Claire Gear is a distance student doing her PhD research on responding to intimate partner violence in primary health care. She is also a mum to two boys aged 5 and 2 ½.
Each morning, she drops the kids off at school and daycare, works from home during the day, and picks them up in the afternoon. Having those daytime hours free to do her research really works for her, especially as she and her family treat her PhD research like a job. She feels that the job approach “legitimises [the PhD] within the family, since both parents are at work.”
Claire has a dedicated home workspace with a laptop that no-one else is allowed to touch; that way, her work stays safe and secure from prying fingers. She is able to work solidly while her children are away during the day. However, she says that “it all falls over” when one of her boys gets sick. Because she works from home, having a sick child at home inevitably disrupts her routine – even if her husband takes a day off to look after them.
Claire’s supervisors have been understanding of her parenting commitments and supportive of her working outside of Auckland, arranging for key events such as meetings of the student group at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Trauma Research to be video-conferenced. That way, even from a distance, she can stay part of the student community.
Claire with her two boys
Although she has a productive routine, Claire sometimes feels that she can’t be as committed as she’d like to either her children or her research: “you always feel like you’re failing at one or the other… there is no perfect balance,” she says. “For women too, there’s an added pressure… Mum guilt.”
Although she does a little more of the day-to-day childcare now, Claire and her husband have talked about trading places once she gets her qualification. When she becomes Dr. Gear, Claire plans to work full-time while her husband scales back his working hours to take on more of their parenting responsibilities.
But in the meantime, Claire’s studies give her a great opportunity to empathise with her kids. When her 5-year-old started school, Claire’s thesis supervisor asked him how it would feel to be going to school ‘like Mummy.’ Since then, Claire and her oldest have been talking about what they each did at school that day – and Claire likes setting an example about the importance of lifelong learning.