While it’s been great to meet other student families here at the university, I’ve often felt like I’m one of few student moms. Most of the families we know have him in school and her at home with the kids or working to support them. It was nice, later this semester, to finally meet another mom balancing motherhood and graduate studies.
Kathleen Bortolin has two kids about the same age as mine. Recently, she wrote about being a student mom for the UVic Family Centre newsletter. Her eloquent words about motherhood and graduate studies spoke to my heart, and I thought I’d share them with you—inspiration if you are a student mom and insight into my life if you aren’t.
Motherhood and Graduate Studies
“What? You have two children? And you’re taking three graduate courses? Gasp. I don’t know how you do it.”
When I admitted to my classmates, about halfway through the semester, that I was not only a graduate student but also a (gulp) mother of preciously small children, the reaction was usually a mixture of awe and confusion. I often looked at my classmates with envy; many of them had children but they were usually grown-up children, or at least attending school.
I would look at them from across the classroom, wonder at the lack of bags under their eyes, and covet their stainless clothes and well-coiffed hair. If only I didn’t have to wake up twice a night to nurse my son. If only I didn’t have to spend all morning playing with LEGO. If only I didn’t have to do seven loads of laundry, vacuum up play dough (does it ever come out?), take children to libraries/music groups/play dates… it would all be so easy. Wouldn’t it?
We Are Master Multi-Taskers
Talking to the only student in my program I could find that was as crazy as I was—attempting a Ph.D. with two small children—I realized just how we did it. We managed our course loads, relatively gracefully, because we are in fact mothers of young children.
As mothers, we are the great multi-taskers. At any given time, we weave through our mental to-do list, thinking about what meat to defrost for dinner while holding our teething baby in one hand and applying a band aid to the “guess who pretended to be an astronaut and flew off the computer chair” toddler with the other hand.
We can successfully check the flyers, make a shopping list, nurse a baby, and pretend to be Vikings in the long house we made out of the kitchen table and an old sheet—all at once. Three presentations, two assignments and a 20-page paper due on the same day? That’s nothing.
We Are Conditioned to a Life of Fatigue
Furthermore, we handle the rigour of university because we are conditioned to a life of fatigue, having not had a good night’s sleep in three to five years. Late night papers—no problem. We know how to make a good Americano, and our children know what we take in it.
We Can Take a Break
Finally, we have one more special weapon in our arsenal—our kids. We have the luxury of escaping the mad world of academia by retreating into the wonderful world of chubby fingers and rosy, post-bath faces. We can forget about APA formatting, deadlines, and Powerpoint because suddenly someone is standing at the office door with feet-attached pajamas and holding a book in their hands. It’s always easier to return to our work clear-headed once we’ve read Goodnight Moon, and had a goodnight hug involving little sausage arms.
Those of us lucky enough, or crazy enough, to be fusing motherhood and scholarly pursuits can spend all day playing with Lego and watching laundry, work late into the night, and wake up the next morning to deal with sticky fingers and 25-page papers because we are well-trained, focused, and madly in love with our families. We are student mothers.
Now back away from our Americanos and no one will get hurt.
Have you or anyone else you know attempted motherhood and graduate studies at the same time? What tips or advice would you share?
If you’re juggling motherhood and undergraduate or graduate studies right now, here’s more tips on How to Survive as a Student Parent!