GUEST POST from Duduzile Ndlovu
Duduzile Ndlovu (@mandlods) is a third-year PhD student based at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research aims to explore gender and generational differences in migrants’ memory making practices through the use of art to remember socio-political violence. Outside of the PhD, Dudu spends most of her time running after an energetic toddler son and balancing her love for music (learning to play the Piano). She blogs at CandidPhDTalk – visit, for more on her research.
Alternative Title: PhD Student and a mother! Really?
When I was asked to write about Supermums and the PhD, I initially thought “wow she thinks I am a super mommy!” Thinking about this blog I reflected on the many conversations I have had with female peers who have no children yet – many ask me when exactly is the right time to have children. It’s always a difficult question to answer because I think it’s possible to have a child and, still complete your PhD; but that is based on my experience. Hence, I will share my experience on this blog, which is by no means a super mom experience, because like anything else in life it’s a process of sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong.
A little background to my life, I live and am studying in South Africa with my son and husband. The extended family I would depend on for help with childcare namely my mother or mother in-law live in another country and so I do not have that kind of luxury. However nannies and babysitters are reasonably priced and so I have had one since I registered for my PhD. In addition to this my husband works from home with a very flexible work schedule in case of any emergencies. I thought I would give this brief background to contextualise my experience of being a mommy who is also pursuing a PhD. Three things I want to highlight of my experience is that it is by no means balanced, support is central and lastly cut yourself some slack and enjoy the ride.
I have already said it is not a perfect life I am not at all a super-mum. When I began my PhD I had a small chat with my supervisor about babies. It wasn’t a long one, but my role as a mother was once a topic of discussion. This opened up room for me to at times shift our not important chats about the weather to mourn about the crappy week I have had because the baby is not well. I am fortunate in that my supervisor is a mother too and has come through with lots of advice and is very understanding that I am not only a student but a mother too. I wish I could say I am able to divide my time equally to PhD student then take off that hat and now I am a mom. At times it all happens at the same time and at other times one takes up the whole of my attention. Take for example when my son is not well. Try as I may to sit at my desk and work, I cannot! Then comes days when I have a deadline looming and all I can think of is the paper I need to finish. It’s a messy affair but isn’t all of life and it goes on.
All of this wouldn’t be possible without the support and help I have. During the day we have a nanny and my husband takes over on those evenings when I have a deadline to beat. As a first time mother it was not easy to let go of my motherly duties and hand them over to another. Added to this I feared it was an admission of my inadequacy as a mother. But it is in admitting to that inadequacy that I find my balance. I may not be the perfect mother but I am the mother I know how to be. When I was thinking about how imperfect my balancing act really is, I thought this TEdTalk on The Power of Vulnerability is what best describes my experience of being a mother doing a PhD.
I look forward to hearing how others are navigating their lives as mothers and PhD candidates. Please leave a comment below.
Featured Image: Iandeth/Creative Commons Licence
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It is always difficult to study when you have children as you are always busy feeding them and taking care of them. Well Mothers can do anything !!1
Well done Dudu! Life is never easy as it is, so women like you are very admirable. It’s great that you also have a supportive husband. Wishing you all the best with your PhD. And just by the way, Wits is such a lovely place 🙂 (I’m a UJ alum hence I know lol)
thank you, I really am grateful for all the support I have and yes I feel privileged to be at Wits. its an awesome university.
inspiring post Dudu, I am a mom of 8-year-old son starting a PhD life… no supermom at all, I hope I’ll survive raising both..
Thank you for the comment, Maureen, we’re glad you liked the post. Congratulations on starting your PhD and best of luck! Let us know how you get on. 🙂
Ana, PhD Life editor
Hi Duduzile. Thanks for sharing. I was just feeling a bit stretched today with my work load and came across your blog. Its good to be reminded about the myth of balance when you are juggling several balls. I am a second year Phd student, have 3 kids and am an entrepreneur. I also completed my MBA full time while my kids were 5, 10 and 13 years old so I have been through all the crazy. Although everytime I tackle something new I feel off kilter all over again. Hope your studies went well.
I am glad you identify with the post, and congratulations on being able to juggle so many balls. I hope you give yourself time to relax and pamper yourself every time and again.
I have five children (5, 12, 14, 15, 17), one of whom has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, and am in the final stretches of my PhD. It is true–if you want something bad enough, you will do it because you will want to. Especially if you are willing to sacrifice sleep, immaculately cooked meals, and perfectionism. And any semblance of feeling sane. But, we can do it for sure. Go PhD Moms.
Hi Carrie, Thanks for your comment. I sounds like a tough swim upstream and you should be proud of everything you have achieved so far. Good luck with finishing your thesis!
Ana, PhD Life
I find it rather sad that only moms are here. It says a lot about how unbalanced is the children care between moms and dad.
Yes, the comment is spot on. Hopefully, we’ll get at least one PhD dad to tell a different story. 🙂
All the best,
Ana, PhD Life
I can see that this post is a few years old but I thought I would add my perspective as I have just passed my viva with 6 weeks to go until my baby is due!!! My advice if avoid getting in this situation if you can as it’s not easy BUT if you do decide to study whilst pregnant it is totally doable (I’m the evidence!) I’ve written about how I did it in my blog which you can find here- http://lifeasabutterfly.com/phd-pregnant-race-biology/
It is an old post, but still relevant (we have newer ones too https://phdlife.warwick.ac.uk/2016/03/23/my-mom-is-writing-a-book/).
Congratulations on passing the viva and thanks for sharing your story. It is certainly not an easy decision – PhD is a challenging period, ECR transition even more so… and even later on parenthood is not without challenges, especially for female academics. Glad to hear you’ve won the race though. 🙂
Ana (PhD Life)
This morning I found myself in tears. I live in KZN and am doing a PhD at Rhodes University. After waking up a million times for my sick baby I found myself googling PhD mom for some inspiration at 5 in the morning when I normally sit down to write. Who did I think I was to think I could handle not 1, but 2 children, just start a full-time job and do my final write up of the thesis in 1 year? Balance? ha ha. I followed my heart into this study and i guess my ego. but I’m in it now. I can fail and put us in a lot of trouble. So i can’t and i have to continue. Sorry neglected body, sorry family i have to push through.
And then I found you and I don’t feel so alone (and you are in SA!). And I remember what support I do have in my husband, my sweet kids, my loving nanny and I have both sets of grandparents in the same province. And so I push through and will try and write my 200 words this morning (all I can manage). So Dudu please do keep sharing your experience, you write beautifully and I thank you for sharing your experience with me!
P.S. I hope you also carry in your mind the image of being in the red gown with baby on the hip (mine has changed to a rather large boy plus a 2nd baby) and degree in the hand 😉
Hi Michelle, thank you for comment. We’re so glad you liked the post. You might also enjoy our more recent post “My Mom is Writing a Book“. Best of luck with the PhD! – Jessica
Hi Michelle, I am so glad you found this post and yes I am in SA. I have my personal blog at http://www.candidphdtalk.wordpress.com where I shared a lot more of my journey. I graduated December 2017 and had two boys in tow. SO I started off with one bay and graduated with two. Your post has inspired me to blog about crossing that finish line. Cheering you on! you can do it.
As a phd student AND a mother of a 7 months baby, we really do need all the help we need. Although i do feel guilty when my baby cries for me but i cant go to her as i have a deadline to meet, EVERY second counts! 😅
All the best in your Phd! May we women succeed!
I too am a PhD student, with a two year old son, and a husband who is a full-time student and works 40 hours a week. It sure is a challenging, but well worth it!
Hi Kaila, it’s absolutely a challenge! Best of luck completing your PhD -Jessica
It’s definitely worthwhile. All the best, I graduated last December and definitely look back with pride that I did it.
I am in my 8th year and trying hard to finish ! Your post is very inspiring. I do not have very understanding advisor. But I refuse to give up ! Today morning my toddler didnot want to go to daycare and cried to spend time with me 😦 Mommy guilt consumed me for a moment but I felt better after reading your blog.
Well done Dudu. You are an amazing, wonderful intellectual mother. You have already done more than enough to be praised. I am also a mother of two, an almost 5 year old and a 2 months old boys. Same time I am a 2ndish/3rdish year PhD student here in Nottingham, UK.
As a mother of two young children, I regularly have to alternate my priorities, alter plans due to them being poor or throwing a tantrum for not attending nursery or simply not wanting to sleep (the youngest).
I sometimes, write about my feelings of motherhood while reading/writing the thesis. They are different from what you would normally find, more from the perspective of ‘woman’, rather than a ‘mother’. If you like to read https://ranganarammalagediary.home.blog/2021/08/06/breastfeeding-is-hard/ and some other posts.
Thank you so much for your kind words Rangakn. I am so excited to see you have poetry as well on your blog. I hope we can connect and I will be following your blog. Thank you so much for your kind words one can never hear enough of such affirmation.
Likewise. You are most welcome.
I’ve just followed your personal blog and I am amazed to find out the similarities of our work. I would like to have a chat with you as time permits.