By Annie Rose Stathes, July 2014
Many women experience the challenge of choosing between becoming pregnant and attending graduate school, and many men and women weigh the challenges of being new parents with the challenges of entering and completing graduate school. Graduate school and parenting are both challenging jobs and while one might appear more significant than the other, both can be important in the pursuing of personal and professional satisfaction. Fortunately, many people choose to do both and discover that becoming a new parent and attending graduate school is indeed a compatible combination.
Even so, for many people, choosing between earning an advanced degree and building a family seems like an impossible task. Women especially face the challenge of carrying a child to term, birthing a child, and breast-feeding and otherwise caring for a new child while also juggling the demands of an advanced program. In addition, many new parents experience the pressure of graduate-school-culture to prioritize their studies over everything else—including building a family. These very real challenges and socially-constructed ones can make the decision to have a child in graduate school a difficult one.
Making the Decision to Procreate or Wait
First and foremost, the decision to procreate or wait is ultimately yours. No matter the social or cultural demands and commands of your program department or school, your body and your life are yours alone, and only you can make this important decision. If you want help making the decision, consider talking to people in your academic department (people with and without children), a counselor at your school, and other people who have made the decision to have a baby or wait while in graduate school. All can give you some idea of what challenges, choices, and sacrifices await you. Then, choose! People throughout the world have successfully juggled graduate school with new-parenthood, and many others have happily made the decision to wait.
Is it Possible to Juggle New-Parenthood with Graduate School?
Whether you work as a stay-at-home parent or in a career outside of the home, juggling graduate school with parenthood and perhaps an additional job is not an easy task. However, it is indeed possible. The abundance of options for earning a graduate degree help make becoming and being a parent while going to graduate school possible. Many schools offer programs in traditional,online, and hybrid formats. These formats allow parents to have more control over when they “attend” class, when they complete their coursework, and how much time they spend commuting to and from campus and finding childcare on days they have classes. Other options, such as more expansive schedules that include daytime, evening, and weekend courses; intensive courses over weekends or weeks; and low-residency programs that demand intensive attendance once or twice per year, also make it possible for new parents to attend graduate school. Additionally, an increasing number of childcare facilities on campuses make it easier for new parents to attend more traditional programs.
Why Would I Become a New Parent and Go to Graduate School? Am I Crazy?
Absolutely not. Going to graduate school as a new parent, especially one who plans to stay at home or work for wages part-time, may provide a great opportunity to keep your professional skills sharp and enhance your career. It also provides you with what will likely be a welcomed opportunity to communicate, speak, and think with other adults and like-minded people. Plus, earning a graduate degree as a new parent could keep you connected to your discipline, encourage slow and steady growth in your career, and give you a welcomed break from the challenges and never-ending work of raising a child.
Tips for Engaging with the Dynamic Duo of Parenthood and Graduate School
- Look for a program that offers the type of structure most supportive of your family’s lifestyle and needs. Consider your options in terms of length of program; type of program (online, on-campus, or hybrid); the days and times of courses; the flexibility and degree of supportiveness offered through the program’s department; and the availability of childcare relative to your schedule (if you plan on using on-campus daycare, speak to the daycare center prior to enrolling in a program—many have a waiting-list).
- Establish a network of support. Connect with other graduate students who are parents and let other people know what kind of support you need. Meet and connect with your network of support periodically, especially during moments of stress, challenge, and pressure.
- Get organized. Create a space in your home or office that is devoted to your coursework. If possible, don’t allow other parts of life to encroach on your space. Let your graduate-program workspace be a place of peace, order, and solitude.
- Find places to study outside of the house and use them when possible. Sometimes it will be impossible to take time away from the family, but when it is possible, do so. Take time to study in libraries, on campus, in coffee shops, or in other places that allow you to focus on your work.
- Create a realistic schedule. Consider what works best for you given your family’s needs and create a schedule that works. Devote time to attending courses (whether online or on-campus), studying, and completing tasks related to school. Also carve out time for your family and, no matter how much coursework you have, utilize that time with your family.
- When everything falls apart and you feel completely overwhelmed, remember that everything is ok. Truly. Everything! Building a family and going to graduate school are both challenging tasks, and the combination of the two will seem ridiculously overwhelming at times. That’s ok. That’s normal. That’s expected! In those moments, take each miniscule task one step at a time and slowly bring yourself back on track. Also, don’t hesitate to talk to your professors to ask for support—not all will be supportive, but many will.
- Exercise and eat well. Both are key to keeping yourself healthy and balanced! Stay active by playing with your kids, walking to campus, and getting small amounts of exercise throughout the day. Eat well by snacking on fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds and consuming enough calories each day. When possible, stay away from foods that make you “crash” and feel more tired than usual.
- Be realistic. This is key. The majority of the people in the world have the power to be super-human, but the majority of super-humans eventually crash. Be realistic with yourself when setting goals and completing your program. Taking fewer courses, taking longer than expected to complete a program, and relying upon more support than you typically do are all wonderful, valid options when juggling graduate school and parenthood.
- Pat yourself on the back. You’re doing wonderful and amazing work, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You’re building a family and a career, and both are on track for success. Don’t forget it, and acknowledge yourself for your hard work often.