Friday, 11 March 2016

Parenting Stories - A Successful Teen Dad

Last month was the start of my new regular segment - Parenting Stories - where I hope to provide readers with an insight into the lives and struggles of other Mums and Dads. The first post discussed the challenges associated with bringing up a young family after travelling to a new country, and the difficulties associated with such a move.
For the second instalment in this new segment, I asked Thomas McGlone to talk about his experiences of parenting. As someone who was also a teen parent, he has proved that having children young does not necessarily hinder your career progression, but can add to the level of difficulty you may experience...

Thanks to Nikki from 'Young Mum Getting Rid of a Bum' for her help with the picture :)

"Richard Branson once said, make sure you spend quality time with your children – they are the only real thing you will leave behind in life. These words are quite poignant and often help me try to put things into perspective. I have two sons, Gavin and Thomas Jnr who are 13 and 4 respectively. Myself and my partner had Gavin when we were very young – I was only 17 at the time and obviously we had Thomas Jnr a bit later in life. In all honesty things were quite difficult in the early stages of having Gavin – what do a couple of teenagers really know about the world, let alone how to bring up a child? I think one of the main problems was that everyone else seemed to constantly voice their opinions on what we should be doing and it often felt like we weren’t the ones in control. With Thomas Jnr we rarely listen to anyone else’s advice, we just do what we feel is right! Obviously the second child is always a little more relaxing than the first, based on experience, but I guess we were a bit more motivated than most to make sure we were the ones making the decisions. I think it definitely shows in their characters today – Thomas Jnr is generally very contented and relaxed about most things and he has a strong confidence, even at 4 years old, in the way he views the world. Gavin is definitely a little more insecure – I can only believe we did the best we could under the circumstances and hope he agrees he had a contended childhood; I think he does at the moment anyway!
So obviously I had Gavin all the way through my academic career, undergraduate, postgraduate and currently postdoctoral studies. Some of this was tough, no doubt about it, but not just for me, also for my partner. Lynn is really a great and strong woman; she has come through a lot and still remains content. A strong piece of advice I would give to others is try to keep the mother happy and the children will come natural! It doesn’t have to be much; a quiet night in, just the two of you, a night away, just so she remembers you appreciate her. I also see it as important to have at least one thing that each you both enjoy doing separately. An exercise class, retail therapy, a regular coffee with a friend – really just a bit of breathing space. Couples who work together and play together will generally find it difficult to de-stress, at least the ones I have seen. We were also very fortunate to have close family nearby, which I think is important if it’s an option because we all know parenting can be a full time job and it only escalates as they get older! In our case, maybe we had too much family around and tried to be as fair as possible when remembering all the grandparents! Anyway, we had lots of support.
Academia can really be a brutal environment, especially beyond PhD level. I recall I published a short article in chemistry world related to this topic. I’d love to say that it gets easier after a PhD, you know, put your life on hold for 3 and a half years (at least) and after that it’s just one big ride on the gravy train. Being a postdoc means doing all the same things you did as a PhD student but in addition, people will expect more and there be greater responsibilities such as supporting students, lab management and considering research grants. In fact, depending on the academic, you might find yourself practically running a research group! You may get paid a little better than a PhD student but don’t raise this subject with your banking, business or medical friends – if money is your thing you are definitely in the wrong field! Don’t get me wrong however, for someone who has a genuine passion for research and wants to drive their ideas and creativity forward, postdoctoral work can be extremely rewarding. There is a high degree of freedom to explore your ideas that doesn’t come with many other jobs, generally there are opportunities to travel to very nice places in the world and you will almost certainly be working with great colleagues who are stimulating, exciting and highly motivated. I guess what I’m saying is that you just have to decide what it is that you want to do.
Nowadays, I have been in the postdoc game for quite a while and find myself typically working around 50 hours per week. Part if this is completely my own doing – I have been blessed (or cursed) with a relentless ambition which drives me to constantly compete with others and really exceed what is expected of me from my peers. It is always in the back of my mind that I should be spending more time with my kids but I also want to create opportunities for them in the future through my success. So I guess it is all a balance really. I generally avoid bringing work home at the weekends so where I miss out during the week I try to make up for then. I recently saw a fairly disgusting comment from an academic advising a postdoc that he would never make it in academia as he was only working 40 hours per week due to commitments with his family. I know many academics with families who are doing a damn good job in both aspects i.e. it is perfectly possibly to have a good work-life balance. I guess the combination of having kids early in life and trying to establish yourself in this field at the same time is somewhat extra challenging but I certainly haven’t given up hope!"

If anyone has any comments for Thomas, please leave them below or head on over to his Twitter. He is not a blogger, (so I can't link back to his site) but I will ensure any comments left here will find their way back to him.

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  1. This is beautiful! I love hearing stories of awesome dads! I was a young mom,and after a traumatic birth and all-his father left. I am happy to say that almost 5 years later now he has been adopted by my husband and it's been awesome. But to many times do we hear negative stories about dads! It's awesome this one didn't turn out that way,and it didn't hinder his career!!

    1. I know, it's such a great story and I really admire him for not letting it affect his career! :)


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