When I took the GRE, three weeks after I gave birth, my biggest concern wasn’t so much passing the test, as finding a place to pump breastmilk before I spent well over 3 hours in a room in front of a computer away from my son.
That’s the sort of surprise I’ve run into continually as I make my way through my part-time master’s program.
I thought finding time to study would be an issue, but between naps, bedtime at 7:30 pm, and babysitters, the real issue has been finding time to think coherently.
I wake up in the morning with my mommy pants on (that look suspiciously like sweatpants), make breakfast and read a half dozen Curious George books. Then I get the kid set up with his train set, and sneak in a few paragraphs of my latest text book. When he needs a snack, I stop underlining, and start making a peanut butter jelly sandwich.
After cooing through “The Wheels on the Bus” to send him off to nap, I switch into grad assistant gear at 1:30 and spend time collating, updating social media, and doing mailing list material.
While I’m making dinner, I’m planning how to respond to the latest case study post on the online discussion board. When my son is brushing his teeth with daddy, I’m packing my school bag to get in a few hours of study and reading at the library – or I’m heading to class with peers who have just put in 8 hours at their jobs, a whole different environment.
It can be pretty difficult (for me) to transition between these different type of thinking and the differences in reacting to scholarly vs. juvenile literature. In fact, the surprising thing I’ve learned is how to re-frame my mindset in order to get work done to switch between strategic thinking, planning, or simply being creative. This act of switching gears, I think, could help me in the long run.
Unfortunately, another surprise is that it requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to switch between these types of thought. I’ve learned it’s pretty necessary to take the first five to ten minutes to identify the goals of the study session and how I’m going to achieve them. It’s also necessary to identify time when some thoughts won’t be allowed to intrude, or I won’t allow myself to access certain materials (eg: facebook!). Since much of my work happens at home: the site of school, parenting, writing, relaxing, and work, It’s very easy (too easy!) to let boundaries blur into each other. It takes a l
ittle lot of work to get those boundaries to the perfect state of impermeability.
If you’re a parent looking to start grad school, as well as stay home with your (young) children, I recommend recognizing that the mental effort involved is totally different than either working, or school sans offspring – BUT – It’s not the type of difficult you might be expecting.