This weekend was graduation weekend at Boston University, where I could have technically walked onstage and received my doctorate. I’m not a big fan of graduation ceremonies — too crowded, too long, too boring — so we stayed in New York, and instead I went to the zoo and looked at zebras and gorillas.
I’m extraordinarily relieved for my graduate school career to be over. This will be the first time in my entire life — with the exception of one year during my twenties — when I will not be either enrolled in school as a student or teaching school as a teacher. For now, I’ll stick with School of Smock and see if I get pulled back into academia.
Lots of people seem enormously impressed that I wrote a dissertation and now earned a doctorate. Let me tell you: don’t be. Being a parent is far, far more difficult than attending classes, doing research, and writing papers (even long ones). I look back at my years in graduate school before my son was born as some of the most relaxing years of my life.
Here are a few reasons why new graduate school (for me) was easier than new parenthood:
1. I’ll start with the obvious: sleep. Any full-time graduate student who is not getting enough sleep is doing it wrong. I’ve never been more rested in my life than I was as a graduate student. Every year my classes were all during the afternoon. I slept until 8 or later. I went to bed as late as I wanted to because I knew I could sleep in. In contrast, since my son was born two years ago, I could probably count on one hand the number of nights of uninterrupted, full nights of sleep that I have had.
2. Relatedly, the graduate school schedule is heavenly. My classes were in the late afternoon, sometimes evenings. I had office hours in the early afternoon, and I wrote during the mornings. I do realize that many graduate students’ schedules are much more exhausting than mine, since they may be juggling jobs and other responsibilities. I was lucky that my husband supported us while I was in grad school, I had a fellowship to cover tuition, and had a stipend based on my teaching assistant and research assistant positions.
3. As a graduate student, I watched more television than I ever did in my life. For the first time, I watched morning television. (My guilty pleasure: I sometimes sat down and watched “The View” when eating an early lunch/late breakfast.) Now, I’m usually weeks behind in watching the few shows in my DVR.
4. In graduate school, I had time to shop for and cook adventurous meals. Sometimes, when I was thinking about a paper for a class, I would cook a complicated recipe while I was pondering my ideas. Now, preparing an elaborate meal means cooking a frozen bag meal instead of takeout.
5. I got a ton of exercise. As a grad student in a big city, you walk everywhere. Every day I walked all the way from my house in Cambridge into Boston for classes or meetings. I walked to the library, I walked to the bookstore, I walked to the student union. I clocked endless miles every day. As a parent, most of my exercise involves chasing around a two year old. Not quite as relaxing.
6. I got to see friends all the time. Because my schedule was flexible and I wasn’t in an office all day long, I could meet friends for lunch or after work easily. To set up a “date” involving friends with kids often involves weeks of planning. My son’s nap time starts around lunch time so it’s impossible to meet people for lunch.
7. If you can’t meet a deadline for a class as a graduate student, you get to take an incomplete if the professor agrees. I took an incomplete during my first year when I had several papers due the last week of classes. I just finished up the class during the next summer. As a parent, there are no “incompletes.” You are forced to juggle your schedule as well as your child’s.
8. You get to wear sweatpants and leggings without guilt in grad school. Of course, my wardrobe hasn’t changed at all since my son was born. But I feel guiltier about it. When I’m interacting in the world of other adults throughout my day — even if it’s just picking my son up at preschool — I feel like I should make a bit more of an effort to look somewhat presentable.
9. Being around college kids can make you feel young. Around colleges, there’s some kind of youthful energy in the air. I often felt like I might be 22 again (or maybe, at least, 28). As a new parent, I sometimes feel like I’ve aged 20 years in two years.
10. You get to be part of a “gang” — or your “cohort” — and they become like your family. In a doctoral program, you’re thrown together with all the students who entered during the same year. You take required classes together, go through comprehensive examinations at the same time, write your dissertation proposal together. My cohort was not competitive and supported each other through babies, weddings, career changes, adviser troubles, writer’s block. When you’re a new parent, you’re also thrown together with a lot of new people, but it’s harder to get know them well, at least initially.
Graduate school is not for everyone; neither is parenthood. There are many people who would find aspects of graduate school to be much more overwhelming than I did. However, in my opinion, new parenthood is so much more difficult, no matter what. And I wish that every new parent could have their own “commencement” ceremony to honor them and their families as their children move from one stage to another.
Did you experience new parenthood while you were also trying to complete another life goal? How did new parenthood compare in its difficulty to other responsibilities in your life?