Archaeology and Motherhood: Thoughts from the Trenches by Erica Dziedzic

My decision to have children came at a time when my graduate career as an archaeologist started to move forward.  I had successfully defended my dissertation proposal and I wrote several dissertation research grants in a very short timespan.  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 demands 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.


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2 responses to “Archaeology and Motherhood: Thoughts from the Trenches by Erica Dziedzic

  1. Thank you for sharing Erica. No one has posted to this blog in a long time. As a regular visitor and contributor here, I had hoped to see a lot more posting by assorted people. By the way, I am the dad of two children, and we are approaching retirement age. “The end of the century was approaching, and Lame Beaver had lived half of it and had seen many things…”

    Hillary Clinton was absolutely right, and so are you. It does take a whole village to raise a child. Once upon an ancient time, we had those villages and they worked. Somewhere along the line, we lost the village and need to find a way to get it back again in some functional way.

    One of the things my wife and I were not prepared for is the “synergy” that occurs when a second child arrives. Our first child was a buzzer and an innate explorer with a prime internal directive (find a way to kill yourself—any way that works will do). To be quite honest with you, she doggone near killed us. It was like having 5 children in one. Our son who came along later was more laid back. However, putting the two of them together had a synergistic effect that made coping with family life and two full-time careers much more difficult than with just one child or a laid back two, but we did make it through. Our daughter is now 20 and in college, and our son is 12. It all starts calming down when the youngest gets to be about 6 years old—just in case you were wondering.

    Given this upcoming synergy and the fact that you will be finishing a dissertation in the middle of it, you are going to need some “extra village” to help you along. Start working on finding some extra village. One of the hardest things we had to deal with was finding competent and reliable babysitters and nursery schools. It pays to start looking for them as early as possible.

    You probably already know this, but I will mention it just to be constructive. If you are in the very early months of your pregnancy and morning sickness is not a big problem (and without making yourself miserable), I would try to get as much done on that dissertation as possible before the big day arrives—even if it means cutting back on the outreach work. Sorry to say, this world has many regret-filled ABDs who discounted the need to get it done and just let it slide for some combination of reasons. You have worked too hard up to this point to allow that part of your life to go “unfulfilled” in the end. I almost made my own version of that same mistake in graduate school and had to “rush up” a 263-page thesis in the final few months left before my time ran out. When the rush was all over and I had made it across the finish line by a nose, I stuck my back against an interior concrete wall, let my butt end slide slowly towards the floor, did a huge “whew” exhale out of my mouth as I slid down the wall, and said, “If I had known it was going to be like that nerve-wracking rush, I would have finished up that monster in my first year or two rather than doing all of that intervening paid research, lab work, and small project stuff that caused me to put off the thesis for years. My wife and I had zero children at that time. If I had had two kids in tow, I am not at all sure that I would have made it across the finish line. I think you can make it, and you have my support. The key is to have nothing else in your immediate field of vision except those two kids and that dissertation. Taking on a lot of extra roles, projects, and responsibilities would not be a good idea. You need to stay focused and minimize distractions.

  2. ericadz

    Hello, Dover1952! Thank you for your reply! I found it very helpful and honest. I am in the later stages of pregnancy and am working hard to get as much done before Baby #2 arrives. I have come to terms with the fact that the dissertation will not be finished until next year, so I am building my village and then some to make sure I reach my goal.

    I agree that taking on too many responsibilities at once only prolongs the dissertation process – I am definitely at full capacity right now. Moreover, completing my degree with one, and soon two, little ones often feels overwhelming. On the other hand, my recent participation in public outreach and my children have become the biggest motivating factors for me to finish my degree. Being active in an archaeology-themed educational program has been instrumental in helping me visualize the kind of career I would like to have post-PhD. Most important, I want my children to know that I accomplished my goals, instead of giving up when the going got tough. In hindsight, finishing my degree before children came into the picture would have been easier and now I often feel panicked when I think about how I am actually going to get it all done. However, my children and my outreach activities have given me a kind of motivation and excitement for my work that I haven’t felt in a very long time. This is the feeling I hold onto whenever I break into a cold sweat about my career goals and obligations. It does help; this and building my village.

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