Making Motherhood Work: Interview with Dr. Caitlyn Collins

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Today we feature Giovanna Rossi’s interview with Dr. Caitlyn Collins, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington University on the Well Woman Show, which aired on National Public Radio on May 13, 2022. In this interview, Dr. Collins talks about her award winning book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. The book is a cross-national interview study of 135 working mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States, about the experiences of working mothers in different countries, trying to get a sense for how they navigate employment and motherhood in places with very different policies and cultural attitudes about men and women and work and family. This is a transcription of the complete interview. To listen to the interview visit The Well Woman Show Podcast on NPR.

This focus on work and family arises in my research, because it’s two of the realms in which we spend so much of our waking hours. Though I agree with you completely that there’s plenty more to our lives other than our wage labor and our family time, so I love that you are thinking about this in a more holistic sense, and this is why I talk about justice in the book rather than balance.
I think balance, again, suggests that this is an individual’s job to just balance better, but justice reminds us that there is a political series of powers operating that shape our ability to live the sorts of whole good well lives that we want to lead. The truth is that we need to, I think, transform the public policies that give us more time in our day-to-day lives to operate as the sorts of well women that you mentioned, and I also think we need to transform some of our cultural beliefs about what really matters day in and day out.Caitlyn Collins

Giovanna Rossi:
Welcome to The Well Woman Show where we use intersectional feminism, mindfulness, leadership, and strategy to support smart women to change the world without anxiety, insecurity and burnout. On the show, we challenge the status quo and support you to unlearn harmful messages that keep you playing small, so you can activate your superpowers and live with joy, confidence, and ease. I’m your host, Giovanna Rossi.

Giovanna Rossi:
Hello, hello, well women, welcome to the show. On the show this month I interviewed Dr. Caitlyn Collins, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She studies gender inequality in the workplace and family life. Her award-winning book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving is a cross-national interview study of 135 working mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States.

Giovanna Rossi:
Dr. Collins is a featured speaker at the Work and Family Research Network Conference in June, and in fact, The Well Woman Show is a media partner. The Work and Family Research Network is an international organization dedicated to advancing the impacts of work-family scholarship on lives, practice, and policy. Information about joining them and the upcoming conference can be found at wfrn.org.

Giovanna Rossi:
I’ll be interviewing several WFRN scholars leading up to the conference, and you can find them all at npr.org and search for The Well Woman Show. As always, the links and information are at wellwomanlife.com/radio. The Well Woman Show is thankful for support from the Well Woman Academy at wellwomanlife.com/academy. I’m speaking with Dr. Caitlyn Collins this morning. Welcome to the show.

Caitlyn Collins:
Thank you for having me.

Giovanna Rossi:
Oh, it’s so good to talk to you. Dr. Collins, I want to get started by just asking you to share with listeners who are you in the world today?

Caitlyn Collins:
I am coming to you today in my professional capacity as an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. I conduct research on gender inequality in the workplace and family life, and I’m here today to chat with you all about a book I published a couple of years ago about the experiences of working mothers in different countries, trying to get a sense for how they navigate employment and motherhood in places with very different policies and cultural attitudes about men and women and work and family.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yes, we are going to get into all of that. I just want to make sure that we give some space and time to just really understand who you are in the world, besides your professional title and all of what you do professionally. How else would you describe yourself in the world?

Caitlyn Collins:
Thank you. It’s nice to have a chance to integrate the personal and the professional in this capacity. I think of myself relationally a lot. I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a partner, soon to be a mother for the first time, and my interest in this topic of studying the experiences of working mothers comes from having been raised by a phenomenal working mother as a young child who watched my own mom who was a phenomenal employee in the world of sales and marketing, but also had a hard time managing her family commitments with her work commitments. I developed an interest in women’s rights from observing my own mom’s experience growing up, and then my own experience as a young adult.

Caitlyn Collins:
So I would describe myself as a passionate feminist, someone who loves to read and to travel, to spend time outside, and I have tried to create a career trajectory for myself that integrates the personal and the professional, so that my kind of political commitments that guide me in life align in some wonderful ways with my professional commitments too.

Giovanna Rossi:
Hmm. I love that. Okay, yeah, I think it’s really important to ask women and to hold space for this conversation of integrating the personal and the professional. Of course that’s what we do on The Well Woman Show a lot, but you’re sort of living it too, right? I really relate to that, because earlier in my career I was also living the professional commitment to really trying to identify economic security policy solutions for women and families, while also becoming a new mom myself. So you’re-

Caitlyn Collins:
You and I are both trying to achieve these and both in our own home lives, but also when we have our professional hats on too.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah, so it definitely makes it really interesting and relatable when you’re doing both, so I’m excited for you to start that adventure personally, like experiencing motherhood. I imagine it will impact your work, although you have such a long and solid professional background already in the area of work and family, I’d love to talk to you about your work.

Giovanna Rossi:
So as you said earlier, you’re an author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, and I would love to ask you, there’s so much in the book and we’ll get into some of the pieces, but big picture, how has the “Great Resignation,” we can talk about what that really means, how has that impacted your work and your conclusions and your thoughts about the work-family conflict and the solutions that you offer?

Caitlyn Collins:
The pandemic has upended life as we know it, right? I conducted the interviews for this book with working mothers in Sweden and Germany and Italy and the US prior to the pandemic, right? What I think the pandemic has underscored is the reality that all of us need care, all of us rely on care to stay afloat ourselves, but we also to provide it to other people in various ways. The pandemic really underscored how important a care infrastructure is to any given society.

Caitlyn Collins:
When schools and daycares closed down across the board in spring 2020, parents were suddenly left to fend for themselves around the clock. For especially white collar workers able to continue their jobs from home, this meant their home spaces were now workplaces, as well as classrooms, gyms, and daycare spaces for their children. I think we were already asking mothers, especially mothers in the US, to really do the impossible.

Caitlyn Collins:
The truth is that most mothers in the United States work for pay outside the home now and most of them do so full-time, and yet they still bear the disproportionate responsibility for the domestic sphere, caregiving and the housework that keeps households going. Now in the case of the pandemic, all of this was taking place in the same space around the clock, and the Great Resignation to me was an indicator that when something has to give, very often what ends up giving is mothers’ employment with, I argue, deleterious consequences for their own personal wellbeing, but also their professional trajectories too. So this Great Resignation has real consequences for women, both at home, but also in the world of work, and unfortunately I think it’s going to have lasting consequences.

Caitlyn Collins:
My cross-national approach in studying this topic feels relevant here, because other countries handled the pandemic very differently than did the United States, right? In other countries, let’s take Denmark for an example, a place I’ve written a little bit about, but Denmark is a place that had, for example, schools and daycares were the last places to close and the first places to reopen. Here in the United States, we so often saw, unfortunately in my way of thinking, in the pandemic bars and gyms and restaurants open, and yet schools and daycares closed, which honestly constitute the largest infrastructure for care we have in the United States.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah.

Caitlyn Collins:
Absent that care infrastructure, someone has to take care of the children, and so what often happens is that that work falls to mom’s shoulders. When care solutions fall through the cracks or evaporated in the pandemic, mom’s employment is what ended up buckling to make way for family commitments.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah, and I do think that the language around the Great Resignation really puts the burden on the individual, or blame rather, sort of, oh, it’s about people resigning. Actually-

Caitlyn Collins:
I have a problem with that framing, and it sounds like you do too.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yes, me too. You talk about this in your book, but I think it’s really relevant here with the Great Resignation, and I wrote a piece about this last year about it’s actually really a great recognition recognizing that actually this system doesn’t work for me as an individual, as a family, as a society. So, I like to reframe that. What do you think?

Caitlyn Collins:
I like that terminology about a recognition a lot. Part of what is a continued source of frustration, and also to be honest, a source of inequality I think in the United States is who already does recognize the importance of caregiving and the centrality of caregiving to daily life, and who has the luxury of not recognizing that day-to-day.

Caitlyn Collins:
The honest truth is in the United States, because so much of that work falls to women’s shoulders, women have long recognized how important this labor is, but we as a society do not tend to value the work, the labor, the very real work involved in caregiving, and the pandemic underscored just how central caregiving is to daily life.

Caitlyn Collins:
You mentioned this focus on the individual, which I think is really a uniquely American approach to understanding the stress, the overwhelm, the guilt, the burnout, the difficulties that parents face trying to navigate employment and caregiving. You mentioned this piece that you wrote. I authored something with three wonderful co-authors who have done work with me on parents employment in the pandemic, and we in The Washington Post op-ed talk about this is in reality more like the great push, rather than the Great Resignation to underscore the structural reasons why a lot of parents felt pushed out of the workplace, mothers in particular, right?

Caitlyn Collins:
So we have to, we have to situate women’s decisions to leave jobs or to reduce their working hours in the broader context of what they can envision for themselves, right? What do parents find possible for themselves? In the pandemic, many women felt pushed to a breaking point, and the one thing they were able to change structurally about their day-to-day life, the caregiving still had to happen, right? But for some women that meant stepping back from paid work, again, as I said, with plenty of negative consequences, but when something has to give, very often it’s women’s employment that ends up giving.

Caitlyn Collins:
I think framing it as the Great Resignation suggests that this is just women just making a free choice, when actually the choices available to them were deeply, deeply constrained. That to me is the heart of the inequality here. Women deserve to have a much broader set of options available to them when they think about how they want to combine caregiving and employment, if at all, and we live in a society that doesn’t offer women very many options.

Giovanna Rossi:
Right. Okay, I have so many things I want to ask you about. One thing, I just want to sort of really address this upfront here. You talk a little bit about this in your book, but there is a lack of diversity among the mother’s interviewed for your book, and you acknowledge that in the book. Where are you with that? Are you going to do a new study? Are you in the process of that? Can you put that in context? Because that’s so important right now to really include the voices and the experiences of all mothers.

Caitlyn Collins:
Absolutely. Yeah, so to clarify, my book focuses entirely on middle class working mothers across these four countries. These middle class mothers that I interview in these different societies are primarily white, though not all entirely. If you zoom out a little bit to think about the research design behind the project, the impetus behind the project was an interest in understanding how women navigate work and family life in different political and cultural contexts. So, the decision to focus primarily on middle class mothers was in part by necessity and part by choice.

Caitlyn Collins:
Holding social class sort of constant across the context helps enable a clearer lens on the role of policy and culture there, because I’m talking about similarly situated women, socioeconomically situated women across these different country sites. But the other really important point here is that I conducted my interviews with women in English across these countries.

Caitlyn Collins:
It’s the first study using one researcher across multiple country sites for a study on the impact of work-family policy on day-to-day life for mothers. I think it is a big trade-off to focus only on middle class mothers, but it gives me both analytic clarity and an ability to have these conversations just myself, rather than having to rely on a series of translators to chat with women across these countries. English speaking women are primarily middle class in these other societies, and so that was kind of a necessary restriction of the sample of women that I ended up speaking to.

Caitlyn Collins:
I think that studies on other groups of mothers, whether that’s a study on low income mothers, a study on racial and ethnic minority mothers or immigrant mothers, for example, a study on just single mothers, or even a study on fathers are all wonderful, important, timely, relevant projects, and I encourage, I hope that the project serves as an inspiration for other folks to kind of pick up the torch and carry these projects out.

Caitlyn Collins:
My own work is pivoting to look at the US childcare system here in the United States for my next project, so I’m not conducting the studies I just mentioned myself moving forward, but this is the beauty of academic research, right? We can’t do everything in one project. We are already standing on the shoulders of giants who came before us and publishing work on this topic, and my hope again is that more folks kind of extend the research, complicate the research, add nuance to my findings by talking with other groups of women.

Caitlyn Collins:
So the group that I’m speaking to is somewhat homogenous, but talking about that in an intersectional way is really important. How do my findings extend or not to other groups of women is a really important kind of open empirical question. So I’m hopeful this spurs other projects, but I’m also cautious in talking very specifically about the group of women I spoke to and not generalizing that to the experiences of all mothers.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, great clarification, thank you for that. I do want to ask you about, and you brought this up, we were talking a little bit about it just a few minutes ago, the idea that work-family conflict is really based in principles of free market capitalism as you say in your book, which is essentially a real focus on individualism. How on earth are we going to make some of these solutions happen with that as a foundation? Which I agree with, that that is the foundation of the country of the US.

Caitlyn Collins:
Yeah, just a little problem, right? Dismantling capitalism as a way to free women from the stress and overwhelm they feel day-to-day. No big deal.

Giovanna Rossi:
Right. It’s so important to acknowledge that as we’re working on these solutions to say, hey, these solutions are actually super challenging because of this, right?

Caitlyn Collins:
Yes, and it gets to the heart of how US society thinks of itself, right? What does it mean to be a US American, right? What are the values that we pride ourselves on as a nation? So often unfortunately to my way of thinking, that has to do with free market beliefs in capitalism, as you said. This is kind of a constant question that sociologists run up against, because we know that that system is fundamentally broken, that that system does not provide for families in the way that they need and it is a central mechanism through which we see sexism, racism, and white supremacy, homophobia, xenophobia unfolding, right? So we can’t just say, okay, let’s just go to sleep tonight, wake up tomorrow and start out with a new economic system in our country. That’s not how it’s going to work.

Caitlyn Collins:
Given that reality, there’s some sociologists, Erik Olin Wright being one of them, who have written around this idea of a real utopia, a real utopia. Meaning we have to be able to envision the world that we want to live in in order to try and get there. If we can’t picture it, if we can’t envision it, then we can’t try and work toward making that a reality. So, this idea of real utopias is that we need to kind of design the world in which we want to live, and then think about stepping stones that move us slowly but surely in a positive direction toward that vision, right?

Caitlyn Collins:
A lot of sociologists have done work around this. I’m certainly not the first or the last, but my book is an effort to get us closer to that by looking at other societies that already are leaps and bounds ahead of where the United States is, right? We don’t have to start from scratch in envisioning this better, kinder, gentler, more just, fair and inclusive world. So Erik Olin Wright, this wonderful sociologist passed away several years ago, talks about what he calls accessible way stations, right? What are these way stations that can move us in the right direction?

Caitlyn Collins:
Given the realities of free market capitalism, to my way of thinking in the United States, part of what this means is showing empirically that there is a strong economic and business case for more robust work-family policies in the United States. The beauty is that we have that empirical research now. For example, paid parental leave. There are robust benefits for paid parental leave, of course not only for children and for mothers and fathers, but research has shown quite clearly that offering paid parental leave offers a panoply of benefits to employers and also to the national economy.

Caitlyn Collins:
So if we are operating in this free market capitalistic society, we also have research to show that supporting working parents actually benefits us financially, benefits us economically. Making that argument to me is one kind of step in a positive direction toward [inaudible 00:18:00] these policies at a national level. So to me, that’s one way of thinking about what change looks like given the current structures in which we operate day-to-day.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I love that, because that is also the conclusion that I came to. When I was working in policy development years ago on creating more economic security for women and families, and one of the things we came up with was we really need business partners here and we’ve got to show business and employers that actually this benefits them. We created a whole program around that, which is now up and running and operating in several states to try to-

Caitlyn Collins:
That’s wonderful.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah, to really work with businesses and employers to say, “Look, if you do these things over here, you will actually benefit over here on your bottom line and all of that.”

Giovanna Rossi:
Dr. Collins, I want to ask you about this terminology that you use in the book that’s fascinating to me. Can you talk a little bit about it, this life world that you talk about, incorporating the individual, the organizational, the institutional, everything? Why that terminology and how does that help us understand work-family conflict and work-family justice, as you say?

Caitlyn Collins:
Yeah, so I write in the book about a need to understand the life worlds that mothers live in day in and day out, right? I talk about life worlds of motherhood, because I think, again, the US tendency to focus only on the individual obscures the reality that we do not live our lives separate from the social structures that shape our daily existence, right?

Caitlyn Collins:
So the families we live in, the homes we live in, the workplaces that we work in, the communities, the neighborhoods, the city, the county, the state, the country that we live in, all of those other levels in which we lead our lives, the other context, they’re nested, right? We don’t think about the big picture. It obscures our ability to recognize both the barriers and the opportunities we face in our day-to-day lives.

Caitlyn Collins:
As I mentioned, I think the reality in the US is that choices for different groups of people are deeply constrained depending on their social location, depending on their life world, right? Using the phrase life world, this is not my phrase by example, this is a term that’s been written about plenty beforehand, but I talk about life worlds of motherhood in particular, because I think it helps broaden the focus out from beyond the individual to think about the other forces that are operating on, in and through a woman in her day-to-day life.

Caitlyn Collins:
So very often moms talk about their personal choices about how much to work, when to work, what field to work in, et cetera, but we have to think about what other forces are coming to bear on those decisions that they’re making, right? So zooming out to look at women’s life worlds helps us understand, for example, how that maps onto their household structure, right? If you have a partner or you don’t have a partner, that really influences your ability to work for pay. Your level of education really influences the sorts of career trajectories you can envision for yourself.

Caitlyn Collins:
If you live in a county or a state that offers paid parental leave, your ability to think through what it would mean realistically to have a child and integrate that with your job are very different than someone else living in a county or a state that doesn’t offer that. Using this phrase life worlds of motherhood enables us to bring in all these various contexts that bear down on a woman’s daily existence, I think, and helps us to focus less on the individual and more about the structures shaping the possibilities women can envision for themselves in their day-to-day lives.

Giovanna Rossi:
Okay, so interesting. I just want to say on The Well Woman Show, we do talk a lot to and about motherhood, but we don’t actually limit it to that. We talk about women integrating work, their professional lives and their caregiving lives, whether that is caring for children or parents or other relatives, we find that women are the caregivers in the family generally. So, does your work apply equally to all caregiving?

Caitlyn Collins:
Hmm, good question. So I think the truth is I talk in my book specifically about the experiences of mothers, but all of us caregive as you pointed out. All of us have other people to which we have responsibilities and commitments, whether that’s to children or whether that’s to parents, to partners, to other relatives, to our next door neighbors, right? To the people in our workplace that we show up to and see day in and day out, for many of us 40-ish hours a week.

Caitlyn Collins:
We care for all sorts of people in all sorts of … we think about kind of the web of care that we are all enmeshed in, it’s not just parents, it’s all of us, right? I think all of us deserve to be able to hold down a paid job in addition to caring for the people who matter to us, regardless of whether or not we’re parents ourselves. We live in a society that doesn’t value that labor of caregiving very much, and we certainly don’t create opportunities for folks to integrate their paid work and their family care or other forms of care very well.

Caitlyn Collins:
That negation of the reality that so many of us are engaged in care is part of the problem, so realizing how central this is to our daily lives I think is a big step in the right direction. Then honestly, I think the pandemic helped underscore that reality in a way that we didn’t talk nearly as much about beforehand.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love how you say in the book all adults have the right to combine wage labor and caregiving labor. I think it’s such a simple nice way to wrap that up, that complex idea of, yeah, it’s wage labor and caregiving labor.

Giovanna Rossi:
I do want to ask you, it does seem like, at least in my work and supporting women to integrate, be and define themselves as a well woman, and that means so many different things, but work and family are just two parts of us and there’s so much more as well. So, there’s the self and the other things that we’re interested besides work and family.

Caitlyn Collins:
Sure, yeah.

Giovanna Rossi:
So I know you didn’t necessarily study that in your book, but where do you see this bigger picture of work and family and other things fitting in? How does that fit in with your work?

Caitlyn Collins:
Great question. I love this emphasis on well women, and if I’m being totally honest with you, I think the truth is that we live in a society that does not facilitate wellness across the board, and certainly not for women. I think women are taught to negate their own needs, values, preferences, interests for the whole. Very often they’re taught not to put themselves first, and I think that’s a problem.

Caitlyn Collins:
This focus on work and family arises in my research, because it’s two of the realms in which we spend so much of our waking hours. Though I agree with you completely that there’s plenty more to our lives other than our wage labor and our family time, so I love that you are thinking about this in a more holistic sense, and this is why I talk about justice in the book rather than balance.

Caitlyn Collins:
I think balance, again, suggests that this is an individual’s job to just balance better, but justice reminds us that there is a political series of powers operating that shape our ability to live the sorts of whole good well lives that we want to lead. The truth is that we need to, I think, transform the public policies that give us more time in our day-to-day lives to operate as the sorts of well women that you mentioned, and I also think we need to transform some of our cultural beliefs about what really matters day in and day out.

Caitlyn Collins:
We talk a lot about how important work is. What we mean when we say that in the US is paid work, we really value wage labor. I think we have to de-center work from how we define ourselves as people if we are to unlock the possibilities of what it means to lead a whole, rich and fulfilling life. I think different people have different access to that fulfilling life in the US.

Caitlyn Collins:
So to me, thinking through a movement for what I call work-family justice in the book is deeply intertwined with other social movements for liberation. So for me, that means things like the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, the fight for $15 in the United States to pay a living wage for all workers, right? The sorts of reasons that white middle and upper class folks have access to a greater, richer, more fulfilling life is a problem to me. I don’t think we’re going to unlock the solution to this, unless we think holistically about enabling everybody, both the opportunity and the power to lead the kind of lives that they want to lead for themselves.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah, so that’s great. I want to get to our segment called superpowers for success, so we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back with Dr. Caitlyn Collins.

Giovanna Rossi:
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Giovanna Rossi:
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Giovanna Rossi:
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Giovanna Rossi:
We’re back on The Well Woman Show with Dr. Caitlyn Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. This is one of my favorite all time topics, and so good to talk to you, Dr. Collins. I want to go into this superpowers for success segment where listeners really get to know you as a person and a leader in your work and in your life. So, the first question I have for you is what does success in life mean to you?

Caitlyn Collins:
Oh, what a powerful question, Giovanna. What does success mean to me? Success to me looks like a fulfilling, enriching life with a world of possibilities and both the opportunity and the power to pursue the ones that appeal to me.

Giovanna Rossi:
Love that. When did you know you were really good at what you do?

Caitlyn Collins:
Man, that’s a funny question to ask an academic, because I think so many of us in this field spend our lives learning, which also means that we spend our lives realizing just how much we don’t know about the way the world operates. I’m a sociologist who studies social inequality, and I feel like the more years I work in this field, the more classes I teach with wonderful students, the more academics I meet and the research that I read about, the more I feel like I don’t know that much, so it feels like a funny question to be answering.

Caitlyn Collins:
But I think in graduate school, realizing that I’m really good at interviewing people who I don’t know and getting them to speak candidly, openly, intimately and in a vulnerable way about their fears, their hopes, their regrets, their perspectives, their truths, even if I only met them 30 minutes before was a strength of mine.

Caitlyn Collins:
I think conducting this project across countries and asking women to open up to me about motherhood, about their jobs, about their relationships, about their hopes for the future, with people who I had only met a few minutes ago and learning such rich, beautiful, detailed, sometimes agonizing stories about women’s lives underscored to me that this whole interviewing thing is something that I think I have a skill for.

Giovanna Rossi:
Okay, I love that. I love this question, because I get such a variety of answers, and I think it really helps. It supports listeners to connect back with what they feel they’re really good at, and so it’s a great thing to talk about. So, my next question is just can you describe a personal habit that contributes to your own wellbeing so that you can be who you are out in the world?

Caitlyn Collins:
I love these questions, Giovanna. Headspace, the meditation app has become central to my wellbeing. On the tenure track as an assistant professor, the job of an academic is very often quite a lonely one and you spend a lot of time in your head, and the work is one where your brain, your ideas, your thinking, your writing is what you’re valued for.

Caitlyn Collins:
What I often think that means as an academic is that we perhaps overvalue our thoughts and our analytic capacities without sitting in our whole truths, our whole person very often, and having a daily meditation practice has helped me connect with my whole self and not just the analytic thinking side of my brain that I am valued for in the workplace.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yes.

Caitlyn Collins:
Even carving out a few minutes a day to reconnect with my breath, to reconnect with the silence of my mind, instead of only the thinking side of my mind has been enormously beneficial. The more I meditate, the more connected to my whole self I feel, rather than just my thinking brain.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yes. Oh, thank you for really explaining that, because I have found talking to academics can be quite challenging in that way.

Caitlyn Collins:
I hear that. I hear that deeply.

Giovanna Rossi:
Okay, and so what superpower did you discover you had only to realize it was there all the time?

Caitlyn Collins:
I think my intuition I would argue could be a superpower. I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that my interest in studying gender inequality at work and in family life came from my own experiences with my own wonderful mother growing up, and the reality to me that my professional life was driven by my very young experiences watching my own mom.

Caitlyn Collins:
When my folks got divorced, my mom was a single mother for a period of time, and when schools and daycares closed, she would take my sister and I to her boardroom meetings. We would sit in the corner of her boardroom meetings and I would watch her command these room fulls of men in suits so powerfully, and then afterwards shuffle us home, or to daycare, to school or whatever.

Caitlyn Collins:
I remember my mom apologizing a lot to us as a kid, and I didn’t really understand why at the time, but I think at a young age I had an intuitive sense that there was something unjust about this scenario for a wonderful mom like myself who was already deeply advantaged by her race, by her social class, by her level of education. If she was having such a hard time combining employment and motherhood, imagine how much more difficult things would be for other sorts of women, right?

Caitlyn Collins:
To me, this sense of unfairness at a young age has honestly blossomed into a career trajectory studying social inequality in the discipline of sociology. So, I think this intuitive sense at a young age that what I was watching my own mom go through just didn’t seem fair blossomed into a career trying to think through what it would mean to create more fair, just, equitable and inclusive lives for mothers across the board is something that I think of as a superpower now.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah.

Caitlyn Collins:
I feel very proud, but also grateful to be able to glean how these personal experiences map onto a professional trajectory that I find really fulfilling and rewarding.

Giovanna Rossi:
Yeah. Okay, great. Just a couple more questions, because we are almost out of time here. What advice would you give your younger self say 10, 15 years ago?

Caitlyn Collins:
Ooh, 10 or 15 years ago-

Giovanna Rossi:
Or early in your adult life. I don’t know how old you are, but early young adult.

Caitlyn Collins:
Yeah, to trust in myself and my belief that a career studying inequality can amount to something. Does that make sense?

Giovanna Rossi:
Yes, that’s so powerful. Yeah, trusting and believing in yourself. There’s no amount of someone telling you to do that that actually works, right? It’s sort of like in hindsight, I should have trusted myself more.

Caitlyn Collins:
Yes, exactly right. Exactly right. Trusting that intuition that we talked about, I think. There are a lot of reasons I think women in particular are taught to discount that inner voice, that sense of intuition, and actually using that as a guide, a source of wisdom, I think, is so valuable. So pushing against that desire to silence it is really important I think for everyone, but women in particular.

Giovanna Rossi:
Okay, do you identify, and I think you already said yes earlier, but you identify as a feminist. What does that mean for you?

Caitlyn Collins:
Oh, a feminist is someone who believes that men and women deserve the same rights, resources, and power and respect. Rights, resources, power, and respect to my way of thinking. Feminism is not anti-men in the slightest. I think feminism is wildly beneficial to men in addition to women, but it is the simple question of treating men and women equally when it comes to giving them rights, resources, power, and respect.

Giovanna Rossi:
Mm-hmm. Okay, and last question. Dr. Collins, what are you reading right now? What’s on your nightstand?

Caitlyn Collins:
What’s on my nightstand? A book called Parent Nation by Dana Suskind. Dr. Suskind is a pediatric surgeon and she wrote this amazing new book that’s making an argument similar to the one that I make in my book about the reality that Americans tend to think of raising kids as this personal and private responsibility. Her book argues that in fact this is really bad for kids, it’s bad for families and it’s bad for society as a whole. She argues that we need to think of caregiving as a collective responsibility, and I’d encourage all your listeners to go pick up a copy of Parent Nation.

Giovanna Rossi:
Ooh, interesting. Okay, great. Ooh, so good. This is a great place to leave this conversation, although I feel like we could talk for hours more. I encourage listeners to read the book, Making Motherhood Work, and Dr. Caitlyn Collins, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show.

Caitlyn Collins:
It’s a joy. Thank you for having me on and I appreciate your time today.

Giovanna Rossi:
That’s it for our show today. Remember if you need support to live your well woman life, head over to wellwomanlife.com/facebook to join our community. As a reminder, we are on NPR every week, so be sure to tune in at npr.org/podcasts and search for The Well Woman Show.

Giovanna Rossi:
If you enjoyed today’s show, please take a moment and subscribe and leave a review. This helps raise visibility, which is super helpful when it comes to producing the show every week. For feedback, comments, or just to let me know you are listening, find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wellwomanlife. I’m Giovanna Rossi for The Well Woman Show. Until next time, have a super powerful week.

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