Constantly stressed out, worked out or absent-minded? Zombie at day and owl at night? Welcome to the club of parent/PhD students.

Well, that may not describe every day, nor everyone’s experiences… but no matter what challenges you are facing or hardship you are going through as a parent/student, this is to reassure that you are not alone. In our self-less practices of being a parent, it is easy not to give ourselves enough credit or to forget what our unique experiences mean.  So a pat on the shoulder everyone, you are the superheroes your kids read about and watch on TV!

I believe part of the challenge in our experience is juggling two identities: one of a parent and another of a PhD student. …To put on your student’s face in the morning, and by the afternoon, just about when you want to write down a few sentences on the idea that you have worked on all morning, you forcefully restrain yourself and attain to your parenting duties.

The greed of wanting to have it all does not help either. I had hard time accepting the fact that I cannot have it all, and be in peace with the idea that I cannot have an ideal PhD student experience, nor a fool proof parenting. ..To embrace my humanity with its limitations and to let go of many activities other than research, no matter how I wanted to engage in, and how convenient they are if they had the prospect to strain my nerves or schedule.

Below are useful tips I collected over the years:

  1. First year? In the midst of all things needing your attention to settle down in your first year, it is easy to forget that those little ones need to adjust as much as you do. So keep an eye on how they are adjusting, for you may need to step in to ease things and help them make friends.
  2. Make room for quality time during the day with your kids: afternoon tea times or lingered bed-time stories. Children are eager to re-tell their days at school as much as they are curious about what their parents are up to. Meal times are not enough. The half an hour-hour a day you give up for meaningful conversations with the kids can put you in the loop of what’s going on with them as well as help you relax at the end of a long day.
  3. Your priorities in selecting a house as a student are different from that of a parent. As a student was to live somewhere close to the university, I ended up stuck in a student-oriented building in a loud area with no open space for the kids to wander. That was a bad call. I and my children are happier once we moved to the edges of the city centre, more family-oriented district, which means neighbours with kids and new friends for my kids. The playground across the street is handy for lazy weekends and summer afternoons.

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    Image credits:  Aurrika/BY CC 2.0
  4. Organizational skills are essential. While I am not techno-savvy, I appreciate the potentials of simple and user-friendly programs. I use Microsoft Hotmail calendar to key in everything from workshops and conference dates, supervision meetings, dentist’s appointment, my kids spelling and PE days and I receive reminders on all devices I use, phones and PCs.
  5. Routines and fixed schedule are important. Find the best uninterrupted quite time for you to work, it could be school time, or after the kids are fast asleep, or both when there is a looming deadline (hence the zombie and owl metaphor).
  6. It is easy to get sucked into the supermom mood, where I want to cook hot meals every day, clean the house and write the 500-word of the day all together while being a cheerful mom. Avoid constant physical tiredness and try to get help once in a while, especially if you are on your own without your partner. I never hired a child minder, but I save to get my house professionally cleaned every now and then.
  7. Active children are happy children. School-based Clubs and holiday clubs make both children and parents happy. Breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, holiday camps, music school and Sunday Arabic schools are my friends.

Raising a child while doing a PhD is definitely challenging, but equally rewarding. Children make the best distraction. The after-school and bed-time quality time with them and the hugs and cuddles you get in return can be the best way to unwind and relax after a stressful long day. And what can be more motivating than overhearing your kids talking with love and pride to their friends about you writing a book?

Suha Alansari (S.Alansari@warwick.ac.uk) is a mother of two and a PhD candidate at the Centre of Applied Linguistics.