This is about balancing career and family, but in this case family does not refer to one's offspring or spouse, but to the rest of one's family. This is a complex topic that includes difficult issues such as caring for aging/ailing parents or siblings, but today I will mention two other issues that have thus far impacted me more directly:
1. Collision of important Career Activities and important Family Activities. Recent example: A month or so ago, I wrote about how I had agreed last fall to give an invited talk at a conference in the summer. In fact, I also made plans for students, postdocs, and me to visit international colleagues to do Research directly after this conference. Months after making these plans, my brother got an awesome new job involving being in charge of some major military stuff. There will be a party. The party will be exactly during my conference and international travel.
My family thinks I should go to my brother's party/ceremony, but to do so would require backing out of several commitments involving the conference, not to mention research travel and activities that require my presence and active participation. If I had known about the ceremony/party thing last fall, I would have made different plans, but by the time the party was announced, I felt it was too late to change plans. Because I refuse to cancel or change my plans, my family thinks I am making a statement that my family is less important than my career.
None of the women of my mother's generation or older ever had a career, so I suppose they can't imagine making this choice, nor can they imagine that for me it isn't as simple as Career > Brother. Even if I say that's not the case, actions speak louder blah blah blah.
I tried to convince a friend to go to the party and impersonate me. All she would have to do is stand around and make the occasional sarcastic comment, and no one would notice she wasn't me. Alas, the opportunity to go to a party with my family on a military base was not alluring.
Earlier this spring, my travels brought me to my brother's city of residence, but he was out of town on business so I didn't see him. No one (including me) suggested that he change his plans, but one relative remarked at my poor planning to schedule my visit while my brother was away, as if I had a choice. In my family, men have Careers and women work if they want to, but it's kind of an optional activity that somehow isn't as serious as what the Men do. The fact that I do this bizarre professor/science job makes it even harder for my family to understand what I do.
I know that my relatives are proud of me for having a Ph.D. and being a professor, but then something like this recent event happens and these feelings of pride are overridden by more fundamental feelings about how things should work in a Family.
So, I am not going to my brother's party, though I will think of some appropriate way to congratulate him. For his last promotion, I got him a chainsaw woodcarving, so I have set the bar pretty high for myself in terms of gifts. In contrast, my brother, who has not similarly acknowledged my advancement in my career, has set the bar pretty low in terms of his gifts to me, so I am not too stressed about this. (though I will accept suggestions, as long as they are bizarre yet tasteful)
2. My so-called career has taken me away from the region of the country where the rest of my family lives, so I really must not care about them all that much. I suppose there are many places in the country/world like this, but few people move away from the place where I am from. I am sure more young people leave it now than 20-30 years ago, but most of my friends from high school still live in or near our town. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the part I don't like is that people who do choose to leave are seen as turning their backs on their home. When I decided to go to college in a different state, more than one person said to me, more as a statement than a question "So we aren't good enough for you?".
I left home long ago (by choice) and have not returned to live there (by the vagaries of the academic job market), and this fact has repercussions to this day. For example, a few years ago I tried to talk to my mother's doctor about my concerns about her deteriorating memory and cognitive abilities, and instead got a lecture about how, because I have chosen to live elsewhere, I can't possibly really care about my mother and so it was a waste of his time for this doctor to talk to me because I was probably just trying to ease my conscience about living so far away. [note: 'far away' in this context means anything more than a 45 minute drive]
There are a lot of great things about growing up in a fairly small place, but people there can be a bit unforgiving if you leave.
I am doing pretty well at being a professor and a mom, but perhaps not so well at being a daughter and a sister. I don't think I am a terrible daughter/sister, though, despite some drops in my approval rating in recent family opinion polls. I visit my relatives*, keep in touch by phone/email, enjoy sending gifts and cards for various occasions and non-occasions, and feel reasonably well connected to the rest of the family**. Right now, my approval rating is probably as low as it has ever been, but I am going to hang in there until not even one relative is willing to vote for me. I seem to be channeling Hillary Clinton and that is not good. It must be the stress of having 82% of my family annoyed with me right now.
* Way more often than my brother does, though I realize it is neither constructive nor mature to point this out.
** With the exception of a cousin who carries a concealed weapon and has read nothing but golfing magazines for the past 15 years, and another cousin who was living in a shed and found God ("In the shed?" I asked, causing a further drop in my family approval rating) and who now wants to travel the world distributing Bibles to desperately poor people in violence-torn countries.
5 months ago