to the discombobulating notion that they might have to grow and change, too — all because of that crazy program."
Before I entered this program, there was some talk with friends about my husband having to learn to take over a lot more because I just wouldn't be able to do it anymore. Now, in all honesty, I hadn't thought about that as being a part of a change effort, just as part of a coping method, a temporary coping method. But now I see that this may be a more long-term change, and hooray for that, because I always needed help with the laundry and the dishes! It's not just that, though. My family has had to learn to get along without me for hours and hours, some of those hours long Saturdays when I'm in class. And, I'm happy to report, they are honestly doing just fine. They are happy and healthy and getting to know each other really well, and I am realizing that, yikes, maybe they CAN live without me (sniff.)

I suppose this will be something I go through constantly as my children grow and become more independent. I'm just thinking that I wasn't supposed to go through these feelings while they are the tender ages of 4 and 7. I guess you can't start preparing for the empty nest too early.

But I digress. This article included the Menninger Morale Curve, but, being the tech-head that I am, I found one that fit me a whole lot better online:

I've been to the land of Uninformed Optimism already, had a brief stop in Informed Pessimism, have definitely overstayed Crisis: Checking Out, and feel I am now moving toward Hopeful Realism. (I really hope that this is a straight shot with no detours, but I truly doubt it.) Granted, I'm behind in my papers and have just changed the topic for my thesis project (uh, yeah, I know, it's November) and am paying handsomely for checking out, but I had to live my life, and have fun... right?

Seashore gives his recommendations for what should be provided in a well-designed program:

Informed Consent and Supports for Growth Among the Student's Family and Friends: Well, I think I've had these. I mean, I talked at length with hubby about what this would mean to our family, and we agreed together that it was the right time. I still feel it is the right time. However, I experienced quite a bit of anxiety before the program began not knowing how much work would be involved. I also didn't know how this would affect my family and was hell-bent on making sure it would be as normal as possible for them. I think that more support for "non-traditional" students like myself is needed by folks who are in similar situations. I'm definitely going to look into creating a support group for folks with kids trying to balance this program...

Faculty AwarenessAvailable Support System, and Appreciation and Tolerance for Craziness: (disclaimer: I am not trying to score points here) My program does all of these really well, and that is why we stick with it and make it work, no matter how much we have to do. The faculty are beyond aware, they are even a little psychic, if you ask me, and remain very flexible and understanding. They encourage collaboration, which is the one thing that has saved my ass on more than one occasion. They also do that appreciation and tolerance for craziness thing very well. Now, it could be that they are in the business of education around education. Dunno... all I know is that it's working for me. I love my program, have since Day One, and if I didn't love it, I wouldn't be up 'til all hours doing all this.

Most importantly, Seashore's sixth recommendation for a well-designed program:
Realistic but High Expectations for Professional Competence: Most definitely. I am challenged, but not to the point of frustration. I am growing, but not at an insanely fast pace. I am changing, but it's more like a doable evolution.

So, this wasn't so much of a rant... more like a celebration. See, I really am on my way to Hopeful Realism. Maybe.

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