I got an email today from Flossie over at Stepping on Acorns. When, she asks, is the prime time for the academic to stop making decent progress toward her (his) degree and instead change diapers, quit sleeping, and reduce their free time to zero by way of the world’s biggest time suck?
My short answer: now, never, 10 years ago, 10 years from now.
There is no good answer to this question. People ask me frequently “HOOOW DOO you DOOOO it??!!” It being, of course, have three kids, teach several classes, and still read enough that I can, with a small amount of self-respect, call myself a grad student.
Here’s how I do it. I had a baby when I was a freshman in college–not really planned. I had a second during my MA work (planned). Both times I had my Mommy who graciously, happily, and FREELY (as in free childcare) took my babies while I went to class, studied, worked as a tutor, taught, and etc. I had a highly involved partner who took up probably more than his fair share of my slack.
I had a third two years ago, during the second year of my PhD course work. Now, DON’T GET ME WRONG, and don’t send be a bunch of hate comments, but having a baby during my PhD was maybe NOT the best decision I’ve ever made. Of course, I love my youngest, I’m ultimately happy we had him (how could I not be??), and I can’t imagine having not had him.
But nothing short of losing my eyesight in a chemical explosion could have stalled my degree work more. I was three states away from my Mommy and he was the most difficult child of the bunch (colicky, cranky, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t be happy EVER). I could barely get my teaching prep and a little reading done. I got barely 40 pages of writing done in the year after he was born.
This is the scary, honest truth.
Now things are better–I actually have large chunks of time to myself as a result of strategic scheduling, a great friend who babysits, the God of PBS, full day kindergarten, and my terrific husband. I am, now, making slow, decent progress–giving a couple papers at conferences, getting my exams squared away, and teaching some upper division courses.
There are other people who have had babies in my PhD program since I’ve been here. One was smart enough to wait until she was done with course work. Another was smart enough to wait until she had tenure. (Both as opposed to *my* smart decision to have one smack-dab in the middle of course work.) But I don’t think either of them would say it was anywhere near easy, because having a baby even when having that baby is the only thing you’re doing is a huge undertaking.
There is no right answer to this question of “when to have the baby.” My advice is that if you want to, do it. Key, though, and what will make it worlds easier, is having a partner and support network in place that will provide you with the release time you need. Sure, you can read while nursing, and type one-handed while you hold the baby. But that gets old fast–especially when the baby gets big enough to grab at the keyboard or push the book off your lap with his feet. Do you have friends with children that you can time-swap with? Do you have relatives nearby? Is your partner equally excited and invested in the endeavor (ie you are not secretly flushing your bc pills)?
So my advice is: have your all babies BEFORE you go to grad school. Wait until they’re all in school and the oldest is old enough to babysit the others. THEN return to get your advanced degrees.
If it’s too late for that, and you want a baby, have one. Babies put stuff into perspective–they show you what is really important in life: a full belly, being warm and dry, and getting LOTS OF SLEEP (that would be *them* getting lots of sleep, though, not you).