Balancing Family and Graduate Studies
An article I recently wrote on parenting is up at the University of Toronto Graduate Student Life site and it’s on how to balance family life with graduate studies. They’ve edited it down so I’m going to post the whole thing here. In case you’re interested in seeing the edited version, you can check it out here.
What does full-time mean? A full-time job requires 40 hours of work a week. A full-time course load at the University of Toronto means five courses for undergraduates, likely less if you’re a graduate student. If your time is indeed full then, by definition, there is no time left. Yet, for the majority of those who choose to juggle the demands of graduate school and family responsibilities, full-time takes on a different meaning. It means finding time for full-time schooling, full-time parenting and, perhaps, even part-time work. It means being able to transition from research to changing diapers to driving kids to hockey practice and then back again to study. While other students can find time for pub socials or late night cramming sessions, student parents are often changing a wet bed, helping with children’s homework instead of their own, or running out to the nearest 24hr grocery store because, as you tucked
your child into bed, they informed you that there are no Shreddies for tomorrow’s breakfast. Time is very full indeed.
So how do you find balance in the middle of multiple full-time responsibilities? How do you deal with the stress that is bound to ensue? How do you maintain healthy relationships in the midst of the busyness? And, why in the world would you ever choose such a hazardous route when graduate school is known to be rather difficult already? Here are some things to remember:
- Use shared activities to bond with children. Often student parents are required to be in seminars, thesis meetings, etc… so they feel unable to spend much time with children who are in school, day care, etc… So, make the most of the time you do have. Study together at the kitchen table with a bowl of popcorn. Make an impromptu stop for ice cream after running the errands together. You don’t need special occasions to create ‘quality time’ or Kodak moments.
- Make sure you schedule time for yourself; where else are you going to find the energy to manage everything and take care of everything else? Whether it’s starting one morning a week at a local café with a latte and the newspaper, crossword puzzle or a good book, or booking a babysitter for an evening to get out with your significant other or friends – time for yourself is important in managing the stress and rejuvenating your stamina for the next round of morning sickness, packing lunches or proposal rewrites.
- Manage expectations. As a parent or someone with other family responsibilities, maybe you can’t be in the lab 24/7 like some colleagues or able to schedule last minute meetings with supervisors. That’s okay. Make this clear to supervisors and others beforehand and find ones that are open to your multiple responsibilities. Having family responsibilities doesn’t mean doing a half-job or having less success in academia, it just means that maybe you schedule differently or take a different route than most to success. The key is being open with yourself that things are different for you, accepting that and then scheduling in ways that work for you and your goals.
- Finally, remember the joys of family. Often the stress and many demands can obscure the many joys, both big and small, of family. Treasure the ball games you get to attend, the first words, and the graduations. Seek out the things you might overlook like a teen who unexpectedly does the dishes, a hastily colored purple horse that is stuck to your fridge, or a flower left by your coffee cup in the morning. Make these little and big moments celebrations of family and important steps in maintaining healthy relationships with those you love.
Maintaining some semblance of balance can be difficult, especially in times when everything seems to collide in one unfortunate week – think, thesis proposal deadline meets dance recital meets visiting relatives. Still, there are strategies and resources that can help you maintain personal satisfaction, rewarding relationships and professional success. And take comfort in the fact that there are hundreds of other graduate students on campus struggling, and somehow managing, through nighttime feedings and endless children’s birthday parties while dealing with grant proposals and constant thesis edits.