Separation – by Colleen Mouw

In an effort to enhance our web presence, and reach a broader audience, MPOWIR will be soliciting and posting blogs from members of the oceanography community. Blogs will feature advice and opinion pieces about topics like teaching, balancing work and life, negotiations, article and book reviews, and career tracks in oceanography. While posts like this have appeared in the past, they have been fairly sporadic. This new effort will bring new content to the website on a more regular basis. If you are interested in contributing (and please feel free to suggest ideas outside of those listed here) contact Sarah Clem (sarah.clem@duke.edu). Thank you as always for your interest in MPOWIR and its programs. And without further ado, a post by Colleen Mouw.

Separation

Colleen Mouw
Assistant Professor, Michigan Technological University

Dual careers don’t always land in the same place and when there are children involved it can be particularly heart wrenching to live apart from your significant other. So you did all the right things; studied hard, followed your dreams and made them all happen for yourself. Now you have this great job, but there isn’t the same great opportunity for your significant other. I’ve recently ‘hit a dual career wall’. I was caught very unexpected with this situation and sharing my feelings and perspectives about this with all of you is somehow a form of temporary therapy.

“How did we get here?” I ask my husband this almost every time that we’re able to be together. Never in my life was I willing to live apart from my spouse. If an opportunity meant living apart, than I didn’t want it. Family has always been first and we had always been able to make it work out; through graduate school, a post-doc, a research scientist position and initially into a faculty position. We’ve lived 4 different places in the 13 years that we’ve been married and somehow all of these were a step forward for both of us, until the last 9 months.

Opportunity doesn’t always turn out to be what it seems and that’s how we ended up here. He’s in marketing, communications, and new business development. Seems like something that could be done almost anywhere, right? Well, it turns out anywhere with a reasonably sized metropolitan area, which my current location is not. We currently live 8 hours apart (by car) and manage to see each other most weekends. Doesn’t sound too bad… I suppose it’s not and I know there are many other partnerships that are in similar (or even more difficult) situations, I just never thought mine would be one of them.

‘Stepping stones’ is my new reminder posted in plain view every time I look up from the computer. I’m here because others believe in me and provided an opportunity to me and I owe it to myself to make the most of the opportunity. Any of you that are parents understand the demand of what single parenting means, so I won’t elaborate on all the struggles. I want to find the positivity in a difficult situation to help myself and help others with similar struggles or who may someday find themselves in this situation.

Humor is great therapy to almost any situation, so here is my humor list of things that I like most about living without my spouse…

  • I can do almost anything my way.
  • There is one less person to pick up after (when I put his things away, they stay away).
  • I’m not the family cook, so I’m getting some essential on the job culinary training.
  • I don’t have to explain my complicated (but very efficient) schedule over and over.
  • I have one more really good reason to say ‘no’ more often.

Unexpected life situations make us see things differently. I try to shift my frustration and agitation about the situation to visualizing life together again. Now that there are two less hands during the workweek, I’ve realized many things are just not essential and don’t need to be done. I’ve also realized how fortunate I am to have created a group of supportive people. Students and staff have offered to help in many ways that have been heartwarming. While I can’t do it all myself, I can manage this with great people in the wings. MPOWIR is one of those amazing resources to help me through.

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