3 Ways to Carve Space for a Student Mom


Today's guest post comes from an ambitious grad student, Megan Yinger, currently going for her Ph.D LIKE A BOSS. She's doing the dance that so many young moms know by heart — balancing a challenging course load with work and family life. So I asked her to shed some light on that experience, considering I got pregnant post-college — when my classes were all behind me. Today Megan's writing about carving space for your different roles, and that's something that I can very much identify with as a work-from-home mom. Take it away, Megan...

You may remember me from my Q & A post — but things have changed since last year. I was accepted into a Ph.D program in American Studies and started as a teaching assistant this past August. My son, Elliott, is now almost 17 months old, so he is an active toddler! While it has been stressful at times, it has also been great to keep moving forward in my career.

After you have made the decision to become a student / mom, which I will discuss in a future post, it is crucial that you carve out spaces in your life to be successful. If you've been an undergraduate or graduate student before without children, then this is a whole new ball game. You can longer sit and read for hours upon hours, uninterrupted.

1. At home: The majority of your work will obviously be done at home, especially if your childcare budget is limited (or non-existent). If you have the space, create a dedicated area for your school supplies. This way little hands won’t be dumping your research all over the floor or doodling in your school notes. If you can,wait until bedtime to get started on work. I like to dedicate as much of my time at home to playing and interacting with E. One also must carve out time to get work done, as naptimes and bedtime are not going to provide enough quiet time. Here is where to enlist your spouse, partner, parents, or whoever is helping you with your kiddo.  Ask for an hour (two, three, whatever) to dedicate to schoolwork. Then, do it.  Focus up and take advantage of this quiet time. (Then buy your helper some wine for being so wonderful.)

2. At school / work: I put these two together because if you are in a program like mine, my work is at school, and I suspect many of the graduate students in the audience will identify. At school, it's important to draw boundaries. Craft a schedule that allows you to take classes at night, or only come to school on certain days (rather than Monday through Friday). It won’t always be easy (my spring schedule is a crazy, hairy mess), but when possible, it makes life so much easier. If a meeting comes up on a “day off,” explain your childcare situation. Be open and communicate with those around you. Don’t try to always make it work for everyone else; you need to be considered as well. Additionally, when possible, leave work at work. I try to get as much grading and planning done at work as is possible.  It’s off my plate and stowed away in a drawer until I return.

3. Mentally: The way you create mental space for being a student / mom is the most important key to success. If you are not already hooked on a detailed planner, purchase one for yourself now, or use a computer calendar. You have enough things to think about with your kiddo, and it's not going to get easier when you add due dates, deadlines, and meetings to the mix. You also have to let the people around you now that you do have time for them, but it's compartmentalized. For instance, I have a department meeting every Friday at 3:00. I made it clear that I had to leave by 4:00, since it's unfair to my childcare provider to be late picking up E. Finally, use the “Sunday Funday” system (or whatever day works for you). I got this idea from my best friend who is not a mom, but works a full time job and is in a rigorous program at night. She dedicates Sundays to little day trips, date days with her boyfriend, or time with her family. Your marriage and your children are just as important as your career, and it's crucial to make time to see a movie, go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, or decorate the Christmas tree.

I have to say that I’m a lucky woman. I have a husband who supports me 110%, parents and in-laws who step up in amazing ways, and a program that embraces my position as a student / mom. Every situation is different, but with the right mind-set and the proper dedication, it can work for you too.

Feel free to comment questions and suggestions for future posts!

Thank you Michelle for providing me the opportunity to address this void in the Early Mama community. You are really an inspiration to all of us! [ed: blushing!]


Read more about Megan at her blog, The Yingers.

Photo: Flickr/azrasta