Stephanie contributed this article on her strategies for combining research with motherhood. Thank you Stephanie!
“Reserved for The Best Mum Ever!” read the sign written neatly in pink, green and purple coloured pens, lovingly placed on the dining table next to a plate of hundreds-and-thousands biscuits piled high like a pyramid, a chocolate marshmallow fish, a nut bar and a piece of toast with butter and jam. Oh, and a hot mug of tea. This was my special breakfast for Mother’s Day last Sunday.
I am a mum to a wonderful nine-year-old and I am into the fourth year (and hopefully the last) of my PhD. (I can’t believe she was only six when I started!!!) I am not a parenting expert, and I cannot say I’ve got it all together all the time. But I have five things I would like to share with you that help me manage both the demands of research and parenting. I will write them as a numbered list, because for some reason, I cannot write paragraphs anymore without headings and numerals.
- A reliable support system. I feel like my husband and daughter should be with me on stage for my graduation and should get their own diplomas too. It takes a village, they say, and I could not agree more. I have also surrounded myself with a trustworthy community – neighbours, school parents, friends from church, soccer, ballet, (insert your own after-school activity). Every little bit of help makes a big difference. Whether it’s a parent helping pick up my child after school because my husband and I cannot make it there before 3 pm (who does anyway?), someone at ballet to tie my daughter’s hair in a bun because I missed my bus again (and daddy cannot do it properly) or our neighbour bringing in our rubbish bins. I absolutely cannot do everything on my own.
- I am mum when I get home and while my daughter’s awake. When I am with her, I am 100% available to her. Never mind I need to read 700 journal papers before morning, reading Roald Dahl to her at bedtime is more important.
- A good cup of coffee. A soak in the bath. A great novel and pyjamas. Maybe binge-watching Suits on Netflix. Whatever it is, have time for yourself guilt-free.
- Be a cool superhero. I don’t always get time for school drop-offs or pick-ups. But I do volunteer for science experiments. Believe me, make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, and you will forever be cool in the eyes of your child (and her class). Just make sure you give the teacher an extra-large scoop of ice cream (you don’t want to steal her thunder). They all think I’m the female version of Einstein and I haven’t even finished writing up my thesis!
- Keep things in perspective. It’s just a PhD. At the end of the day, what matters most is that beautiful face that looks up to me and says I love you, mummy, who believes that I’m The Best Mum Ever!