Parenting through a PhD (or 5 ways not to go completely insane)

PhD students are an interesting cohort. At our university the average age of a PhD student is 36, which means you can safely bet that most students have some family responsibilities – either to a spouse, elderly parents, animals or children.

Parenting is challenging for PhD students because, in addition to the caring work that you have to do, there is huge potential for WORRY and GUILT. Children get sick, they fall over at school, get stung by bees, have problems with their playmates, stick coins so far up their nose that they have to have their stomachs pumped (true – and don’t ask).

Added to this, parents must constantly have one eye on the future consequences of the actions they take today. In fact, you name an activity – usually a fun one – and there will be some expert out there who can tell you how bad it will be for your child and how much it will screw them up as an adult. You can’t win – but you can try, so here’s my top five tips for parenting through a PhD:

1) See the positives of daycare

My son was 8 months old when I started my Masters degree and 7 years old when I finished my PhD. The poor little guy is probably the only kid at his school who knows that doctors don’t just look after sick people. I was able to do this because of Day Care, which some people will tell you is evil. Well – not in my experience I have to say.

As Hilary Clinton said: it takes a village to raise a child. I’m no child raising expert – but daycare people who bought up my son with me were. They patiently taught my son to eat with a spoon, drink from a cup, go to the toilet and dress himself, amongst many other things. They also helped him learn to manage his feelings, talk about them and make friends with others. As a result I think in many ways my son is more emotionally mature at 8 than I was at 18.

Daycare professionals helped me be a better parent.ย  They gave me advice about toilet training, sleep issues and any number of funny rashes. When I was feeling like I was doing a crap job, they reassured me that everything was ok and that my son wouldn’t turn into a serial killer. Oh – and they didn’t have a television there, which leads me to point two

2) Get yourself a Tivo / PVR or IQ

Someone very wise and funny once called the TV an off switch for children. Certainly large amounts of my Masters and PhD were written using the electronic baby sitter. I’m not proud, but that’s the way it was, no point in denying it.

I did assuage my guilt about TV time by forcing the poor child to watch mainly educational programs. Rather than spend a fortune on DVDs, we bought a TiVo so we could control what he watched. Before he could read this worked well because he couldn’t even turn it on without me. Now of course he can delete all my ‘Grand Designs’ and replace them with ‘Scooby Doo’…

3) Reach out to other PhD parents

It’s great to make friends with other PhD students who have kids if it’s possible. If you are lucky and your kids like each other there is potential for play dates and sleepovers. It’s probably good for your kid to see that other kids have to put up with a PhD in their lives. Even if you only strike up workplace friendships, the benefits of a therapeutic moan with someone who knows what you are going through cannot be over estimated!

4) Be proud of what you do

I tried not to be apologetic about the time that the PhD took away from my family. I felt like this would send all kinds of bad messages to both partner and child. Whenever I would have to say ‘no’ to doing something on PhD related grounds I would explain to my son that the PhD was important to the whole family, not just me. I was studying to make a difference to our future; a PhD meant a better job, a roof over his head, food in his mouth and other fun stuff.

I made sure to show him how much I liked PhD study. Some weekends I would take him into my office and work for an hour or two; setting him up on his own desk with some ‘work’ for my PhD so he felt like he was helping. Then we would go out for cake and explore the campus while talking about what uni is like and why it is a great place to be. He still remembers these fun times and wants to do his own PhDย  – which will be about volcanos ๐Ÿ™‚

5) Sometimes it’s better just to give up

My son was 3 when the chicken pox vaccine came out. I trotted off to the doctors as soon as possible, only to be told that they were out of stock for two weeks. That very day the creche posted a sign saying that a child had been diagnosed with it.

Too late.

Brendan came out in lots and lots of spots. Naturally this happened right before a major milestone presentation, so I was stressed out. But Brendan felt terrible – all he wanted to do was sit on my lap and watch ‘Toy Story’ repeatedly for three days. I tried to read, but after the first day I went into some kind of stupor. It’s hard to read Heidegger and listen to Buzz Lightyear argue with Woody, so I just gave up. I sat there and cuddled him for 3 days and you know what – it was kind of beautiful. When I went back to study I was quite refreshed.

I only have one child as you can probably tell, so other people probably have many more coping strategies than I do – I would love to hear them.

80 thoughts on “Parenting through a PhD (or 5 ways not to go completely insane)

  1. Ben says:

    In the middle of my PhD my son was born. Towards the end of writing up, just as my scholarship ran out, my wife went back to work 4 days a week and I became primary carer, working one week-day a week and on weekends. When the time came to give my final seminar it was on a day my wife was at work, so I packed my then 9-month-old son up and we went in to the uni. For the first half of the hour-long seminar he played on the floor at my feet. Then he started to get a bit cranky, so I picked him up and he fell asleep on my shoulder during the second half.

    I tried not to take it as a comment on how interesting my presentation was.

    • Chris says:

      Well done! I had twins a year into my thesis. No family to help out nearby, my husband working full time, and an absent tutor. Hardest years I’ve ever had but I did it. Somehow I think the challenge of finding time made me study more efficiently…and the joy of study compensated mind-jellification, and twin craze. Raising children and Phds perhaps go quite well together…

      • Alexitac says:

        Chris! I also have twins, 3 years old now, and I am in my first year of PhD, how can I overcome it?? I am not sure if I can do it!

  2. Ian Robson says:

    Great post. I’ve got four children and do relate to your concerns: every time I relax I think there is something I ‘should be doing’. I am learning to plan my time, use it well but live in the moment when children are around. My wife is amazing and without her I wouldn’t be able to hold down my job as a Senior Lecturer never mind PhD student! She is ‘at home’ but we try to avoid the stereotyped image of mum doing everything and dad just ‘going off to study’. I’ve actually realised that (apart from writing, which I guess will be yet another challenge) lots of PhD work is done in my head – sort of in the background – as I try to make sense of what I’m reading at the moment. Our children and partners are a blessing on the PhD journey but, yes we do need to not pretend we’re not climbing a very big mountain! Live the blog, btw.

    • ingermewburn says:

      4 children! I bow to the master ๐Ÿ™‚ by the end of the phd you and your wife will be able to write the book on the subject of phd parenting… Perhaps we need a blog just for that!

  3. El says:

    I just wanted to add that sometimes McDonalds is a perfectly acceptable dinner option.
    On a more serious note, I started my PhD full time just this year and as a consequence, although I am home much more than I was before (used to be a full time teacher), the brain is often far, far away. Consequently, the kids and I are spending time after school exploring all the local parks as I am finding that it is easier to switch off when we are all sliding down a slippery dip. When I succumb to peer pressure and start a PhD blog the slippery dip photos will have to be included.

      • Jo says:

        But scrambled eggs on toast is a proper dinner. Wait till you start letting themselves help themselves to cereal as an evening meal …

      • Zee says:

        it feels good when you hear someone was/is in the some boat:(.
        I usually leave near by a bowl full of fruits and let them help themselves to make some basic salad, just to ease my guilt that they are still eating something healthy.

  4. Mayra says:

    I am 8 months into my PhD and have a 2 year old. I’ve found I’ve learnt three really important lessons since he was born, and particularly during this year of my study.
    1. I have to look after myself.
    2. I have learnt to recognize when I’m beginning to fray around the edges and ask for help early. Help usually comes in the form of babysitting or sleepovers so that I can either concentrate on my thesis or have a sleep in.
    3. I have learnt to study while my son is around. This has meant moving my desk into the loungeroom so that I can study while he plays. It’s also meant learning to focus for 15-20 minute blocks as I inevitably get interrupted when the ball has gone too far under the couch or the lego tower has fallen over and an expert engineer (with more refined motor skills) is required to re-establish the foundations.

    And yes, childcare is fantastic! We are so lucky to have such high quality services for our children.

    • ingermewburn says:

      I agree that looking after yourself is really important… My step mother delights in telling me how useful the play pen was when she had 3 young kids and wanted to read. She would put herself in the play pen!

  5. colleen says:

    I agree with Ian about ‘being in the moment’ when with your children. I don’t find it useful to have one foot in a train set and one foot in my PhD work. I just enjoy my time with my son (and then pray that he will be in bed when he should be!).

    • ingermewburn says:

      I was bad at getting in the moment – I’m not sure if it was the PhD or that I was just not good at playing with kids. I always say I will be a great mother of a 30 year old, 3 year not so much ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Angie says:

    I like reading my blog.
    Iโ€™m an international PhD student with three kids. Iโ€™m in my last year and should submit early next year. So the decision was made to take my kids back home with my husband who will be taking care of them while I finish writing. It is a very difficult situation.

    It has only been 4 weeks but feels like ages. Iโ€™m thinking of going for a visit but Iโ€™m not sure how this will affect them now that they are settled in a good routine with their dad and with my mom also helping.
    While I did progress well these last few weeks, I donโ€™t think I can persist for another 4 or 5 months.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • ingermewburn says:

      You must miss them terribly… I can only be in awe of and applaud your strength in doing what you think is good and right for them – and your husband for taking on the single parenting role.
      Grandmothers should have been on my list! Where would we be without them?!
      Is anyone else in the same position I wonder?

      • Tessa says:

        I just finished my Master and it’s just about one year. But I left my 7 yo and now-5 yo boys with my ex husband in my home country. It’s really depressing when doing the Master program so I had to learn to enjoy new friends and hang out with them. At first, I felt guilty (having fun while I was away from my kids who were missing me terrible?). But it didn’t solve any problems and only made things worse (works, relations with colleagues and also communicating with the kids). It’s important to be a happy person. My key was I contacted my kids almost everyday with everything we had: Whatsapp, Skype, Line. I let the kids wake me up early (we had 5-6 hour difference back then). I spent time to help with homeworks, played though phones and let them decide which game they wanted to play with me. I didn’t force them to talk when they didn’t feel like calling me, but I sent texts, emoticons, pictures of their characters of interest.
        Now I came back. It’s amazing to feel that the connection didn’t break. Instead, we learned how to enrich our ways of communication. And I finished my master. It wasn’t cum laude, but I got good scores and I’m proud of that.

  7. TokenLefty says:

    I concur with some of the comments already here: you just need to realise that time must be spent with your kid(s) and you just cannot expect to get any research done in this time. I find it much easier to be goal oriented and not worry too much about what week of the year it is.

    I find it kind of strange that I am doing my PhD in four days a week and my supervisors are telling me how fast I’m going. Must be due to my private sector days .. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. verity says:

    I’m about 3 months into my PhD and 6 months pregnant with my first baby, and at 23 I’m the youngest on the course! A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of your blog and twitter as she thought it might be useful for me to read the experiences of someone else in this position.

    It’s such a relief to see that other PhD students have managed to juggle the challenge of parenting along with the thesis – a lot of my non-academic friends, including my partner, are very unsupportive of my desire to continue with the PhD after the baby is born, many think I shouldn’t have started it in the first place – so it’s good to see that it can be done after all, even if it may take a bit longer than usual and requires mastering some different skills.

    I take my hat off to all of you and certainly hope I can follow in your multi-tasking footsteps!

    • Jenny says:

      I am wondering how this has been going for you? I am finishing my undergraduate thesis right now and applying to PhD programs this year. I have a 2 year old and it has been very challeniging to say the least. Grateful to find this site!

  9. Jan says:

    Most posts have been about having young children. I started my studying journey at 43 (college then Uni) when my children were 5 (twins) & 8. Now they are 13 & 16 I am writing my MA dissertation and applying for a PhD. I have a very supportive partner who has taken them on long weekend’s away when deadlines loom. My eldest has just finished her GCSEs and I hope that my ‘late in life’ studying has encouraged her to revise, and work hard. I am lucky that I don’t ‘work’ so most of my ‘studying’ and writing has been done in school hours. Sacrifices have been made, I have missed out on the social experience of Uni, and module choices were dictated by timetabling. I am looking forward to my Phd journey accompanied by my teenagers. The challenges change, I have to fit my studying around ferrying them around, and the TV no longer keeps them quiet. Writing to loud Pop music is a challenge as is listening to tales of friends & school when I am in the middle of writing an essay. They are used to it now though, it’s been there their whole school life!

    • Rina says:

      Hi Jan

      Not sure if you will even read this but I am going to be a 44 year old starting PhD in a few months:) I also have 2 children 13 and 9 and am a single parent. My own parents are very supportive and tell me “you can do it” and “we are there to help”, but there are others who feel I am selfish for wanting to do a PhD, I cannot do it or that a single mother can never do it. If you see this pot, I just wanted to say it made a positive impression on me. I do not have a partner to help but I have my parents and my sister so hopefully we will make it. More importantly, my children are very proud already that I got into a PhD program and that gives me immense motivation to complete.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am a single mother to a 2 year old and have applied to a professional Doctorate in Health Psychology in another country. I find out this week if I get a place. I think I am crazy considering this but it’s an opportunity of a lifetime ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Tseen Khoo says:

    I loved this post, Inger. Thanks for flagging it. I think a lot of the stuff you’re talking about here is relevant even for those who are no longer doing their PhDs but trying to make headway on research + juggle home + teaching, etc.

    And – just FYI – ‘breakfast for dinner’ is a regular gig in this household! When I lived alone (when I 1st moved to Melbourne), it happened a LOT. Since I had kids, it happens enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Laura Shepherd says:

        Here’s what I wrote (as a FB note) on my first day back at work after having my son back in 2008:

        Wake up. Shower. Dress. Make baby breakfast. Make self breakfast. Feed baby and self. Clean baby. Make lunch. Brush teeth. Listen to yelps of alarm from other half when he discovers that baby is some kind of freakish genius baby who has learned how to open doors using the door handle and one can no longer use the bathroom in peace. Hug baby. Clean baby vomit from nice first-day-of-term outfit. Brush teeth again having forgotten that you’ve done it once already. Prepare to leave. Realise you are still wearing your slippers and no earrings. Rectify situation. Hug baby again. Kiss other half. Leave. Get to work. Drink vat of coffee to remedy tiredness induced by staying up too late last night reading (Stephen King’s new book ‘Duma Key’, rather bloody good). Twitch a lot. Hyperventilate at sight of hoardes of UGs roaming the halls. Drink more coffee. And so it begins…

  11. Betty says:

    I can relate! I have a boy (nearly 8) with Asperger’s and also a step child (11) who lives with us full-time, and another who is with us some of the time.

    I am in the writing-up stage and, while I am fairly seasoned at compartmentalizing, I find the shifts in thinking difficult. Way back in undergrad a friend who was doing his PhD at the time once told me to think about what you are studying while you are doing the dishes, vacuuming or taking a shower.

    Twice a week these days I put the kids in after school care and study in the office at uni. I find that this helps to separate-out from all of the ‘I should be’s’ that are overwhelming and immobilising at home.

    I’m glad to read on here that there are many others in the same situation. I know other PhD students with kids with special needs, so that helps as well. I guess it is all about managing the shifting weights that each aspects has in your life at any particular tome, and shifting it back the other way when the need arises.

  12. Carla says:

    I really needed to read this. I am in the beginning stages of my EdD dissertation, have 5 children, and a private counseling practice. My schedule has been overloaded and I have not been able to balance. The guilt over not spending as much time with the children as I would like consumes me at times. Nevertheless I am pressing, because they really want me to be done… and SO DO I!!

  13. fskh says:

    I found this post while googling ‘PhD and parenting’. I am an international student studying in the UK. I have two young children and my husband is also a PhD student. It’s comforting to read about other PhD parents experiences. It’s really hard studying far away from home with no family and not being able to afford childcare. I am in my writing up stage so I do kids things during the day and hope that they sleep early so I can get my writing done at night.
    Great blog you have here….

    • ingermewburn says:

      That’s tough – we had lots of family support and it really made a difference. It’s really hard to ‘context switch’ between kid stuff and your own work. One thing I learned was that you can do a surprising amount of reading done at those play centres! They also wear your kids out, which means they go to bed a lot earlier and sleep longer ๐Ÿ™‚ Best of luck with your studies

  14. Tommy says:

    I am at the beginning stage of my PhD research in Engineering with a baby (1 year old). Progress has been slow all this while as I am working full time as a lecturer. Thinking to go for full time but the allowance is just enough for me and my family to survive. Would like to ask for your opinions on the full time or part time option. Please share with me.

    • ingermewburn says:

      I went part time for my masters when I had a young child and full time for my PhD when he was 5 – I did my PhD in 3 days of the week and worked the other two as a researcher. I think I could only do this because my work was related to my study. We had one full time wage and one half wage for this time. It was tough. I think every one has to work out their own way through, but I believe that working while I did my PhD was crucial to employment after. Friends who did the full time study thing with no other work had trouble getting back into to the workforce later. I think you have to take the long term view – finishing quickly may not always be the best way to go

  15. Karina Quinn says:

    Dear thesis whisperer, I love getting your posts in my inbox, but particularly the ones on parenting through a phd. I don’t think I’d have the skills to do the phd if I wasn’t a parent, but I find it incredibly challenging to study in such a part time, bitsy way. I find the most common words coming out of my mouth at the moment are “I would love to go to (insert research seminar/writing group/faculty afternoon tea etc here) but I just can’t get childcare. My children are the most impossibly beautiful things in my life, but sometimes I just want some more time for me and the books.

    • Dr by 30 says:

      I can relate to needing me-time too. It’s so hard to put my son second to college. When my husband watches him I feel like they are getting bonding time but I just can’t leave him with anyone else. I love being a mom so much more than being a student.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes I feel a bit mean…but really what do PhD students WITHOUT kids have to complain about….they only have ONE baby!

  17. Juna Tan says:

    Thanks for sharing. I have two young kids and often feel guilty for not being more ‘there’ for them (Or guilty for not being more ‘there’ for my research). Luckily my hubby’s really patient and supportive. Sometimes though, I wonder if it really is all worth it (am mid way through and things seems to be going in circles) especially after hearing all the horror stories of academic publishing. So it’s good to read your post and the comments (thank you all for sharing). It’s not been easy trying to connect to other PhD parents on my campus aside from a couple in my HDR office (guess everyone is busy). Thanks again.

  18. eddi says:

    I was an intl PhD student in Engineering;
    I had a baby in the last year of my thesis. My wife was not working and my scholarship was very small. I had to work part time to support my family.

    It was hard, but it was nothing compared to the time AFTER THE DEFENSE. I had to struggle finding a job after a PhD, I managed to do everything to support my family…

    Crazy journey. Now I am 34 years old entry level engineer with PhD and kids. No house, no saving. no career. Nothing;

    All for a worthless paper, I don’t even remember where I put that piece of paper…

    • Dr by 30 says:

      You are an honorable father & husband, which in my opinion is much better than any earthly possessions (even retirement) that you could earn. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Meg says:

    I’m 43 with a 3 year old – not in day care, and only starting Kinder two days a week in two months time. I’m ‘on leave’ from my PhD while trying to finish it all the same, as I have only 6 months to submit when I return from ‘leave’.
    I’ve had pretty much full-time care of my daughter since her birth (about 3/4 of the way through my PhD).
    It’s great to read other people’s stories! It’s reassuring, that you’re not the only one out there battling away (-:
    I’m learning a very big lesson in patience – as someone who likes to ‘get on’ with things I’ve had to slow right down (I only get 6 hours a week on my PhD if I’m lucky). It’s hard sometimes to remember that I will get it finished when I’m moving at such a slow pace.
    But I hold onto that thought (that I’ll get it finished one day) like a life-raft!!
    Thanks for being able to share my thoughts here. And good luck to everyone!!

    • Dr by 30 says:

      Good luck to you too!! I like to think our kids will be so inspired when they are old enough to pursue their dreams. The entire process felt slow to me too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. pm says:

    I feel so stressed sometimes trying to struggle completing tasks for my PhD with two kids with 4,5 year old and 6,5 year old at the moment….I started my PhD in 2009 with one son that was 2 years old and having learned that I was pregnant with the 2nd child…I did not give up and went on, I even worked part-time and full-time in different periods of time, I need to be finished in approximately 6 months now and trying to prepare for my thesis-monitoring presentation…I feel one more time stressed and not moving on….

    • Dr by 30 says:

      I’m sorry to hear about the delays but I know you can do it!!!! There’s light at the end of the tunnel – just keep putting one foot in front of the other & you’ll be done before you know it!

      • pinar says:

        I did manage to finish!!! I still cannot believe it is really finished but I am sooo relieved:) Thanks again for the support:)

  21. Anonymous says:

    I’m just starting a PhD with 2 small children and working 4 days /week. I’m struggling with my project plan and research questions and finding a balance between work/study/kids. I feel overwhelmed and stressed and it’s just the beginning!

  22. Dr by 30 says:

    Great tips. It is important to meet other PhD parents. My goal was to finish by 30 & it hasn’t been easy. Our family planning included miscarriages, a stillbirth, & finally a success. My son is a huge blessing, as you can imagine. Resigning from my career to care for him (I live pretty far in the country so daycare isn’t an option anyways) is harder than had I continued to work outside the home – but SO worth it to raise him myself. My husband gives me off a couple hours in the evenings when he can (he’s an amazing husband & father); when he isn’t at his full time job or part time reserves. We worked hard to become debt free & pay off our house so I could pay as I go for college & avoid all loans. I give God all the glory for everything in my life. Without Him I would’ve given up on a lot of things a long time ago. I enjoyed reading all the tips from others. I’d say:
    1. Make time for yourself (gym, hair Appt, quiet bubble bath, etc.) so you don’t fizzle out or forget who you are. As a parent that’s easy to do.
    2. Tell people what would be helpful. Thank & kiss/hug your spouse often. Especially ask your chair for help when you need it, as that’s why they are getting paid (to guide/help you).
    3. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Nobody is perfect.
    4. Surround yourself with people who make you better & positive. I’m endebted to all those who provided nice words of affirmation. I have the best friends & I try not to miss their special moments (even if I’m typing on my laptop outside the church they are about to get married in). True friends understand & will support you.
    5. Go on vacation. Say “yes” to dessert after dinner. Don’t forget to live your life.
    6. Pray. I pray all the time & somehow I manage to get thru one more day, one more page, etc.
    7. When you finish make sure you celebrate big. You’ve earned it & so has your family.

  23. Rachel says:

    Im in the last year of my PhD and have a five month old son. I’m in the writing stage, with labwork finished, so I have it easier than many. Things are going fairly well, much better than I expected– in some ways, better than before he was born, though maybe that is just because I am happier : ) I realised early on that I would NOT have time for everything, and that the first thing that had to go was angst and self doubt. Every time I start sliding into the pit of despair, a place I used to spend a lot of time in, I make it a policy to do something for my son–diaper change, bath, playtime. This has been very helpful as I have noticed I spend much less time barking up the wrong tree, obsessive ly solving a problem that doesn’t really need solving, or could be fixed more simply. I also “turned in my timecard” and focus instead on specific goals. Wish I had done this earlier! And finally I STOPPED talking down my own work and progress and try to end every day with some kind of self-pep talk, even if it is reaching at straws a bit. It also really helps to move positions around the house and to go work at a friends house, who also has kids– my son goes stir crazy in one room all day. Finally I got creative with my physical work layout. He has to be close and comfortable so the traditional desk is out and the bed with desk pulled over is in. There are other little changes but so far at least it all seems to be coming together!! Good luck to anyone in the same position!

  24. CrazyPhd says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am considering doing a phd in about 10months time but also planning on baby number 3. Is this advisable or am I totally crazy? Any advice will be most welcome.

    • CrazyPhd says:

      May I just ask- Is it easier to have the baby just before, during or after the PhD? I am not getting any younger and it is a funded PhD. If I have it during, then the funding will run out. I really believe that all things are possible!

  25. Isha says:

    I am 29 and in the 5th year of my PhD. I got married in second year and had a baby boy in 3rd year, who is now 1 yr 4 months old. I am lucky to have a supportive husband an very supportive in laws. My mother-in-law takes care of my baby on weekdays and I travel every weekend to my home (250 km from my university). I really try to optimally utilize time and read research papers even while in bus or train. When I m home, I m totally for my kid and no study at all. I find really tough sometimes to shift from mum’s role to a researcher. But having this experience has made me stronger and mature. Somehow, I have learnt that life cud not be better than this.

    One important point is I love my job as a phd student. I love mathematics, that’s y I can do it. I m really lucky to have supportive family and hope to be with my kid soon. Also glad to see that there are many others sailing thru the same boat. Wish you all the best in your life.

    Great blog. Keep it up.

  26. Maree Livingstone says:

    Does anyone have any encouraging words for me, before I make the decision to give up my PhD? I’m in my 10th year of doing this. My daughter is 5 and has just started school – it’s exhausting for both of us! My parenting includes no tv, no afterschool care, healthy food is extremely important to us, I have no family support, and I am a mum who gets involved in my child’s life – I’m 45 and I have one child, these things are a priority to me.

    I am close to submitting, but not close enough. I have been doing very good work in complete isolation. I can finish … just not quickly. I’ve written books, done a research masters, published, had creative work performed … I’m not new to the game. But I can’t ‘push’ through anymore, the way I used to, for all sorts of reasons that are tmi. My PhD is not for a job, it’s purely for the love of contributing insights and understanding to my field. And as you can see from this post, I can’t see the wood for the trees or the trees for the wood anymore.

    If you’ve been close to giving up – I’d love love love to hear from you and what you’ve done. Everyone’s lifestyle and priorities differ, but I’d love to hear anything from anyone atm – thank you!

    • Isha says:

      Hey Maree…. You are a strong woman. You should embrace yourself for this act of courage and giving priority to your child…

      Please dont give up at this stage. Just when you have the thought of giving it up, you remind yourself that this is the day you have been waiting for years to come…. All that hard work, dedication, sacrifices would stand nowhere if you give up at this stage.

      I can completely understand your situation as I m also near completing but it is taking much effort and more time than I expected.. But things have to be the way they are. Somethings, especially PhD is not an easy thing. Hats off to you for holding this so long.

      Just do your best and forget the rest… All the best…

      • Maree Livingstone says:

        What a beautiful reply – thank you Isha. Your strong words are like a life line, your encouragement like a light at the end of the tunnel.

        Congratulations to you for making a difficult situation work so well for you – that’s very couragous.

        All the very best with completing!

  27. Cop Con says:

    I am planning on getting a PhD but there are too many things I need to think about. I am 29 and have a two years old. I am planning on having another baby when the first child turns three. I still want to work full-time because the PhD is to advance in my current position. I am frustrated because I do not know how to balance between the two kids, the PhD, and the full-time job. Every time I think about me not being able to be part of my children’s life, I feel ready sad. My family is not really encouraging, but they said they will support me if I need too. I guess I am looking for some moral support here.

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      It’s possible – many do it. Not easy and you need lots of logistical, financial and emotional support. I’d recommend a visit to the careers centre and careful, careful selection of supervisor.

  28. Bec says:

    What a great post and great comments. It is hard to find positive and helpful reflections on combing PhD and motherhood. Now to find one that also includes full time work so that I don’t feel like the only one with this crazy mix.

    • drmutluturan says:

      Everything settles in the end:) If you really wanna make it. I had a 2 year old when I started the PhD and I gave birth in the middle of second semester of the courses to a second child! All my family supported me through the study. I finished it in the end!!!! I even started giving part-time lectures now!!

  29. Elizabeth says:

    I am finishing my master’s this spring and I am planning on starting my PhD in Fall 2018. I have 2 children 4 1/2 and 3 years old. I always pictured myself with a big family… at least 3 children. My husband is clearing his teaching credential so we are moving in with family to save money for our move out of state in 2018. My husband is the most amazing father and husband. We really try to share the responsibility of the children and work. Our plan is to get pregnant in the next few months, and I can take a year off to take care of our children and make the new one! I’m not getting any younger and I don’t anticipate having an opportunity to stay home again in the future. I worked full time and went to school full time through both of my previous pregnancies. I consider a year off to gestate a vacation!

    My family (whom we will be living with) are not supportive of our plans at all. When I told my mother that I was going to get my PhD she told me it was just because I hate her and I am trying to get away (honestly, with comments like that who would blame me if that were actually true!), and my sister who lives nearby keeps telling me that I am the worst mother for making this decision, that I am selfish, and I am neglecting my children. My brain tells me that they are just being ridiculous, and I need to do what is best for me and my family, but it is difficult to deal with the guilt sometimes. It makes me question whether I am making the right choice.

    I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to read all of these comments and see that not only is it possible, but people do this kind of thing all the time!

  30. Robyn Walsh says:

    As I sit here trying to gather my PhD thoughts I am 1 year into a 6 year part time PhD and worrying about balancing my 10 year old daughter with anxiety and two teen step-children, a needy elderly mother and in-laws, a full time job project managing 2 large scale clinical trials a husband who says all the right things about being supportive but has limited patience for it when it really comes down to it, a house in dire need of major repairs and a dog and cat who can’t seem to leave me alone! Am I mad?!

    • Jo Dagustun says:

      Blimey Robyn! Not mad but maybe it would be fair to say that you’ve got quite a lot on your hands there. Now if only you could ditch that full-time job …How are you doing, a few weeks on from your post??? x

  31. Baby mama says:

    When is the best point during the PhD to give birth? Summer between first and second year? During the third year? What if you show up pregnant?

    • Jo Dagustun says:

      Hi Baby Mama! Not sure if there is a best time, but it worked well for me to do a full first year of my PhD research (part time, 60% as I recall), then give birth and have a year’s maternity leave (I am in the UK, so this was unexceptional length of time), and then return to (and complete) my studies to schedule.

  32. Meg says:

    Hello! In 2014 I posted here on how I was struggling in the last 6 months of my candidature to complete my PhD with the full-time care of my then 3 year old. I was finding the excruciatingly slow pace at which I had to work very difficult.

    Well, I just thought it would be nice to report that 4(!) years later, after a house move, a job change, a relationship breakdown, and a child now 7 and at school, I have finally finished the slow journey and my thesis is under examination.

    It is so very hard to envisage the end of the PhD road while you are on it … but it is possible to get there!!! Good luck to everyone (-:

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks @Meg. I’m 6 weeks away from my deadline to submit and feel like it’s never going to happen. I started when my son was two, and fell pregnant with my daughter the same year. They’re now 6 and 4. Thanks for all the great advice. Hopefully see you all on the flip side of submission :-). Hang on in there to all the new mamas.

      • Bec B says:

        I thought I would add my piece. I started my phD part-time, while working full-time just after I got married (hadn’t had kids).

        I have just received thesis back with minor amendments. Two children (9 and 7) with the third on the way. It’s been a hard slog but worth it!

        • mbolandmusic says:

          Hi Pauline, I hope you’re traveling ok worth that deadline now passed? I had to extend my deadline 4 times! Hope all is going well. Wow Bec, congratulations! What a feeling to come to the end of that chapter and do so well too! I also just received great reports back and look fwd to actually graduating this year. Nothing stays the same forever … life is all about change, good bits with bad bits, pain and gain. Thanks for posting and courage to everyone!

  33. cwhi7345 says:

    I have about 45,000 words of my envisioned 80,000 written (now aiming for 75,000), and I’m due in early May. Relationship has broken down with her dad and I’ll be repatriating from working fulltime overseas and doing PhD part time (which has been a hard juggle whilst being an expat and having both supervisors in different continents from me), but trying my hardest to finish my final chapter of Analysis before I head back to Asia for these last 3 months of work… and then aiming (as a full time non employed mummy with time to theoretically divide between bubs and thesis) to have a full draft done by the end of 2019! My supervisors are amazingly supportive (my principal supervisor has 3 of her own!), family support so-so… praying for a baby who likes to sleep a lot so I can write when she’s in slumberland, I’ve been going for almost 4 years part time now, just need to get this thesis written and finished!!!

    • Rebecca Bailey says:

      Good luck, I used to get up early and do at least 30 minutes before breakfast and reward myself with a sticker on a calendar and then a choc later in the day.

      It is hard work but comitting to an end date and supportive supervisors with the right feedback are key. I also did my uni’s accelerated finish program (i had been going part-time 10 years). The most helpful part of this was constructive ideas to solve my writing problems and someone outside my academic team that I had to report in to.

      We would phone chat for 30 minutes a week I would say my weeks goals and touch base the next week to report back. Many of us in this program were thrown a temporary personal-life related curve ball and supported through it.

      I highly recommend finding someone to fill this role preferably someone approachable, outside your field that has done a PhD.

      You will get there. P.s. Congrats on the pregnancy

Leave a Reply