Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Student Mom: Making the Decision to Go

There are many reasons people go to grad school. Usually it's because a certain career path requires some level of graduate study. But for a stay-at-home-mom whose neglected back-up career (English teaching, in my case) doesn't require it, going to grad school is purely about passion. It's about life goals, about pushing myself to learn just because I love it. But it's also a luxury. It's an experience that requires both money, and more importantly, time-- both things likely to be of short supply to a young mother with a young family living off one income.

So how does a mother make the decision to go back to grad school? The answer is going to be different for every mother. All I can do is share my story and some of the factors that went in to my decision, and hope it helps someone else.

The Timing
So for any woman who wants to go to grad school (or start a career or anything along those lines) and be a mother, you have to think long and hard about timing. For me, figuring out the order in which to do these two huge but crucially important things in my life was absolutely a point of crisis for me. It occupied so much of my mental energy after I got married (at the tender age of 21, gah!) that I named this problem The Conundrum. Capital T, capital C. The Conundrum of my life.

The most popular path these days is for women to focus on school and starting their careers and put motherhood off until they are well established. I know many women who have made this choice, and I don't want to belittle that decision (it's a very logical choice), but it was not the right option for me. Spiritually and physically, I felt an overwhelming desire to become a mother sooner rather than later. My family and children will always be more important to me than anything else, and I wanted to give motherhood the best years of my life (and quite honestly, I don't know how older women have the energy for this, motherhood is hard).

But the desire to go to grad school was still strong and ever present, especially as I put my life on hold to follow my husband across the country and watch him attend Law School. However, once we had our first child (all of 19 months ago) I assumed that I would do what my mom had done and wait till all our kids were older and in school and I had more free time (ha! if ever). So we're talking, a decade away at the least. And I had kind of accepted that I would just have to wait and be patient and put that dream on hold. I didn't really think it could be any other way. I knew a couple of women who were crazy enough to go to grad school and be a mom, but normal people just don't do things like that, so I'd never really thought it was an option for me. Until...

The Supportive Husband

One day last November my husband and I were sitting down trying to hash through our five year plan. You know, how we were going to pay off the student loans, how we were going to save up for a house, what a realistic budget would look like, that kind of thing, when all of the sudden (and completely out of the blue) my husband asked, "What do you think about going back to grad school?"

I was like, "Um, yes, of course. Some day."

And he said, "No, what do you think about going back to grad school next year?"

Honestly, I didn't know what to think about it. It wasn't even really on the radar. But he did some quick crunching of the numbers on his spreadsheets, we did some fast research into available programs in our new city, and suddenly I saw a path. I saw how maybe, just maybe, we could make it work. It would require delaying paying off his student loans and would cause a bunch of headaches in the childcare and scheduling department, but the vision was there.

And it would not have been there without my husband. I will flat out admit that none of this would be happening if my husband were not so on board with this. Not just on board, he's practically masterminding this whole endeavor. I would not be doing this right now without that kind of support. So, this is the part of the story where I get to brag a little bit about what an awesome husband I have, how he totally understands what is important to me, and how my dreams are so important to him that he's willing to let things in our family structure be a little bit untraditional. He's willing to sacrifice for this to happen, and that is golden. This is a team effort, and I wouldn't be doing it any other way.

The Decision
So once I saw there was a way to make the timing work and I knew I had the support of my husband, I still had to decide that this was the right thing for me to do. We took a few months to think about it, pray about it, and weigh the pros and cons.

The cons were pretty obvious (cost, childcare, the craziness of our lives, etc.) but there were some logistical pros too:

-Location. We will be living close to the campus of the school I'm applying to, and as far as being able to attend class fairly close to home, this will probably be the most convenient situation we will ever be in (unless I ever do an online degree, which I probably won't).
-As far as childcare is concerned, right now is better timing than any time in the next decade or so. It's going to be much easier to find babysitters/nannies/daycare for one or two young kids, then to find babysitters for four or five older kids who have after school schedules and more demanding needs. (I understand other families might feel differently about this point, but it's true for our situation and support network at this time.)
-I'm only three years out from graduation, which is better than fifteen years out. I still keep in touch with a few of my professors, I still remember my favorite classes/papers. The more time that passes, the harder it's going to be to get back into it.

And finally, being the faithful Mormons we are, we took our decision to the Lord. Since our church is so big on family, there's a lot of cultural pressure for women to stay in the home, especially with young kids. If I was going to do something this big to our family, I wanted to make sure the Lord approved. So we prayed and we pondered and went to the temple and did a little soul searching. But it didn't take long at all to get an answer, and the answer was an overwhelming YES! I had the distinct impression that I will be of greater service in the kingdom of the Lord for furthering my education.

So there it was. The final cherry on top, and I was all set. Decision made. I was going to grad school. The next step was to actually apply...


  1. Congratulations!! I hope all goes well. Also, I love the blog. Just what I've been looking for!

  2. I love this topic! I guess I fall into the category of not normal:( I don't regret making kids my first priority, though there are moments (so it's daily) when I want to cry because I feel in over my head. I think you'll be great!!! I look forward to hearing your thoughts and good advice.

    1. Oh Adrienne, I should have you do a guest post. I'm the one who's going to need your thoughts and good advice. We're both crazy, I guess. I mean, I watched what you went through (are going through), and yet I'm still planning to do this! And I'm not nearly as good at handling chaos/sleep deprivation/stress as you are. Hopefully my master's program won't be quite as rigorous as law school :)

  3. That's so great and good for you! I loved grad school and do feel myself sometimes wishing for a good class I could go to and broaden my knowledge more. I miss that about school. So have you applied yet? Which program are you going for?