Family and Fieldwork

I have been following two topics with particular interest over the past year. The first centers around Family and the Academy. There have been some great posts reflecting upon and highlighting challenges and strategies for balancing the demands of a job and a family (e.g. getting a research career established with small babies) and issues such as maternity/paternity leave.

The other centers around Fieldwork. Posts and discussions here have ranged from the joys of close field sites and the defense of distant field sites to working in a field camp. Within this realm I would also include the great series over at the New York Times – Scientists At Work – which unfortunately has come to a close after 3 years.

What I wish to reflect upon here is the intersection of these two: family and fieldwork. Despite the various posts and articles I have come across concerning the above two topics, I have yet to see much if any discussion situated at the intersection. Though perhaps I haven’t looked in the right places!

It was just about a year ago my wife and I got the great news that we were expecting. At the time I was in the midst of prepping for my comprehensive exams. I was both excited and overwhelmed all at once. Perhaps a bit naive, I thought I was going to be able to get the majority of my fieldwork done before the arrival of our son. Moreover, I quickly convinced myself that’s what I ‘needed’ to do. While I was still wrapping my head around how our life was about to change with the addition of a new member to the family I certainly wasn’t in any place to grasp what it would look like to do fieldwork with an infant!

However, my wife was quick to point out that: a) I was not going to be in field during the third trimester; b) she wanted to travel with me; and c) she wanted to learn more about what I did! All very legitimate reasons. She made a good case! Needless to say, I quickly came to terms with the fact that my fieldwork was not going to happen so soon and began to embrace a new vision for my fieldwork that included an adventure with my family.

At the end of June I came down here for a short visit with a number of objectives which included conducting some preliminary interviews. As if being away from my son for the first time wasn’t hard enough, I also had to envision our time in the field as a family and the logistics associated with that. First and foremost, I needed to track down and secure a place for us to live. The combination of not having a vehicle and having an infant meant that there were a number of criteria that needed to be met (e.g. laundry on site or within walking distance, groceries/ food in close proximity). And I was thinking about the accommodations with regards to safety as it is currently still hurricane season. Now, because I was going to be working in three different communities, I needed to find three different places that met the criteria! Despite the underlying stress and uncertainty during the trip, overall it was a success and I was able to line up housing for our time together in the field.

As I outlined in my previous post which served as an introduction to my fieldwork and research, I’ve got my work cut out for me. That equates to busy days, possibly odd hours and some potential travel. This leads me to one of my main concerns for my family, loneliness in a cross-cultural setting. I count ourselves lucky in many regards as we will have a few visitors during our time (equalling almost half of our time here). My wife had a great sales pitch. Her mantra – “We’ve got a place for you to stay, flights are reasonable and you have to pay for food no matter where you are!” I have also met some wonderful people in the communities where we will be staying.

While I’m sure there will no doubt be challenges, it will also be an amazing adventure to be shared with my family. Perhaps too having my family with me will serve as a way to connect with people in the communities and across the island – a bridge between cultures and strangers. Perhaps I may be perceived and received by the communities and individuals I meet as more than just an outsider from the ‘North.’

My family arrives today. I am beyond thrilled to have them join me in the field for the next few months. I’d be lying though to say I’m not nervous and apprehensive about how this will all play out. Perhaps too is has to do with still feeling like a novice at this whole parenting thing! While the adventure is just beginning, I wouldn’t want it any other way and often chuckle to myself as I think back on my ‘rational’ thinking and justification for wanting to get my fieldwork done before our son arrived.

Stay tuned as I hope to reflect further upon my experience with #familyinthefield over the next few months.