Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Student Mom: I Don't Know How You Did It

With all the congratulations I've been getting from people over my recent graduation, I've been hearing this a lot lately:

"I don't know how you did it, what with raising your two little boys and going to school full time! It must have been so hard! You are amazing!"

One of the hopes I had with chronicling my adventures as a student mom here on the blog was to show just "how I did it," and hopefully let other mothers (or women in general) who are interested in grad school see how it could be possible for them too. What I've hoped to communicate is that with developing the right skill set (prioritizing, time management, efficiency), any woman can be there nearly full time for her small children, get dinner on the table every night, and earn a graduate degree on the side. There is time in the world for all of these things.


There is a however. As I've been reflecting on just "how I did it," I feel the need to acknowledge that yes, there were some very special circumstances and privileges I enjoyed that made this whole motherhood/graduate school thing not only possible, but a whole lot easier for me than it would be for someone else. Here is an incomplete list of those special circumstances.

Location - I happen to live in a big enough city where I not only had one, but several options to choose from as far as universities and programs. We live only twenty minutes from my campus (of course, 40 minutes with traffic), and the program was a good fit for me. This was a huge plus.

Financial Security - I started my program right after my husband graduated from law school, and I was super worried about adding the expense of my schooling on top of trying to pay off his students loans. We've had to budget carefully, and delay paying off the student loans for one year longer than we initially wanted, but all in all my husband earned enough that we were able to pay my tuition and pay for childcare without going into any extra debt, which is a huge blessing. I know very few people find themselves in such a situation. I would've been far more stressed about this whole thing if it had meant accruing more debt or otherwise restricting our family budget.

The Nanny - I've mentioned before that my first semester we used friends and family for babysitting. I was pregnant and super sick and that semester was... difficult. Once we had two kids (one being a four month old baby), we decided to switch to an in-home nanny (just for the hours I was in class). I was so nervous about this prospect, but the nanny we ended up with was fabulous beyond belief. If only I'd had her that first semester! My life in grad school was easy because of this woman. Not only did she love and care for my boys like they were her own, but she did all the laundry, dishes, general tidying and vacuuming on a daily basis, and every other week or so she'd clean the bathrooms. And she did all that without being asked, or really paid for (we paid her what we felt was generous for watching two children, but we did not pay her enough to be our house-maid on top, that was her own initiative). Honestly, she is the reason I was sane, and I'm extremely grateful we were able to have such reliable, competent, incredible child-care. I know not every other mother out there could say the same.

A Supportive Husband With a Flexible Job - Okay, let me put a caveat on that flexible job part. My husband is a lawyer at a big law firm, and there are seasons when his job is NOT flexible and his hours are crazy (he has yet to pull an official all-nighter, but he's come close several times). That being said, his job does afford him some flexibility, and there were several occasions a semester where he was able to take a morning or afternoon with the kids while I had an event on campus, or when he could come home early to relieve the nanny if I had to stay late for some reason. I know not every husband has that kind of flexibility. He was also very supportive about taking the boys on Saturdays so I could get work done. He was my biggest supporter in getting me back to grad school in the first place, pushed me in studying for the GRE, edited all my papers (he's a killer editor), and was just generally fabulous about the whole thing. I don't know how I would've done this without him. (However, I will admit he didn't step up a whole lot on taking over house-hold chores or responsibilities, and in this case I think we have the nanny to thank for saving our marriage, because I probably would've been a lot more grumpy about that had she not basically taken over the cleaning).

Easy Kids - I feel like this one also needs a caveat, because my boys are NOT perfect little angels. I gave up early on trying to do any school work while they were awake, and since my oldest stopped taking naps or doing quiet time, that basically ruled out homework from 7 AM to 7 PM. There were tantrums and sick days and ER visits at extremely inconvenient times (we got home at midnight from the ER and I still had to edit and submit an assignment). All that being said, the one area where my boys are golden is at bedtime. There was some sleep training for my baby, but early on he settled right into his older brother's routine of an early bedtime (usually 7 PM at the latest), and then I had a solid 3 to 3.5 hours to work every night. They are both great at sleeping through the night, so I was mostly able to get enough sleep, which was huge. By and large they are healthy, normal boys without any special needs, so I had the mental room once they were asleep to switch from mom-mode to student-mode. I know so many other moms who have more difficult situations, kids with special needs, kids who never sleep, just kids with high energy that demand so much attention. Comparatively my kids are easy, and that made the motherhood/graduate student balance easier.

I know this list is incomplete. I know there are other privileges or circumstances I enjoyed that made my motherhood/grad school balance easier for me than it would be for other mothers. However, I still hope my experience helps other mothers out there realize that there is time and space for dreams and projects and hobbies (for me, grad school counts as an extremely expensive hobby). I always put motherhood first, it will always be my greatest priority in life. But my grad school experience was also extremely good for me. I learned so much and grew so much, not just academically but in every other way too. It was the right thing for me at the right time, even though it seemed like a crazy thing at just the wrong time. When it's something you're meant to do, there is time and space for all the good things.


  1. I love this post! I like all dialogue about how women and mothers can earn graduate degrees if that is their goal. I like the realistic assessment of all the factors making it possible for you to get your degree! It takes a lot of coordination and balance but is doable.

    1. Thanks Adrienne! Of course, you were my role model and inspiration for showing me how it was possible, so thanks for the example!

  2. Congratulations! You DID IT! Hooray! This was a great post, showing that it can indeed be done with small kiddos around. Of course you had to make some sacrifices and I'm sure it wasn't easy, but do-able--yes.