Like many of my classmates, I entered graduate school right after I got my undergraduate degree. Unlike many of my classmates, I took 15 years off between high school and college. My graduate experience is not just happening to me. Instead my husband and 3 children are along for the ride. While some of my classmates grapple with whether to have a baby during graduate school, or where to find the best preschool close to campus, I started this graduate school journey with elementary and middle school children in tow. Now, 4 years in, they are in middle and high school. I found little advice or feedback on going to grad school while parenting big kids. Therefore, I am here to dish the dirt. Whether you are a parent contemplating going to graduate school, or are simply curious, I would like to provide you with some insight on advantages and disadvantages of the situation.
First there are definite advantages of having big kids along for the ride. For instance, my kids know technology so much better than I do. When I run into a computer issue, I don’t need to wait for the IT person to get back to me. I simply turn the machine over to my son, who can fix it and talk me through the issue so that it doesn’t happen again.
My kids are teenagers, and like many teens, they know pop culture. I never have to feel embarrassed because I don’t know what my students are talking about. Instead, I get to engage with my students about some of the most culturally relevant (to that age group) stuff out there, thanks to conversations and links sent from my kiddos. Hip-ness points go way up, while some of my 24-year old colleagues are starting to feel a bit old, irrelevant, and like screaming, “Get off my lawn.”
Looking at this issue from another angle, I have found that there are also some advantages of being in grad school while parenting older kids. For example, thanks to conversations with undergraduates. I know what weird and bizarre party games and websites are coming down the pike, soon to trickle down to high school. My students keep me informed and I am able to keep a closer eye on the youngsters. Also, I get to be the cool mom who has an entire university campus at my disposal. Concerts, game rooms, rec centers, events are all at our front door, ready to be explored. Although I have lots and lots of work, my hours can be flexible. My kids are older, but they still need me—even if only as a shuttle! I can juggle my schedule much more than I would be able to at a 9 to 5 job.
I wish I could say that graduate student with teens is all roses and sunshine. There are definite downsides. Big kids are more expensive than little kids, and that stipend does not stretch very far. The wants are greater, and when they are this close to adulthood, it is a lot harder to say, “Well, we can get that for him when he is older.” While my own student loans currently loom and grow in deferment, my boys’ need for college tuition is swiftly encroaching!!
Moving is tough on anyone, and it is really hard for kids. My boys were all settled in nicely to their schools and neighborhoods when we uprooted them to go to graduate school. After getting comfortable there, we moved again for me to do research. I hope to get a tenure-track position, which means I may very well need to move to for a job when two of my kids are in high school.
Whether you are the parent of a teenager or a toddler, one thing seems to remain consistent, and it is doubly true in graduate school. I constantly feel like I am stretched too thin on everything, and never get enough sleep. I know this is true for graduate students in general, and for student and working parents in general, but as I noted, the years to “make it up to them” are fleeting.
And finally, the worst part of all: Most of my students were born after I graduated high school. And many of my colleagues are closer to my kids’ age than to my age!!
My advice to people pondering graduate school? If you don’t have children yet, it is probably best to start before you have them. However, if you are in my position and already have kids, even teens, and are trying to decide whether or not to embark on this adventure, I say go for it! There are ups and downs for sure. However, life is full of ups and downs. Your children will survive and will learn valuable lessons about time management, perseverance, and education. And you will survive and come out of the experience with tons more knowledge, abilities you didn’t know you possessed, and a degree. And hopefully, a good job and not too much debt!
This guest post was contributed by Acadelic, a 4th year graduate student in the Social Sciences.