Meet Dr. Brian Stipelman, this month’s Dad Life interview
Title: Associate Vice President/Dean of Liberal Arts at Frederick Community College
Family: Wife, Hilary; daughters, Elayna, 9; and Mia, 6; and two cats, Socks and Lula
Five things you can’t live without?
My iPhone and nice headphones. I try to walk 5 miles every day and they stop me from being bored while I do it. Plus, this way I can fit music and podcasts onto the list without taking up more spots. It’s like wishing for more wishes
Good books. My sleep habits are terrible and reading before bed (without a screen) really helps.
My iPad. At the end of the day, I like to be able to watch movies with headphones on so the sound can be loud and I can be horizontal. This is before the reading.
Mountain Dew. I am not much of a coffee drinker, so this gets me through the day. I started drinking diet Mountain Dew as a concession to my health. But diet soda tastes like sadness, so I’ve gone back to
regular Mountain Dew. But in tiny cans.
This list used to be much longer, but then I had kids. And it turns out that most things I thought were essential really weren’t. Ask me again when my girls turn 18.
What’s your favorite chore?
I like doing the dishes. My wife generally trusts me not to screw it up (as opposed to say, laundry), and it is satisfying to take on a project that definitively ends. When I started, dishes were dirty. When I am done, dishes are clean. However, my family insists on eating every day, so these are small victories in a battle I cannot win.
What do you love about being a dad?
The fact that I have two wonderful, loving, thoughtful, smart, crazy girls. Really just having something in your life you can care that deeply about. And as they get older, watching them interact with and learn from the world around them is a joy. I also love that they do not hesitate to call me out when they don’t like what I’m doing. Keeps me honest.
What do you find challenging about raising kids?
Just about everything. Turns out raising kids is way harder than I expected. Who knew? Ensuring that they are learning (especially now), making sure they eat right and stay healthy are all at the top of the list. Stressing about whether or not they spend too much time on screens. Worrying about modeling bad behavior (like spending too much time on screens). Basically, making sure I don’t screw up anything too badly that will hurt them in the long run.
How do you take care of your mental and physical health?
I try to budget time for myself at the start and end of every day that belongs to me and my interests. This usually means getting up at 5 a.m. to go for a walk and decompressing after the kids go to bed. So, I am attempting to balance my mental and physical health, but it comes at the expense of sleep, so who knows.
Read our digital issue.
What is something your family loves to do together?
So much of our weekdays are spent ferrying kids to activities that our weekends had really been about decompression. One silver lining about COVID-19 is that has slowed down the pace of our life and we are building more family activities into our routines. Right now, hikes in the woods have become a favorite. With a little luck, my girls will come out of quarantine with happy memories of the experience.
What’s something that makes the parenthood-career juggle a little bit easier?
Honestly, knowing that other people struggle as much as I do. Parenting is a challenge. A career is a challenge. Trying to have both and be halfway decent at them is even harder, especially if you also want your partner to be anything more than a co-parent/roommate (and my wife also works full time). I think it is helpful for all of us to be open about how hard this is to manage and that even the people you think of as the super parents who really have it down are (probably) experiencing the same angst and exhaustion that you are. They just hide it better.
I have been especially lucky in that Frederick Community College has a number of family-friendly policies that have made this all much easier. Given the uncertainty facing all parents for the foreseeable future, I hope all employers are able to adopt policies that make life manageable for working parents.
What is next for you?
I am grateful that I get to wake up every day and work in a field that literally transforms lives. Frederick Community College will play a major role in helping Frederick County adjust to our new normal, and I am fortunate enough to play a role in ensuring our educational decisions meet the needs of student parents. And, like every parent, I am anxiously looking to see what the new normal is in a post COVID-19/pre-vaccine world. How will we balance our work obligations with schools that may not be open every day? And how can we make sure that our girls stay happy and engaged under these circumstances. My younger daughter asked if she could have a little sister the other day, and that isn’t happening. Maybe it’s time to get a dog.