Texas Tech professor Courtney Meyers talks about her experience being a working parent and how her husband being a stay-at-home father has helped her career.
Working Parents Day, observed this year on Sept. 16, is a day dedicated to parents who work hard both at home and on the job to provide for their families. Being a parent is demanding, especially when it involves balancing a full-time job, and many parents have to make sacrifices for both their careers and their children.
Courtney Meyers, an associate professor of agricultural education and communications at Texas Tech University, is all too familiar with the trials and tribulations that come with being a working parent. Courtney and her husband Daniel have two daughters, Isabel, 7, and Amelia, 4, and are embarking on the parenting adventure in a less traditional way: with Courtney working full-time while Daniel is a stay-at-home dad.
Courtney was born in Kansas, where she earned her bachelor's degree in agricultural communications and journalism from Kansas State University. She continued on to earn her master's from the University of Arkansas and her Ph.D. from the University of Florida.
“I met my husband at Kansas State University where we earned our undergrad degrees,” Courtney said. “When I finished my master's at the University of Arkansas, we got married and moved to Florida.”
Courtney received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida in Gainsville, which soon led to a job offer from Texas Tech.
“I think Daniel knew when he left his job to go to Florida with me that my goal to pursue a Ph.D. would probably lead to a better paying position than he had,” Courtney said. “He knew what he was getting into when he married me.”
When Courtney and Daniel moved to Lubbock in 2008, their daughter Isabel was only 6 weeks old.
“At the time, we thought it would be best to just wait to find childcare until we were more settled in Lubbock and could do some research,” Courtney said. “But now it's seven years later and my husband is still staying at home with our kids.”
After staying home with Isabel for a while after the move, Daniel said he couldn't imagine leaving her.
“It really was a Godsend that he did that,” Courtney said. “My first year of teaching was a blur; I was so sleep deprived and trying to figure out a new university system and new classes and new advising responsibilities, but I never had to worry about the girls being taken care of because he was always there.”
With the requirements of Courtney's job often being very time-consuming, she said Daniel being at home has helped give her peace of mind when she's away from home.
“I don't have to worry about taking off time if the girls are sick, and when I travel I know that someone's at home taking care of them so I don't have to worry about finding other childcare,” Courtney said. “Our younger daughter goes to speech therapy sometimes up to six times a week, so it's been a blessing that he's been able to take her to that.”
Courtney said though they considered hiring childcare so Daniel could go back to work, the cost didn't seem like much of an increase compared to the benefits of having someone at home for Isabel and Amelia.
“Daniel grew up with a stay-at-home mom, so he had that model and that idea of what it was like to come home after school to someone who's there and could pick you up and drop you off and do all those things,” Courtney said. “It's nice that he had that role model growing up and now he gets to be that person.”
Though Daniel is one of very few stay-at-home dads in his daughters' schools, Courtney said his family has been supportive of his decision, despite the nontraditional stigma still attached to the role.
“I think the trend is there, more and more, that as women perhaps become the higher earners in the household, more men are becoming comfortable with the idea of staying home,” Courtney said. “He's never bored. I think if I stayed home I would waste time, but he's always got housework, he's remodeled most of our house, he'll go shopping and cook and keep everything organized.”
Courtney said she's proud of Daniel, and knows a lot of her success at Texas Tech is due to his willingness to take care of things at home.
“It takes a strong individual to do what he's done and stay home with our girls,” Courtney said. “I'm really thankful he's OK with that.”
Courtney began at Texas Tech as an assistant professor in agricultural communications and has since been recognized for her teaching and research abilities. She has co-authored a number of award-winning research papers, serves as a co-sponsor for the Texas Tech chapter of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, and is currently serving a two-year term as Research Director for the Association for Communication Excellence.
Courtney said having children hasn't slowed down her career, but has actually helped her excel as a teacher.
“I'm starting to recognize unique differences in my own children and appreciate that about them, and that extends to the way I treat students,” Courtney said. “By recognizing that students come from very diverse backgrounds and have different strengths, I've learned that just because a student may not be good in one area doesn't mean they won't be good in another. I think being a parent has made me a more well-rounded teacher.”
Along with helping her better appreciate her students' differences, Courtney said becoming a parent also has helped her better prioritize her time at work and home.
“I think having children perhaps makes you reprioritize where you spend your time,” Courtney said. “The time I spend at work, I really try to focus on work, and when I'm home, I try to focus on being at home.”
Courtney said one of the biggest things she's learned from being a working parent is how important balance is.
“When I get home in the evenings, I don't check my phone until they go to bed,” Courtney said. “If I do, there might be something I need to deal with, and then that takes away from my time with them. Also, more and more, I spend less time working on the weekends than I used to. I really try not to do that, and rather use the weekends as uninterrupted time with them.”
Though she sometimes wishes her schedule was less busy, Courtney said she has learned to make the best use of the time she does have with her daughters by allotting time for them that no one else can interrupt.
“Just little things like driving my oldest to school in the mornings lets us spend just a few minutes together,” Courtney said. “As long as I have things on my calendar that are theirs, nobody can interrupt that time.”
Courtney said as a working parent, it's important to know when to ask for help and to remember that perfection isn't expected.
“I read a quote once that there's no one way to be a perfect mom, but there's hundreds of ways to be a good one,” Courtney said. “I think not putting this pressure on myself that everything is going to be perfect all the time really helps. As a working parent, I have to forgive myself because there are just some things I can't make it to. There's always going to be some school programs or parent teacher conferences or volunteering in the classroom that I just can't get to. So learning to forgive myself when I can't do everything is really important.”
Courtney said all working parents have to devise their own system, and everyone is unique in the way they balance their responsibilities. Courtney said parenting is a team effort, and with the help of her supportive husband and a good work/home balance, she's figuring out what it takes to be both a professor and a mother.
“I'm very proud of my title as associate professor,” Courtney said. “I've worked very hard to get that. But what I'm more proud of are my titles of mother and wife. That's what's most important to me.”