The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Amber Krusza.
I have always dreamed of being a mother. I grew up as the oldest of five children which makes for a big family. I always admired the strength and compassion that my own mother had while raising her kids and I knew that I wanted to do the same one day. Fast forward to the year 2015. I was halfway through my second year of full-time professional work as a Hall director. I had my groove and had figured out my schedule when it came to work life balance. I felt comfortable in my position and I felt happy and content at home. In late December of that year I found out I was pregnant, and my husband and I were elated. We often talked about becoming parents and were so excited to be starting this journey together. Both my personal and professional life changed forever after that day. My priorities were going to shift, my personal life was going to be a lot busier, and I was going to be starting my third year as a housing professional.
We often hear in the field of student affairs that we wear multiple hats. Juggling multiple roles can be stressful but I have found if we try on the different hats in our life, they can find a way to work together in a “fashionable” way. I too, wear many hats in my life. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a hall director, and a student affairs professional. These are just a few of the many roles or hats I possess. While they are all important, there are definitely some hats that are bigger than the others, and that’s okay. It took me a while to realize some of our roles will always be more important and that makes it difficult to effectively balance all of the different roles in our lives. For example, my role as a mother and wife will always be more important to me than any other role I hold. My family has always been and will always be my biggest priority and during these past five months I have learned not to feel guilty about that. As women working full time, we feel like we have to have a grip on everything going on in our lives. We have to be on top of our game and be composed at work and in the home. This makes the idea of achieving a fair work/life balance an almost impossible task.
So how do we balance it all? How do we balance the roles or the hats? Starting my third year as a Hall director and as a mother taught me the greatest lessons of all when it comes to work life balance. There is no secret and there is no perfect way of achieving it. I am no expert, but I have learned a thing or two and I think it’s important as a woman and as a mother I share that knowledge with the larger community.
1. Revisit your “why” as often as you can.
This is for your sanity. You have to take care of you and one way you can do that is to take time once a week to remind yourself...why. Why you’ve chosen to be a student affairs professional, why you work the long hours in housing and residential life, why you decided to become a parent when it’s 3:00am and your baby won’t stop crying. Remembering your why and your purpose can be so powerful and becomes necessary when under a great deal of stress. You risk your personal well-being if you choose to forget your “why” or when you choose to not make YOU a priority.
2. Don’t forget to take care of YOU.
Personal wellness is a vital factor when working as a housing professional and it becomes all the more crucial when you become a mother and working housing professional. I unfortunately have learned this the hard way time and time again. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting sleep and rest (when you can), drinking lots of water, making time for meals, etc. These are simple necessities that we all take for granted every day, but what I’ve learned since becoming a mother is that you can’t skip out on these necessities. There’s another little human being that depends on you to take care of yourself so you can take care of them. I’m not perfect when it comes to taking care of myself, but I have a constant reminder of why I need to try and do my best each and every day. My son, my husband, my students, and my department need me to take care of myself if I hope to give them my best each and every day, and they all deserve me at my very best.
3. Find and build your support team.
Did I mention being a mother is hard? I’ve had multiple roles I’ve played and held throughout my life but being a mother has challenged me the most. You’re going to need a support system for yourself when you’ve been on call all week and your newborn is going through a growth spurt at the same time, when you have a million student follow ups to complete but your child comes down with a fever instead, when you’re right in the middle of staff selection preparation and your spouse has to work overtime and late at their job. Life doesn’t wait and it doesn’t slow down, but we have to remember that we are human and that we need help. It is okay to ask for help, so find it, ask for it, and hold onto it! You’ll be thankful later!
4. Make good use of your office time.
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but this has proven to be an important lesson for me as I adapt to working as a full-time mother. As a Hall director, I have office hours and specific blocked time to get some of my work done. This isn’t time for student meetings, conduct sessions, or staff one-on-one meetings. Prior to becoming a mother, I would often fall prey to the small distractions that come with being in your office, working long hours, with the internet. Facebook break anyone? It was hard to stay motivated to work straight through that office time and remain productive…until I became a mom AND a housing professional. When you’re a full-time working mother, your nights at home are no longer your own. I have a little guy who demands all of my attention and energy, which leaves very little time to work on anything else. I used to reserve some time at night to catch up on emails at home, continue projects, etc. That time has quickly disappeared with the added responsibility of having a baby. This has shifted my priorities to using all of my work time most effectively and not taking those office hours for granted. My baby has kept me more accountable at work and that has proven to make me more productive during the day and feeling content and fulfilled when I return home from a long day.
5. Make your personal life a priority, regardless of your living situation.
As a Hall director, my apartment is just off the lobby of the residence hall I manage. It puts me in close proximity to my students and I’m easily accessible to the community. While preparing to take my maternity leave, I expressed to my supervisor at the time how I was a little nervous about bringing home a new baby and being “away” on maternity leave while still living in the residence hall with my students. What if the students knocked on my door or they needed me? How was I going to deal with that while raising a baby? My supervisor smiled and simply said, “You won’t answer the door. You’re not available. You’re on maternity leave.” While this sounds so simple and almost self-explanatory, these words really impacted me. As a Hall director we live within the halls to be a close resource for our students. They know where to find us and can ask for help whenever they truly need it, but how healthy is that for our work/life balance? Just because you live where you work doesn’t mean you can’t draw those boundary lines. I learned this when I took my maternity leave and I didn’t answer my door. I didn’t visit with residents, see my staff members, etc. While it may sound silly, this was a big step for me as a Hall director. To remove yourself from your work when you literally live where you work can be tough but it was the best thing for my new family. I enjoyed my time away and the time I got to spend with my family. It’s something that I try to do now that I’ve been back at work. While I’m not completely closed off from the community, I don’t feel the need to address every concern in the moment. There are people on call for a reason who are around to help students when I can’t, and I’ve had to remind myself of that as I continue to raise my son in a residence hall.
6. It may be hard, but it is SO worth it.
Let me just be real and authentic with all of you. You will be so tired, all the time. The life of a residential life staff member, especially a Hall director, is a busy one. When you’re on call during the week and you kiddo is sick at the same time, when you’ve been in meetings all day but still have to do laundry and watch the baby at the same time, or when you’ve worked a full day, you’re tired and you’re sick but your little one just wants to be held. Even through all of the hardships and the long nights, when I cuddle my little guy and rock him to sleep at night it all becomes worthwhile. When I meet with a student and help them through a rough time or help them find the answers they need, it all becomes worthwhile. When I can lay my own head down at night and feel content and at peace with all that I accomplished that day, when both my family and my students are taken care of, that’s when it all becomes worthwhile. Wearing the multiple hats that I do and trying to balance them all is anything but easy, but it is so incredibly worth it to do what I love for the people that I love.
Those are just a few of the many lessons I have been learning while trying to balance the life of a busy Hall director and new mom. If I were to list everything I’ve learned since August 2016 when I became a mother and a housing professional, I would probably be constructing a small novel. As I type this, I’m watching my son sleep soundly and I can’t help but smile when remembering all the struggles and triumphs I’ve experienced thus far as a mother and housing professional. I consider myself one of the lucky ones to be working in a field I love while raising a family. Working toward a balance certainly isn’t easy and it’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So to all of you hard working housing professionals and to you exhausted mommas, I salute you and I see you. Our jobs are one of the toughest, but it’s also one of the best.