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?
While motherhood is the hardest experience in my life (and presumably for the remainder of my life), working on a doctorate while being a new parent of two young children ranks second. This is the main reason I have yet to complete this beast (aka “dissertation”). I have to admit it was easier when I took classes and they were babies because they rested more, did not get into things, and never talked back. Now I have a kindergaretner who has homework, periodically does not want to go to school, currently is dealing with a bladder issue (which has consumed the past seven days of our lives), school events, etc. I have a 3 year old who asks frantically every day if he has school. He gets upset when I reply with “Yes, you have school today.” He is happy when I pick him up and usually fine when I drop him off, but the time prior to drop off is quite stressful. Never mind the fact he still wakes up at midnight or 1 am screeming. I have to make sure there is food in the house, clothes are clean, they take a bath, and pick them up from school. I even have a sitter who comes 20 hours a week, but some weeks I only end up getting a few hours of work done. While I agree graduate school alone is easier than parenthood. Graduate school and parenthood is not! At least not for me:) While I am grateful to have the option of doing both, I do look forward to when I do not have to balance family and dissertation. I hope to be graduating next year. I did not go to my other graduations, so this one I will and want my kids cheering loudly!
Congrats on finishing!
I don’t know how you did it: balancing motherhood and everything else. I was lucky in that I had completed pretty much everything (except writing the actual dissertation) by the time that my son was born. I don’t know how I would have managed trying to work at home so much if I had a kid (let alone two!). While I loved all the things about grad school that I mentioned — the weird hours for classes, the flexible and sporadic work schedule, the solitude — it does not make for any easy time for combining it with having small children. Not at all! You’re almost there, Wendy!
The Sadder But Wiser Girl says
Congratulations on both very important things in your life-being a successful parent and earning your doctorate. You are an amazing lady! 🙂
Thank you! I hope I’ve been successful at both so far.
The Dose of Reality says
I love this post. It really made me laugh because the things you put out there are so true!! Motherhood is a tough gig! I feel like we need to remember that when we’re in those floundering times because it makes you feel better.
It does make you feel better that it’s not just you that finds it tough. It’s definitely tougher than nearly everything we try to do.
Stephanie @ Mommy, for real. says
First of all, congratulations! Second of all, this was such an entertaining and thoughtful piece. To be honest, I think almost anything is easier than new parenthood! I type this with a toddler on my lap, who is trying to write on the table and open an errant Cadbury egg she pilfered from somewhere.
WIsh I could find the personal space or brain cells to write something more interesting…
Deb @ Urban Moo Cow says
Congrats, doc. 🙂 This post is very relatable. I completely underestimate the amount of guilt I feel when looking like a slob. Which is always.
But seriously, thought-provoking piece as always!
I think my entire body would go into shock if I had to wake up and look presentable. I’m so used to wearing faded, stretched out leggings and sweats at this point. Thanks, Deb!
Congrats! I couldn’t agree more. I finished my dissertation before my son was born and I look back now on that time as a sort of intellectual luxury. To have all that time to read and write now seems like a treat, although it was sort of stressful at the time. Hopefully I’ll get back to it in the future…for now it’s diapers, not academic journals.
Such a great way of putting it: an intellectual time of luxury. And I agree that there were parts of it that were certainly stressful!
Science of Parenthood says
This took me back! I LOVED graduate school for many of the reasons you said. Plus, I was a grad student in NYC, as far as I was concerned the best city in the world. Now I’m a mom in suburban Orlando. I’d love to swap for 10 minutes just to get some decent coffee and maybe some vindaloo! Great post! Looking forward to reading more! (Connecting through SITS!)
Thank you! I do miss big city life too. But I’m sure my life would have changed dramatically anyway as a new parent.
Congrats, Dr. Smock! I’m impressed by your BOTH of your accomplishments!
First of all CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Second of all, if you want to take a page from my sister’s book, the first thing she did after getting her phd was to get a credit card that said Dr. Danielle Schneider. It’s still funny. You are so right, I watched my sister and my best friend go through it, and it was just as you said. Now we are all parents and man, now we know hard! But still, amazing accomplishment!
That is funny! Maybe I’ll do that soon! The only place in which I’ve officially thought about using “Dr” so far is Twitter, and I guess that doesn’t really count as much.
First of all, CONGRATS!!!
I’m MOST impressed you did this + motherhood + KEEPING UP TWO BLOGS!
I agree! I’m a doc too! That shit is easy compared to parenting!!
First of all…so proud of you!
I totally get what you mean. In school there were clear and concise schedules that always had room for yourself. In parenting, you are what this little person depends on. And that little person? Has a total disregard for any sort of schedule.
Parenting is hard but the best thing I’ve ever done.
I’m planning to return to school in the fall…but my little one is 4 now.
Melissa@Home on Deranged says
I used to always say that I would spend my life in school if I could afford it. Now, not so much. I got the masters degree pre-kids, and it was pretty much like you described. Nice living, research in the afternoon, class in the evening, and I still got out early enough to hit the clubs with friends. Now, nada. But it is so worth it. Congrats on the PhD, Dr. Smock!
Yes, but those of us in real fields (Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Math) actually have to work for a doctorate.
Classes in the afternoon? During the teaching duration, I had to be in by 9 am. And the activity at 9 am wasn’t discussing a paper, it was cutting a human cadaver in half. With a hacksaw.
You think diapers smell bad, wait until you open up the intestines of a body where the embalming fluid didn’t fully penetrate.
During my five years, I’ve been burnt, bludgeoned, cut, electrocuted, frozen, gassed, bitten, drugged, clawed, pooped on, immersed in carcinogenic fumes, irradiated, and *repeatedly* poisoned.
I’ll listen to “parenting is harder than grad school” when it comes from someone who’s also had to spend 5 hours performing microvascular surgery.
Hell, I’ll even settle for someone who’s actually done *experiments*.
I have read so many articles or reviews on the topic of the blogger
lovers however this piece of writing is actually a nice post, keep it up.