When the Hands that Rock the Cradle are Also Writing a Dissertation: Tales from the Hip

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock


Bringing life into the world is one of the most awe-striking events I have ever experienced.  The flood of emotions, the sleepless nights, the first steps, all of it makes you giddy with thankfulness and pride. What no one told me when I began my doctoral journey is that most people (you know those who make rational decisions) don’t combine new parenthood or renewed parenthood with it.  Seriously, there are much more sensible pairings like wine and cheese or peanut butter and jelly – but parenting and PhD? Nope.


Not wanting to delay parenthood at least 7 years, my husband and I decided that we would just keep doing life, and when the kids came, we would roll with the punches. We were in for the fight of our lives. The normal adjustments and challenges of parenthood became exaggerated and exacerbated by coursework and dissertation writing.


We have three children: 8, 6, and 2 with varying needs, personalities, developmental stages, etc. Neither of us took into consideration the time we would really need to raise our children while in graduate school. Why? Well, parenthood is a learn-as-you-go type thing. It is on the job training that begins with the first waves of morning sickness. While we had long ago decided that I would be a stay at home mom when we began having children, the weighty decision of both the responsibility of graduate studies and parenting is still something we grapple with daily - even more so as we are in the final stages of our doctoral journeys.


Here are a few things we didn’t consider when becoming parents while in graduate school:

  • Morning sickness

  • Delivery and recovery time (c-section x3 for me)

  • Breastfeeding challenges

  • Nighttime feeding

  • Babysitting (because you have to actually write, right?)

  • Extreme shifts in hormones and personalities

  • Your kids being in school and helping them with their homework

  • Kids’ school projects/field trips/concerts

  • Kids sicknesses

  • Everything


This is surely not an exhaustive list nor is this list exclusive to us.  While we can’t go back and change the past (we wouldn’t anyways), we have learned a few tricks to keep our heads above water. Many of which are applicable to other areas of life.  So whether you can identify with our journey or not, I’m hoping you can glean some hope from these tips.

  1. Give yourself grace. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither will you master the art of parenthood while writing on a deadline. It will take time and tears…lots of both.

  2. Don’t be afraid to say No. Most grad students can relate to not being able to go out with friends/family and being a parent without a babysitter makes the few times you are free hard to take advantage of. We deliberately protect our free time.

  3. Do plan outings. Because your free time is so precious, be sure you set aside time to have fun and refill your tank.

  4. Do what is best for you and your family. I’m not sure where you are as you read this…whether you are single/married or childless/19 kids and counting, don’t let the opinions of others color your decision to become a parent or have more children while in graduate school. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.


We are grateful for our kids. They are watching us fight to achieve something that is not only a personal goal, but also an overarching family goal. My husband and I value higher education and we were aware of the many sacrifices we would make taking the road we did. Our children are a great part of the reason we push so hard to maintain normalcy in our home and reshape the picture of what individuals in higher education look like. We want them to see us graduate, to instill in them the pride that comes with completing a long-term task no matter the level of difficulty. They won’t just get to hear stories about how we did it; they will have memories of watching us shine. Is it tough? God knows it’s tough. Is it worth it? Absolutely.


About the Author

Quantrilla is a personal development writer who lives in the DC Metro area with her husband and three littles. In addition to being a dedicated wife and mother, she is a entrepreneur, doctoral student, and curator of all things lovely.  She writes as The PhD Mamma about things she knows to be true in both personal and professional areas, hoping to encourage others to do the same.

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