Free to Be. . . Mom and Me: Finding My Complicated Truth as an Academic Daughter

September 14th, 2009

Megan Pincus Kajitani was writing a series of articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education when Miriam Peskowitz (one of our wish-list writers) introduced us. We read her work and knew we wanted her wise, compassionate voice in the collection.

We were surprised by her story, because we didn’t realize that Megan was an academic daughter herself! As she writes in her essay:

“A PhD in accounting, my mother has gone from popular professor at one major business school to highly respected department chair in another, was thoroughly present for me and my brother growing up, and has a happy, thirty-seven-year marriage to my father, who is also an academic. She defies the studies I have cited in my Chronicle of Higher Education columns on the challenges of career/family balance in academia—studies that show women on the tenure track are less likely to have as many children as they want, and to make their marriages work, than tenured men or nontenured women. Several of my academic mentors fit the studies’ disheartening description. But my mom pretty much has it all.”

“My mother never pressured me to have an academic career like hers, and she never pressured me to get married or have babies. In fact, her pressure actually came in the form of subtly urging me not to marry young (even though she did and got “lucky,” as she calls it). The only outright requests she ever made of me were that I not become a cheerleader and I not pursue a career in acting, my adolescent fantasy. The cheerleader request was for obvious reasons from a 1970s feminist mother (and is a request I plan to pass down to my own daughter), and the acting because, living south of Hollywood, we knew many talented but starving actors, and CPA Mom didn’t like the odds. Other than that, she just told me to do what made me happy.”

Megan did enter a PhD program, as she describes in her essay, and then decidesdto leave — a decision that opened a pathway to a new career as an academic adviser and then a freelance writer and editor.

After publishing her essay in Mama, PhD, Megan contributed to the Mama, PhD blog on Inside Higher Ed, writing a weekly advice column, The Career Coach Is In. Today, she writes, “I’ve continued to evolve as a freelancer since Mama, PhD came out. After leaping at the great opportunity to be a personal story editor for Miriam Peskowitz on her chapters of The Daring Book for Girls, I remembered just how much I love editing books (one of my pre-academia jobs). So I jumped a the next opportunity, to edit the 4th edition of the teacher-training bestseller, The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, and then got to work with Miriam again on The Double-Daring Book for Girls. I am finding book editing to fit very well with mothering for me, and I now have three more book editing projects in the works. My writing these days comes when the mood strikes, as did the essay about my first pregnancy that Mothering Magazine published last fall.

“On the personal side, I’ve greatly enjoyed the ability to be present at home for my daughter Senna, who was just six months old when I wrote my Mama, PhD essay. She is now three-and-a-half and a thriving, precocious and imaginative child. She also happens to have multiple, life-threatening food allergies, which has had a big impact on our life, and helps me see all the more clearly why being home with her is right for me. I helped launch a small, allergy-safe co-op preschool group starting this fall, and when she hits kindergarten age I will begin homeschooling her, with the great back-up of my husband Alex, who was named 2009 California Teacher of the Year last winter. Senna now also has a younger brother, Kallan Joseph, who was born in January at home in a beautifully smooth water birth. I had similar third-trimester complications with Kallan’s pregnancy, so once again I was thankful to be working on my own time at home, which I found a lot less stressful than trying to commute and unsuccessfully to negotiate a job-share as I was during my first pregnancy.

“In short, I feel as if everything for me is happening as it should, and I’m thankful for the flexibility I have to make choices about my family and work life. I don’t see myself returning to academia any time in the foreseeable future, although I continue to correspond with many academic friends and, even though I am not officially career counseling anymore, I always answer the emails I still get from PhD students struggling with their career decisions. I’ve also helped a lot of friends with their resumes!”

We’re not surprised–and we’re very happy–to hear Megan sounding so peaceful and content with how she has managed life since leaving academia. You can find out more about Megan and her work at her website,