I vividly remember in March 2020 when I learned my daughter was going to be home for two weeks solid as schools were closing and thinking there was no way I would survive. I was taking two difficult MLIS courses at the time and working full-time and now I would have to homeschool a first grader?! Impossible and terrifying! Because of the nature of my husband’s job and constant meetings and calls he is in, I knew the parenting burden would mostly fall on me. And I was not alone. Moms all over the country were dealing with this craziness and having to “MacGyver” our way through work, homeschooling, and other responsibilities. And this assumes of course having the privilege of having a job that allowed working from home as a possibility. I look back now over what has transpired over the last year and a half and am confident I could probably survive anything. There have been many lessons learned along the way and a lot I have had to figure out and sacrifice. I could not have done it without help from my family, friends, my grad school support network, and other parents.
Here are my biggest lessons learned and advice for succeeding in graduate school while parenting:
Ask for help and accept it when it’s offered. Trust me, another parent would not offer to take your child for a few hours if they couldn’t do it or really didn’t want to. I know I never volunteer to have another kid over if I am not serious about it. If you are lucky enough to have family nearby ask them to give you a break on a weekend afternoon so you can work on a paper or project in silence. I hate asking for help. I get a knot in my stomach when I have to ask but I have found people often enjoy helping and it allows me to get through the 10-week quarters that rule my life.
Focus on the moment. When I am reading to my daughter, I try hard to be present in the moment without checking my phone or worrying about how many hours of schoolwork I have ahead of me that night. I treasure these moments with her because I know they are fleeting. I hope she will let me read and snuggle with her at age 16 but I’m not counting on it. At the same time, I carve out time for myself to be focused on schoolwork without family distractions (easier said than done!). It is amazing how much you can get done in an hour of uninterrupted time. I also resist the urge to use precious silent time working on smaller tasks that I could easily do while distracted and instead work on those research/academic papers and fight against the urge to procrastinate!
Release your guilt. As a working parent, guilt comes easily and often. Deciding to go back to graduate school mid-career produced a whole other level of guilt-inducing feelings. When I let my daughter play Nintendo Switch instead of spending time with her so I can finish a school assignment I try to remind myself that she is seeing me work hard towards a goal I have set for myself. She will see that dedication to something pays off and next year when I (hopefully) am able to find a job that really fulfills me she will know that she can find that in her life too.
Know when to shut it down. At my age, I cannot pull all-nighters or stay up much past 10pm. At some point my screen starts to blur and continuing to read or work is doing more harm than good. Over the last year I have realized that stepping away from the computer at a reasonable hour is needed for my physical well-being and mental health. That might mean I don’t have the perfect discussion board post or I will not get through all the week’s readings for one or both of my classes and that is ok. Putting work away and reading a book for pleasure or going to bed early has helped me be a better student, worker, partner, friend, and parent.
In solidarity with all the other MLIS parents out there. What are your survival tips?
By Erika Whinihan, rising third year online MLIS student, Information School, University of Washington (firstname.lastname@example.org)