The positives of PhD parenting

As I’ve noted before, PhD parenting can be difficult. But do we sometimes ignore the positives? In this lovely post, Rebecca Turvill, PhD student and parent, considers the positives. Rebecca is a 1st year PhD student at Brunel University, London. Her research focuses on how young children develop ‘number sense’ in schools, for which she is undertaking ethnography in two primary schools in the South East of England. Prior to beginning her research Rebecca held roles as a teacher, a deputy head and a primary mathematics consultant in a London borough. In addition to studying, Rebecca is a parent to two small children.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 4.33.13 PMBalancing work, family and life is always considered tricky, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. But as someone who has “chosen” to start a PhD full time with two children under 5, I think I have good insight into just how tricky that can be. I am almost 6 months into my 3 year studentship and at a point where my commitments and deadlines are looming at an accelerated pace. Rather than allow myself to experience the sense of panic which was rising, I decided to write this blog.

Since this adds nothing to my actual thesis, in my past life I would never have taken the diversion to write a blog. However, the PhD is changing me and I have a few reasons to make this unusual choice. Firstly, one excellent piece of advice from my supervisors has been to write, regularly and constantly. I have followed this so far and have benefitted from the experience.

Writing different pieces enables me to enjoy writing even more. Thus whilst not related in content to my thesis, writing improves my writing. Secondly, I don’t often take time to reflect on how I am coping with the process of being a “PhD-mum”. I need to do this to appreciate that this is a choice, a challenge and an opportunity. My previous (limited) experience of blogging put me in touch with a supportive audience for my academic writing; perhaps this piece will open me to a world of supportive “PhD-mums”. Finally, I cope best with panic by channelling it into something.

This is therapy.

I often wonder if I made a bad choice undertaking a PhD at this point in my life/career. I worry that my children will see less of me, feel second to my thesis and my husband will crack under the pressure of the childcare. But, today has come as a good day to reflect on these worries. Due to the looming deadlines and lack of time, this Saturday was a Daddy day. Given that my student status means I can do most of the school runs and normal childcare, devoting the weekends to study is a small step for me, but a giant leap for my relationship.

Unlike a pre-PhD Saturday lazy start, this one began with my alarm so I could crack on before the rest of the family got up – this bought an hour of studying before everyone else needed my attention. This was really useful as I could relax a bit knowing that I had already started. When the children surfaced, I gave them my full attention and we ate together – we don’t often get to do this when my husband is off to work, so I want to preserve this at the weekend. After breakfast my husband began rallying the troops into various day-out arrangements, picnics, teeth-brushing etc.

Under the cover of busyness I returned to work, unnoticed in the throng.

I was briefly interrupted to say goodbye to the team before they headed off. Apart from a short break for a cup of tea and some lunch, I worked uninterrupted for over 5 hours. Knowing that the family would be back at some point and I will “have” to stop keeps me focussed, and the slight adrenaline rush is a positive influence. When they got back, I stopped for a snack with them before they began playing and I am could slip away unnoticed again.

This was my favourite part of the day. I continued to work whilst hearing the general hubbub of family life. This ascended into general merriment as Daddy decided to make home-made burgers with the children, at least two days after I should have done some shopping (some things do slip when you are this busy!). At this point I did lapse and join in the fun (someone needed to clean up and reassure the children those burgers looked just like normal ones…) This meant I could have dinner with the children and participate in the bath and bedtime routine.

So, in the course of the day I managed more than 7 hours of solid focussed work and was able to listen to much of the fun. I didn’t miss out (although I didn’t go to the farm) but my children love the opportunity to tell me something of their day. Importantly they experience a very different day with just Daddy; we see things differently, control things differently (!) and encourage different skills. Plus, they are beginning to express interest in my work, they don’t listen for long, but they always ask me about it.

So, on a day when I hear that 80% of women feel guilty about going back to work after having children – I sympathise (BBC news, 21.1.14). And now I appreciate that I am exceptionally lucky. I am focussed on an area of research I am passionate about. I am learning something every day. And, I am giving my children and husband an opportunity to spend some quality time together and discover things without my (overbearing?) guidance! So, whilst I am busy, lacking sleep and a bit stressed day to day, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A friend of mine was unfortunately made redundant during her second maternity – a sign of the times. She recently posed the question of whether 18 months later leaving her Facebook status as “maternity leave” was OK since “stay-at-home mum” was such a big move for her. I have never specified my status but I might start to proclaim it; I think the idea of “PhD-mum” might just be the best opportunity my family could have.

How about you? Are you managing a PhD with a family life? Do you get to join in on the activities, at least vicariously? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Related posts

The perils of PhD parenting

Parenting your way to a PhD

The foibles of flexibility

The toddler’s guide to the PhD

67 thoughts on “The positives of PhD parenting

  1. You’re fortunate that your husband is prepared to head out the door for 5 hours on a weekend to give you some work time. Mine – no. Never. He heads out the door (overseas usually) every week for work and he spends his weekends in his man cave recovering, leaving me to do all the things I do through the week – cooking, running the kids around to their various sporting fixtures (many of which are compulsory school activities) and doing the grocery shopping which is a mammoth task with 3 boys, two of whom are teens. Many other PhD-Mums are single parents and have very little support. I think you’re in the fortunate position that a) your husband is prepared to share the logistics of parenting and b) your children are young enough that they can still do things together at the same time. Make the most of it! Get that PhD done before the children start heading off in different directions, each requiring a parent or carpool to get them there. Get it finished before your husband gets a big promotion that has him commuting to and from Scotland or Lyons on a weekly basis.

    • Yep. Ditto. My husband goes the full on guilts if I try to crack on uni during the weekend. That’s “family time”. I try to steal time when it doesn’t inconvenience anyone. So late nights basically.

      But I’m happy for you! (And damn jealous)

  2. It was great to read your positive story and to know that as a PhD mum, it is possible to have a semblance of balance. I’m a PhD-mum of 2 daughters (10 and 8) and my husband is also a great help. It takes a village to write a thesis, and it helps to be passionate about the topic as well so that time spent away from the family is on something that matters. A happy mother makes a happy family! Cheers to PhD-mums!

    • I always joke around saying “it takes a village to write a thesis” so I was glad to see I am not the only one saying it! I am PHD-mum of two (3 years old and 1 years old) and although I wished my husband was more helpful (he tries really hard, but often comes short) I am so grateful to have many people around me supporting me (sister, sister in law, mother, mother in-law, friends)
      Without “my vlllage” I would have cracked by now.

  3. Thank you for a great blog post. Your description of the surge of adrenaline that comes from knowing that you have 5 hours until the kids come home really resonated with me. I think that this is really the hidden advantage of doing a PhD with kids, although the available time is less, your ability to focus and work without distraction is much greater. I know mine was.

  4. Hi. Thank you so much for your blog. I really needed it, especially when I am now near completion. I am a mother of two gorgeous boys, a 6 years old and a 10 months baby. The plan sarcastically was that I submit my thesis before giving birth to my second baby. But, life happened!!! Family drama hit hard and had to have intermission, and maternity leave. Now, I am a part time student which is killing me. I really wanted to finish within the time frame but sadly can’t. The good thing is that my supervisor is a very understanding guy. But, I really needall the motivation of the world to cope with stress, sleepless nights of feeding and caring and get back on track. Thanks again for reminding me that I am not alone.

    • Life keeps happening, and we have to just do our best. You are amazing coping with a 10 month old and trying to use your brain! I’m part-time with a 18 month old and am finding my way out of the post-baby fug of sleepless nights … stick with it and remember it gets easier 🙂

  5. I am a PhD- Mum of 6 children and think I will definitely make “PhD-Mum” my new official status! I struggle with the guilt that comes with feeling like my academic work is in competition with my family for my attention- but know ultimately I am doing my best to maintain some sort of balance…

  6. I think the ability to pick up in the middle and drop it as quickly has been key as well. Not so much reading but writing? I drop my work in the middle of a sentence nowadays and pick it up as easily.

    My daughter gets to see me work, gets to see me do ‘homework’ and intellectual labour. It’s not hidden from her in a workspace or an office, it’s done in front of her and with her at the table while she draws.

  7. I also really think that knowing you have to do X by a certain time (appointment to pick somebody up) helps you to focus. I find that I do more productive work when I have to do something else some hours after commencing research work. Another way is to have a “reward” planned at a certain time, so you can be productive to that time.

  8. I take my hat off to you for managing full-time status (and presumably the completion timetable that goes with that). I’m a PhD-mum of 3 (7, 5 and 1) and only enrolled part-time but still not managing what I think I should be doing. The myriad activities for the older children that Susan talks about in her comments, together with being the primary carer (husband currently overseas…) and inability to get daycare for my 1 year old, means that I can only work when my baby is sleeping (like now… hmm, I probably should be doing something else) and my 5-year-old is at preschool – so about 4 hours a week, plus whatever I can manage at night. Sometimes I really can’t see that I will ever finish and I worry that by the time I get close, someone else will have whipped my thesis out in 2 years, rather than the 7 it looks like taking me.

    And for those of you with kids at school, don’t you hate it when the mums say “Oh, Amanda can do canteen/uniform shop etc today, she’s just at home” – grr, I’m actually working!

    Having said all that, after trying university teaching/marking, this is the best balance I’ve managed to strike between the family responsibilities and keeping my brain active in an area that I love – I just keep reminding myself of that.

  9. Great blog- thanks! It helps to know others are out there. I’m trying to finish writing up with two baby boys, 1 and 2 years old. Both arrived after the phd had commenced, as my wonderful supervisor said: “life happens”.

    Though it doesn’t make it any easier on those long nights when noone sleeps! I started a private Tumbler photo-log called “Two Babies and a Phd”, so I can also look back when it’s all done. Well, when it hopefully all gets done….

  10. It does take a village to give birth to a thesis, especially when the mother is raising two young children, works part time and creatively squeezes in a Phd. In 2011, after a health scare, I began the PhD journey (officially enrolled in 2012). I did ask for Divine providence, and when it arrived in the form of inspiration for a topic and an excellent Supervisor, I consider it one of those “meant to be” kind of pursuit. I too have a husband who enjoys travelling to keep a vocation that he enjoys, following long hours of work anyway for the past 5 years. I choose to plan my PhD journey as if he’s not around to provide the support that I need because for 6-8 weeks in a quarter (average) he is overseas. I still want to study full time and finish my PhD by end of next year, so while there are issues that annoy me and present challenges in the journey, I learned that the emotional cost is lower in focussing on the alternative means. With more energy to experiment with optional support arrangements, I could progress quite well considering that I can study well most of the time 2x half days on weekends and outside the children’s bedtime. I also asked my mom from overseas to stay with us as long as she can to support me from time to time. Her support has enabled me to complete my colloquium in time on 12/12/12. When children are sick, I stop studying and just focus on caring for them and myself. I have learned to manage my time during the day to the hours, and label my study time as my “me” time which of course cost me some social connections – but I also discovered the style of friendship that works in mutual respect. There are other things I have experimented with to navigate the balance across family, income generating work for the present, and the passion/rretirement project called PhD. The strongest lessons that emerged from the experiments are 1) mental and physical fitness are essential in becoming a Doctor of Philosophy while there are personal commitments that require attention – so on daily basis I exercise choices that preserve my energy for what matters e.g. that reading between 9pm-midnight; 2) given that humans are created to be social creatures, I am not to do this alone nor to be in the company of non-supportive people. I keep my social life healthy (not popular) and exchange support with friends, and I keep a distance from people who hold cynical views about moms who want to do a PhD at this point in time.

    My mom is not available to support me anymore, but I can call on sympathetic supportive friends and paid help. I also have very supportive, caring and clever Supervisors who skillfully keep the balance between the tension to get me going and the space for me to breathe and rest when life calls for.

    Last but not least, when my husband is in town, I dig my heels in and ask him to spend as much quality time as possible with the children so I can get on with my study. Like this week, it’s school holiday and he will be away again for 3 weeks in October. I insisted that he and the children go interstate to visit his sister to spend lovely extended family time that they normally enjoy only for 3 days during Christmas break, for the entire week. So for 6 days I have the house to myself and can press the accelerator on my PhD tasks … and some other things such as writing this comment that I had been wanting to do but couldn’t get around it. Because I am (we the PhD moms are) “worth it”.

  11. This post resonated with me, as I embark on my first year of my PhD journey, I’m balancing work, study and life as a recent single parent to two young children. I find I need to be organised, committed and ensure self care so that I can be the best mum and student I can be. I also have wonderful supervisors. Yes, some days are tougher than others but I have happy kids and a PhD topic I believe in (which is rather a good thing seeing as I’ll be researching it for at least three years!).

  12. It’s so refreshing to read that it is possible to juggle a PhD and still be a good mum! I’m into my second year of a part time PhD and currently on maternity (only 5 days to go until my due date!) I’m planning to take 6 months off and them go back to work gradually, making the most of help from my husband and family.

  13. I love your blog! I’m not a PhD mum but a PhD student considering having a kid after reading all of these comments and how most of you get along with all the pressure. I believe I’m not the only woman afraid of becoming a mother during her PhD and you take a lot of my fears and smash them, thank you so much!

  14. Thank you for sharing your positive story! It can get so easy to think of the “what ifs” or get overwhelmed. Several of us PhD mums and dads have gotten together and made a FB group for support and advice, please feel free to join us!

  15. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am 9 months into my full-time PhD and have a three year old son and a very supportive husband. Thanks for sharing how your Saturdays work out as we were just talking about starting to do this and I was feeling very guilty about missing out on afternoons out, so this has made me feel better and see the positives in it.

  16. I am way too overwhelmed to appreciate this. I am a dad whose daughter came 1 year into my phd after a health crisis forced us to bring our child plans forward. My university is in another country so we had no family support to help us and quickly became overwhelmed with being new parents on a low income. My partner then got post-natal depression so after pushing on for another 6 month we decided to move back to our home country to our current home. Family support has been great but now i am far from my university communtiy and due in part to my introvert tendancies feel out of touch, alone and confused about what i am doing. 6 years after starting i nearly have a full draft but can’t really see the point anymore. I peridocally skype my supervisor but just come away feeling more confused and bewildered.

    Seriously, if you have the choice, do not phd and parent.

    • You raise an important issue here – what about the PhD dads? Often people realise a woman needs support with a young baby, but the dads seem to fall through the safety net. Supervisors vary immensely but some don’t seem to realise the pressures of young children, either having none or not having been heavily involved in raising their own … let alone the difficulties of supervising at a distance. Perhaps you should start a blog?

    • Hi there, while it’s really inspiring to read about all these people who are having a positive experience of PhD + parenting, this post does resonate strongly with me. I got pregnant during the first year of my PhD, we then had to move 400 miles away from the university for my husband’s work. We did had support of grandparents so lucky in that respect but we were both very overwhelmed by parenthood and it is only now (3 years later) that my husband has become more supportive with childcare, e.g. taking our son out on weekends so I can push for the deadline. It seems that one of the other key factors to success seem to be having a very supportive supervisor – welll my supervisor is very supportive in a social sense (i.e. supportive of the fact that I have a family and other commitments) but not very supportive academically. Coming away from a supervision feeling bewildered and confused is a very familiar experience. SO the thing I find really difficult to understand is this notion of getting an adrenaline rush to work hard in the hours where you are child-free. I don’t procrastinate all the time, but I do often find that I sit there feeling overwhelmed and scared and not knowing what to do, and just become massively unproductive. Pre-child there would inevitably come a point where I had to get past that and get on with things but now there is no spare time, plus I feel guilty for every minute that I waste, which just adds to the whole problem. So I found an article by James Hayton (http://jameshaytonphd.com/invincible/) which may get to the crux of the problem – the fact that I struggle to maintain a positive mindset, partly due to my personality and partly due to the circumstances that I am in. And I wonder if perhaps that is the major difference between myself and the people in these posts who are doing an amazing job of making the PhD-parent experience work for them…

  17. Thanks for your reflections! I too found many positives in PhD parenting, even when “life got in the way”. I moved interstate after a marriage breakdown, leaving me PhD ‘single parenting’ two young daughters (now 6 & 9yrs) for a good two thirds of my PhD. Like you, I became a time management guru. I have dedicated my PhD to my girls who had barely known life without my PhD. I hope I have shown them that girls can do anything they want to! I’m not one for proclaiming my status on social media but I’m thinking “Post-Doc Mum” has a nice ring to it!

  18. Thanks for your post! I’m a third year PhD student who started my PhD and then got pregnant with my daughter. Something you didn’t mention that I think makes such a different for me is the support of a supervisor. Mine is amazing, I’ve brought my daughter to meetings when necessary, I was even able to nurse in front of my supervisor. My husband (fellow PhD and current post-doc) is amazing too but it also really made a difference when it came to a supportive supervisor and committee.

  19. I am another PhD mum – I started part time nearly 7 years ago and have since then had got married, had a child and am now working on corrections, as well as holding down my permanent lecturing position. I feel guilty often for the weekends I work, the time I spend at work, the time I don’t spend at work… my daughter is fascinated by my work and as I am in the visual arts, I sometimes shoehorn a mama day into research time. The things that I find hardest are accepting the choices I made – to go back to studying when she was 5 months old, to miss rehearsal at the wedding she was a flower girl, to miss bedtime for a few months before submission. They were the right choices. It still sucks. Now she is just at school and I am socialising with my phd and work peers for the first time since she was born. It is tough being a phd mum (especially part time for 4 of the 7 years) but I hope she will respect my choice as she grows older.
    And you sound like you are rocking it!

  20. I am a single parent in my 5th year write up of a 4 year PhD. Here’s my story: I began as a childless student, to a PhD Mum at the end my first year, to married PhD mum in my second year and separated by my fourth year. I did 8 months fieldwork in Peru with a 1 year old somewhere in the middle of that! I have become disabled through out my PhD with chronic RSI from constant computer use. My funding ended in June and I now live off benefits which nowhere near cover nursery fees.This isn’t a sob story, I do have a point to make! I am very very behind but I just want to say that if I can do it anyone can!

  21. Gosh, I forgot to mention the part where I’d found it do difficult to so fieldwork with my then husband who didn’t speak the language of fieldwork site and one year old baby that my then husband took our son with him back to UK while I stayed behind to complete two extra months of fieldwork. I sometimes wonder if it was the right thing to do. I must say, I’d be very careful to recommend PhD parenting, PG students don’t get childcare support which I don’t think many people realise and statistically, it takes parents a lot longer to finish.

  22. Is there a link to Rebecca’s blog? I would like to follow it as I embark on my final undergraduate modules. She writes well (I love the snappy paragraph) and inspires. I sleep through the alarm every day; perhaps tomorrow I’ll have an hour’s study before work. Thanks.

  23. I’m thrilled to see all the replies to this excellent post – I often feel like the only ‘PhD mum’ out there! (In fact, I’m pretty sure I am the only PhD mum in my university faculty…) Thankfully doing a humanities PhD I don’t have to attend uni often, but I regularly find it frustrating that optional classes or social events are arranged at awkward times that wouldn’t suit most people with caring responsibilities (e.g. a discussion group coming up on campus at 5.30pm – too late for paid-for childcare, too early to commute after my partner gets home to take over). There seems to be a general attitude that everyone is available all the time on site; I receive invitations to events or meetings at very short notice without consideration that I might need to plan ahead (no full-time childcare!).

    I sporadically update my blog (PhD, Baby, and Me on WordPress: http://phdbabyandme.wordpress.com) – lots of posts about how we balance the routine/time-management! Every week is different. This week as we can’t afford any more childcare this month I’m in ‘stay at home mum’ mode, occasionally working during naptime and evenings, but rarely having the energy to do enough. It’s hard to know if I’m getting the balance right.

  24. What a beautiful post. Thank you. I am in my final year of doing a PhD, and commenced this when both my children were under 5. I would do it again without hesitation. I have attended most school events, been available for them when they need me, and then just make up the time when they are sleeping (plus we are lucky to have access to affordable, high quality childcare).

    Doing the PhD hasn’t got in the way of me being a Mum, rather it has supported me to mother my children in the way I want to. It gives me a solid career focus and permits the right amount of family time.

    Since starting the PhD my boys have enjoyed the PhD, and travelled the PhD path with me. I am looking into children’s rights to participate in decision making, so in a lot of way the topic is relevant and accessible to them.

    A few years ago my eldest son said ‘Mummy I think your next PhD should be in Lego’. Interestingly, he also talks about what his PhD will be about, and this changes from month to month. I like the fact that he has witnessed me doing a PhD and he seems to like what he sees. Further, the process of doing a PhD is not mystical like it is to so many, and he sees it as a possibility for him should he choose to do so.

  25. Hi!
    I’ve just started my PhD and I’m not a mum, but a dad of 6! Nice to hear your balance of study and family is going well. I hope I manage to continue the balance also! 🙂

  26. Pingback: The Work Continues | orlaegan

  27. Loved your post! I could really relate to it. As a PhD mum, the best part of the week are the weekends: when my husband spend time with the kids and I get to focus on my PhD for the whole day. And as you mentioned, they get to spend time without our ‘guidance’, which is great for both of us! 🙂

  28. I’m a single mum to two children and aiming to do a PhD once my Masters is out of the way. Loved finding your blog as I’m an off campus student and it’s easy to think I’m the only one on this path.

  29. Thank you, Rebecca.

    This post resonates with me. I started my PhD when my first child was 2 and my second child was 6 months old, and then 6 months later I went back to my job in an 80%-of-full-time capacity.

    Now I am two years into my PhD, parenting two pre-schoolers, working 0.8 and writing my thesis. I wrote about my attempts at an academic ‘schedule’ on the PhD Talk blog here: http://phdtalk.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/the-passionate-phd-let-excitement-and.html.

    Because it is one thing of many that I am immersed in, my research is a sacred and wonderful intellectual escape from the other parts of my life. And being stimulated in an academic realm helps me to feel more present, more grateful and somehow more whole in my time spent parenting.

  30. I am a PhD research mum as well and reading your post made me realize I am experiencing something similar. My husband and son are having a time to know each other more than in the past when my husband worked the whole day. It is stimulating to hear that I am not alone in this journey and that other moms like you share feelings that at a certain extent are really useful. Especially because I have started to feel quite stressed and anxious because I feel time is flying and my progress is not as I expected. Thanks for sharing this.

  31. So lovely to hear all of the PhD and parenting stories. It is easy to look jealously at all the child free cohorts that don’t have the same pressures but I think parenting makes me far more organised with my study – you know that your hours are limited and it helps keep you away from distractions. Also I really enjoy doing it part time, the time away from it, being forced to focus on other things is really great as incubation time on ideas. Lastly he flexibility, there is no other working arrangement I know of where your boss doesn’t care whether you work at 9am or 3am, which lets you spend those extra precious hours with your family.
    p.s. I must admit when my husband is home I have been known to flee to the study during the dreaded dinner, bed and bathtime….nothing like your only alternative being a cranky toddler to motivate you to study!!

  32. I do consider all the concepts you have presented on your post.
    They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too quick for newbies.
    May you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thank you for the post.

  33. Thank you for the blogs and all the stories. I am currently writing a blog about my experience of having a child finishing the PhD, and your stories once again confirm my impression that ieveryone’s experience is different.
    I was in the middle of year 3, when my first child was born, and I was totally unprepared for the event. I took maternity leave for 4 months, and then went back to full-time PhD and full-time freelance work (which I needed to finance the PhD). During the first 4 months, my husband was finishing his studies, and we did not see much of him. Then he came back and helped (a lot), also I got a lot of help from my mother (something that still happens in Eastern Europe :)). It was still hard, looking after a child without the convenience of daycare, and also breastfeeding, while having to submit the work for the deadlines, and to submit the work assignments. But I also experienced the ‘rush of adrenaline’, and the thought that I only have 1/2-2 hours to do my work at most kept me completely focused.
    I finished my PhD in 18 months, and went for viva just a week after my son turned 2. He is my pride and joy and inspiration. It was great, parenting and doing the PhD, but I would not have had the courage to combine it if I knew just how hard it would be…
    So good luck and good cheer for all the brave PhD mums and dads!

  34. Help us to raise awareness about Student Parents in higher education because an increasing number of student parents attend post-secondary institutions today but they are often underrepresented. Finding the right balance between raising a family and pursuing an advanced degree isn’t easy but is a challenge well worth undertaking!!! Join our campaign connecting #UFStudentParents #UFPhDMoms . Share pictures using the hash tag #UFStudentParents you can print out your own sign via this link in the album. And join the student-parents page! Tag your own school as well so we can see how far out campaign gets!

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  35. I enjoyed reading this blog and the comments. It’s helped me feel a little less like it’s just me leading a chaotic life of juggling studying with parenting. I’m both a mature student and mum of youngish children – my youngest was 4 when I started my PhD – and I often feel challenged or excluded by the social and extracurricular activities that seem geared around those who can attend events in the evenings or weekends. A particular gripe was that my university put all its research training days on Saturdays – as with so much about being a parent whilst doing a PhD I compromised and attended about half.

    But doing a PhD whilst bringing up now primary age children has been the best thing I could have done. It’s really, really hard at times and I frequently start my days at 4.00 or 5.00 am – but I feel enormously privileged to be able to study something that I’m passionate about whilst being home-based and around for my children. Before I had my children I worked ridiculously long hours away from home and I was desperate to find a different way of juggling work/life commitments. Doing a PhD has been fantastic for that. It is a constant balancing act and sometimes the PhD loses out because of my children, or the freelance work I still have to do, and sometimes my children resent the time I spend studyinig. But like others have said, I think it’s a good thing that they see me working.

    I’m full of admiration, however, for those who are doing this as a single parent or with partners who are less than fully supportive. I’m aware that I’m in the fortunate position of having a partner who actively tries to find opportunities to give me space away from the children. He’s a brilliant dad and it’s great to know that they’re having quality family time, even when I’m not involved.

    My only concern now is how I continue to have some control over my time once I finish. I’ve got up to another two years to go – although no funding for the last year so that will be interesting. I’m so keen to avoid going back into a full time job that gobbles up all your time and energy and spits you out at the end of the working week feeling exhausted. It would be lovely to know what others are planning to do when they finish.

  36. Thank you for this lovely post and for the overwhelmingly positive replies from all the other PhD parents out there. I am in my first year of my PhD and will be a PhD mum in 3 months. As my field is engineering, there aren’t a lot of PhD women, let alone PhD mums, in my department. It is reassuring to know that doing a PhD while caring for a young child is indeed possible (although certainly not easy)! I have to admit that I worry a lot about maintaining my focus and motivation and I also worry about my post-PhD career prospects, because I can’t invest much time in career building activities. However, it is heartening to see that others have survived and have gone on to have successful careers afterwards.

  37. Pingback: ‘Tis the season to eat lollies (and enter competitions) | The Thesis Whisperer

  38. I liked your article, but the last paragraph has a bit of a sting towards your friend (who has an equally important role ), especially since the qualification of “PhD” mum is likely to be considered by society as more esteemed than a “stay at home” mum…”proclaiming your status” as a PhD mum is likely to be perceived very differently by society than that perceived when someone “proclaims their status” as “stay at home” mum..

  39. What a great blog, good to remind ourselves how it all fits and that ultimately it will benefit the whole family. I’ve got two (3&7) and am still finding my feet with a routine. I remind myself that PhD is my job to try to curtail the waves of guilt that I’m not a good student when I’m with the kids and not a good mum when I’m with the books. I love working with the hubbub noise too, infancy have done some fairly good reading in the soft play cafe of the local dinosuar park (hey what ever works right).

    All in all I think parenting and phd are complimentary, my kids keep things in perspective and grounded and I find I am much more organised and methodical than some of my fellow researcher, I can’t afford last minute panics so make sure (so far) I head them off at the pass.
    Will take a tip from you about the writing though have not written for about a month and am starting to feel the fear.

    Thanks for a great post, I know it was a while ago you wrote it, hope all is still going well.

  40. Pingback: Single-parenting through a PhD | The Thesis Whisperer

  41. It was really comforting to read this post. I am in my first year as a part-time PhD and finding it a real challenge. I have 3 children between 9 and 17 years old and I am partner in our small family business. I often feel that I need to juggle so much and that I’m not spending enough time on my PhD, which ofcourse leads me to panic. That said this PhD is a journey that I really want to take. Thanks again for creating a space of relatedness.

  42. Pingback: Dr Daddy and the Double Act | The Thesis Whisperer

  43. Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of information on your
    site. Im really impressed by yyour blog.
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  44. I know this is an older article. But, I just found out I’m pregnant (very early) at the same time I’m receiving fully funded acceptances to good PhD programs. I would start in the fall, so it doesn’t come at great timing. I think I’m more worried that the program would frown upon it or that it would interfere with my teaching commitments. Has anyone gone through something similar, or ran into any issues with their department? Also, I’ll be moving across the country to pursue it–adding to the challenges.

    • I wouldn’t worry about it being ‘frowned upon’, I can guarantee if you were male, you would probably receive pats on the back and congratulations. I started mine when my daughter was a year old and yes researching and writing when you are sleep deprived is a challenge but it is also a great time to do it because it is far more flexible than most jobs. You can take time when they are sick etc and catch it up when you can. I think one of the biggest challenges is the cost of childcare while a student, if you get help with that then go for it! Good luck, I am on the home stretch now, set to complete well ahead of schedule this year (and I completed my confirmation ahead of time also), so living proof it is possible!

  45. Pingback: Will my children be damaged by my PhD? | The Thesis Whisperer

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