This article by Dr Melissa Gould first appeared on Thesislink in May 2017, when Melissa was about to receive her PhD. She is now a graduate not a graduand, but we think her tips are still fantastically relevant to postgrad parents!
I signed up for my doctoral studies and got pregnant in the same month…seven years ago. In July, my six-year-old daughter, my three-year-old son, and my partner will watch me walk across the Aotea Centre stage as I graduate with my PhD in Communication Studies from AUT.
Being a postgrad parent is nothing short of a challenge. So here are some strategies that characterised my time as a postgrad parent:
Be kind to yourself. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you are on the study treadmill or questioning your decisions as a parent, be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can at that moment and that’s all that matters. FULL STOP!
Be present. If you are a post-grad parent it can be impossible to separate studying and parenthood. Instead, consider creating sections of your day where you can devote yourself fully to being a parent or a student.
Reduce guilt. I struggled with this a lot. I often thought that studying was making me a bad parent: I was often stressed, overworked, or disengaged from my children. Was choosing to study a selfish choice? After all, I made the decision to study, not my children. I shifted gears when I realised I could use my studying as a learning opportunity, a teaching tool, for my children. I was role-modelling a love of learning. My daughter loves that I study. She loves that we both do schoolwork, and that mum is writing a book that will be in the school’s library that mum goes to. And she’s looking forward to going to mum’s prizegiving with her dad and brother to see mum get a big certificate.
Remember the end goal: For me it was visualising the moment my children watch me walk across the graduation stage. I was studying as much for them as I was for me. By realising that my children are part of the goal of my study it helped me release some guilt and be present.
Have flexible study habits: As a mother and a student, I was always changing how I worked, in order for it to work. My daughter slept in four hour blocks and 12 hours through the night from 6 weeks old, so finding time to study was reasonably easy. But she dropped her daytime naps before the age of 2, and before she turned 3 I had given birth to her brother. Everything kept changing. For the most part, my study took place between 9pm and 2am. Sometimes my son would wake causing me to have an unscheduled study-break, or I was working only by the light from the computer screen so I wouldn’t wake the kids. It wasn’t easy, but it happened because it had to.
One step at a time. Each day do something related to your study. Whether its returning a library book, writing notes, or talking to someone about your topic. It all counts getting you closer to the end goal.
My favourite piece of advice I got when I was pregnant was not to get overwhelmed by all of the advice that is out there. Instead, let your child teach you. I’ve since realised that this relates to my experience as a post-grad parent. People’s experiences are never exactly the same. So listen to yours, be mindful, and embrace it.
You’ve got this!