The Transition from Fraternity/Sorority Professional to Motherhood… or Was It a Collision?
Cassie Gerhardt, University of North Dakota
Transitions are part of life and are certainly part of careers. Although never easy, transitions provide opportunities for growth, development, and the renewal of goals. In many cases, a transition in one aspect of a person’s life unavoidably impacts other aspects of a person’s life. For example, a change in position or career will likely impact one’s personal life due to relocation or a change in professional expectations.
Transitions have always been exhilarating for me, as I have enjoyed the opportunity they provide for renewal and refocusing. When I learned I was pregnant, I recognized that the birth of a child would certainly impact both personal and professional aspects of my life, but little did I realize that the transition would be more like a head on collision. For me, the word transition describes a gradual change from one state to another, but there was nothing gradual about the transitions that came with motherhood. With the addition of the word “mom” to my credentials, I have learned a great deal through on the job training.
It takes a village to raise a child and to advise a fraternity/sorority community. I am fortunate to have a fabulous partner with whom to raise my sons. We do not approach parenting from a 50-50 perspective, but rather approach parenting from the perspective that it is all even in the end. Sometimes I can only give 30%, and he contributes the other 70%, but then there are times that he can only give 20%, and I cover the other 80%. It takes a lot of communication and teamwork, but our sons always come first. It is also nice that I have contact information in my office for more than 350 potential babysitters.
Adding children to my list of responsibilities meant that I couldn’t be available and accessible to fraternity/sorority members whenever they needed me. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it is important to utilize the assistance of a village in advising a fraternity/sorority community. I can’t be at everything, so fraternity/sorority members have learned to rely upon additional campus resources. It has allowed students to understand that they are supported by others beyond me.
I do not make excuses for my kids, but I also do not use my kids as an excuse. There are times when I need to be away from the office, and I am not immediately accessible to my students. Whether it is a doctor’s appointment, school play, or a child’s illness, there are times that my sons come first. I make no excuses for that. However, there are also times when I need to be at work. It could be a crisis situation, awards programs, or major event. I recognize that my career requires more than the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, and I don’t use my sons as an excuse to avoid after-hours work commitments.
Sometimes the two worlds collide; such as the time my husband was out of town and there was a major fraternity/sorority program occurring (which all of my go-to babysitters were attending). In that case, I took my sons, explained the situation to my students, confirmed that the program got off to a start, and left before the end to get my sons home, bathed, and to bed. It is important for my sons to see my students and for my students to see my sons, as I think both better understand my situation when they get to meet one another.
Children bring unbalance and balance to your life. Although I am not saying that everyone needs to have a family to achieve balance, I do know that having children has brought some work-life balance to my world. Before children, working a 12 hour day was a normal occurrence. As the “lead kid-getter” (unless other arrangements have been made), I have to leave the office by 5:30 p.m. as my childcare center closes at 6:00 p.m. and charges $1 a minute for every minute I’m late. Just as I avoided fines as an undergraduate sorority member, I avoid fines for being the “late mom.”
There are certainly other (cheaper) ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, but I know that I do not stay at the office as much as I once did, not because all my work is done, but because I have two boys who need to be picked up, fed, read to, bathed, and tucked in. Having kids has also allowed me to engage with other parents, and thus my social circle now extends beyond 18-to-22-year-old college students.
My perspective of the fraternity/sorority experience will never be the same. Before I had children, I viewed the fraternity/sorority experience through the lens of an individual who had a positive undergraduate sorority experience and as an alumna who had been fortunate enough to find ways to remain actively engaged in her sorority. As a mom, I now view the fraternity/sorority experience through the lens of a mother of two sons.
Before children, part of me viewed risk management issues from a perspective similar to most of my students: it will likely never happen to me or my students. Now, I view risk management from the perspective of: it could happen to my sons. When I started thinking of my sons as the new members of an organization or the attendees at a fraternity party, I started asking far more detailed and specific risk management questions.
I hope my sons will one day choose to join a fraternity and that they will choose a chapter that is able to enrich their collegiate experience and challenge them to be better men. I was once the fraternity/sorority professional who talked to fraternity members as a sorority woman. My transition to parenthood means that I now talk to fraternity members as the mother of future fraternity men.
In the end, no matter how much advice people give or how many parenting magazines you read, it is difficult to fully prepare for the life transitions that come with a newborn baby. There is no one thing anyone can do to be the best parent or the best fraternity/sorority professional. Instead, there are a number of things that contribute to being a great parent or a great fraternity/sorority professional. Transitioning my focus from trying to be the best parent and the best professional to being great in both roles has allowed me to accept the fact that while I may not be the best, I can be successful in both roles.