I started thinking about this post last night when I was trying to read a book for my dissertation and my one year old kept trying to read my book with me. As much as I love collaboration, the experience made me realize how challenging it is to balance writing a dissertation with a young child.
I had every intention to be done with my proposal when Lily was born but with some situations being out of my control—I defended my prelims (December 2010) and she was born a month later (January 2011). While someone more focused might have used that time to work on their proposal I used that time to acquaint myself with our newest family member. I gave myself until August 2011 and then revisited my proposal.
Taking that mental space was so important (although I now realize it disadvantaged me when doing a faculty job search—a post for a different time) and when I came back to “work” in August, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle my topic.
The strange thing about babies is that they don’t stay little forever! So as I advanced in my writing, my daughter advanced in her development. I love her curiosity…although when she deleted pages from my proposal by clicking on a bunch of keys I wanted her to be curious elsewhere :) Add to this the fact that my husband is also writing his dissertation and blocking off the time to get these things done becomes challenging.
I think it would be easier if L was older and I could discuss with her what I was doing . But she’s just learning how to say “Doggie.” She has no idea why her removing the sticky notes from my library books sends me into a frenzy.
So for people contemplating #sadoc and #safam…here are my tips:
1) Complete your degree before you have kids :) Just kidding! There’s never really a “best” time to have a family or complete a degree. Just think about how you want to structure your time.
2) Figure out how to maximize your writing time. For us, we split time on the weekends. I also worked it out with my office to take one day off per week which I use for dissertation writing. I’m not a night person so writing at night is out of the question. I use night time to read articles.
3) Think about how your coursework will impact your family. I completed all of my coursework pre-daughter so I don’t really have experience with this. However, I did take a class that got out at 5 on Thursdays. My husband works until 7 on Thursdays. It was a mad rush to get her picked up from child care by 5:30. It also meant that by the time we got home it was too late for us to go to story time at the library.
4) Look at the totality of your family events. We signed L up for “swimming” which met on Mondays and Wednesdays. Fun for her, tough for us because that meant we were out two nights a week.
5) Think about how your academic department supports families.
6) Prioritize. Time with L is important to me so last night when it was clear she wanted to play, I put my book away and focused on her. I do not feel guilty for prioritizing her over my book.
7) Prioritize. Working on my dissertation is important to me. Sometimes that means L gets extra Dad time and Mom goes away. I do not feel guilty for this.
8) There is no room for guilt in this process. Most people get pulled in many different directions with/without family and with/without dissertation. We just have to do the best we can.
9) Find other support people who you can process with.