Back to school, back to work

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For many, the weekend (TFI Friday!) and seasonal holidays (“Autoresponse: your e-mail will not be answered”) are a blessed respite from the grind of work. For working parents however, they signal the shift from part-time to full-time childcare.And whether it’s the end of the weekend or the end of the holidays, it’s hard to describe the euphoria of getting back to business after a spell of nonstop parenting.

Of course, you love your kids. That’s a given. It’s amazing to watch them grow, to witness them discovering the world around them, and you know how important it is to see those changes at first hand – and how much it will mean to them in later years that you took the time to be around. 21st century parenting is all about sharing the load, savouring the moment, and giving those most precious of modern commodities: your time, and your attention. It’s also about neither partner in a relationship being forced to give up their career in order to become a round-the-clock carer, which potentially means both parents doing this most modern of juggling acts. But at the same time…

Kids are exhausting. Kids are infuriating. Kids demand that precious attention all the time. Kids piss on the floor, shit their pants, scream, cry, wail, howl, blackmail, and refuse. They ruin your sex life. They demolish your free time. And they barely let you have a moment’s peace. They test your sanity, your patience, and sometimes even your faith in humankind. They can be horrible little bastards that make you wonder if you accidentally exposed your gametes to some nasty mutagen. They make you question what kind of child you really were, and if your own parents are due a long-overlooked but heartfelt apology.

Compared to that, the workplace is a sanctuary. In the lab there may be publication stress, career anxiety, research headaches, and teaching deadlines – but oh, what a blessed relief they are after several weeks of nappies, unsalted food, and a level of repetitive game-playing that makes 2 Unlimited’s “No Limit” feel as varied and sophisticated as Leonard Cohen. The sheer bliss of being able to tackle problems that relate to you instead of your offspring is a selfish, joyous, and wonderfully indulgent pleasure.

Lab time is me time. Having children means subsuming your own needs, wants, and plans for any given time period, sometimes at extremely short notice. Work means being able – for a few hours a least – to think about yourself again, and take action. Your research, your career, your problems. Part of what makes parenting so hard is the forced realisation that these things, no matter how important they are to you, have to be set to one side when parenting duties come along. To fight that duty is to invite even greater stress, and potentially lay the foundations for bitterness and regret on one or both sides of the parenting equation in years to come. 

Should you feel guilty about being excited at the thought of leaving your children behind and going back to the lab? Of course not. Labwork is easier than parenting. Much easier.

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