Yes, You Can Do Graduate School with Kids

Maybe you’re like me. When you reveal to others that you’re a graduate student with kids, you often hear in return, “Woah. How do you do it?!”

Or, you’ll get subtle comments insinuating that you couldn’t possibly be expected to be as productive or high-capacity as your peers. “Well, you’ve got kids, so if you can’t do x or y, we totally understand.”

I’m feeling a bit renegade this morning, so I’ll come right out and say it: my argument in this short blog post is that having kids in graduate school is an advantage, not a disadvantage, and I’ll give you three reasons why.

1. Kids keep you productive.

You only have so many hours in the day to get stuff done before its parenting time. My personal parameter is to be done with all of my schoolwork and assistantship work each day by 5:00pm, barring an evening class (on those days, I reserve time for my family during the afternoon before class starts). I don’t have infinite time to procrastinate and mess around online; I’ve got four smiling faces (spouse included) who are depending on me to have everything done by 5:00pm. This is a very powerful motivator.

2. Kids keep you reflective and focused on your goals.

It turns out, when you’ve got enough people depending on you, you can’t be indecisive about your goals for too long. The welfare of others depends on it. What this means is that I can’t “tinker” with this or that if it doesn’t make sense toward my goals. Tinkering is busyness without much self-understanding of its purpose. Millennials in particular are notorious for tinkering. Turns out, millennials are also having kids later than previous generations. Having kids compels me to stay focused on the finish line, and should there ever be ambiguity about what the finish line is — to find clarification as soon as possible.

3. Kids remind you that graduate school isn’t everything.

The most common stress I encounter among my graduate peers is the “imposter syndrome.” They never quite feel legitimate in their program or discipline. “How did they let me in?!” is the internal nagging voice. For some, this can be crippling; their entire identity collapses into their success or failure as a graduate student. If “successful graduate student” was the only identity that mattered to me, I could imagine how disparaging it would be to receive a less-than-expected grade on an assignment or to have a conference proposal rejected. For me, my graduate student identity is always inflected by my identity as a husband to my wife and a parent to my three kids. These identities provide balance — and perspective — when I’m not as successful in graduate school as I’d like to be.

4. Most importantly, kids make life spontaneous, fun, and worthwhile.

All graduate students know this classic spot: when you come to the end of yourself, throw up your hands, and shout, “What is this all for?!” Maybe you’re like me, and you start imagining all the things you could for a 60k salary that don’t require the degree you’re pursuing. When I encounter these moments, I am quickly rejuvenated by spending time with my kids. They have so much energy. They love to laugh. They ask me funny questions, like, “Are there any dinosaur footprints at the park?” They break me out of my hard, cold shell after a long day of drudging through tedious homework. Best of all, they ask me to read books to them that drive home life lessons like, “when you think you’ve failed, pick yourself up and try again,” and “even when you’ve failed, you are loved.”

There’s so much more I could write about the joys of being a parent. However, the most important point I want to drive home today is this: kids are never a disadvantage. They are always, always an advantage. This includes graduate school and whatever comes after. While they do require some significant sacrifices, the benefits mentioned above far outweigh the costs. Did I mention that I will only be 48 when my youngest turns 18?

If you’re a graduate student and a parent, I encourage you to be open with your advisor, your colleagues, and your cohort members about how having kids enhances your graduate student experience. Don’t just let them hear about how hard your kids can be sometimes. Share the good stuff with them too.

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” – Psalm 127:3 (NLT)

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