I am currently entering my fourth year as a graduate student in the Ecological-Community Psychology program and partner in the Community-AID Laboratory. That being said, a lot of things feel normal and routinized: I am getting started on coursework and readings, departmental and program events are happening on a more regular basis, projects and manuscripts are in full swing, and I am *eagerly* balancing all of the responsibilities that come with each of those domains. However, this year also feels different for me, because it is the first semester in which I will be doing all of these things as a mom.
I am now the mom of a happy little 7-month chunk of a child, who has brought so much love and light into my family life. It has truly been a whirlwind of emotions, but getting to watch him grow, learn, and change has been such a fun experience for my partner and I. With the great joy of that experience also comes some great challenges. I now have another human being I need to consider in all of my decisions. My work schedule is completely dependent on my child and family life. And “working from home” has become a great challenge when you have an adorable little munchkin that just wants to play peek-a-boo or snuggle and does not necessarily prioritize those three articles you have to read for your class.
Since becoming a mom as a graduate student, people are now impressed with my ability to still “get things done.” But the truth is that it doesn’t really feel very impressive at all, because I am just doing what needs to be done, in a way that works best for me. I know my other graduate students have a ton of other things that demand their time, and my experience isn’t that different from theirs. (The only exception perhaps is that my personal demand is objectively the cutest type of demand ever.) I think it is important for all students to to have a life outside of their graduate school experience and each of us must balance both our school and personal life in unique ways.
Balancing my identity as a mother and a student hasn’t drastically changed the way I view work, school, or family, but it has helped me to learn a few lessons in these first seven months that I’d like to share here.
- Make your breaks count. Since I started working after having my son, my partner and I have made it part of our weekly routine to have lunch together on campus as a family as frequently as we can. This has been a great addition to my week to get some additional quality time during the work day. Before having a child, I might have spent a break from work just mindlessly scrolling on Facebook or reading some article online, but now I am spending my breaks in a more thoughtful and intentional way, which has really helped my mental sanity. Even just forcing myself to get out of the office has been a great component of my work schedule, and I think it is something that everyone can benefit from. I am certainly not the first person to come to this conclusion, but I am definitely a strong advocate for it now.
- Work intentionally and with purpose. Since becoming a mom, I really do not have time to waste. I have found that this drastically changes the efficiency and productivity in the work I do . Whenever I am working, I always feel a sense of urgency because every hour of work is an extra hour away from my son and my family who I absolutely love. That being said, I really try to work intentionally. I minimize the distractions, focus in on the task at hand, and try to get things done in the time I have. Again, this is not necessarily a new or novel idea, but I think it is an important lesson. Get work done in the time you have allotted, and work as hard as you can when you have the time. Then, put it away and live your life until the next time you come back to it.
- You are more than the work you do. Within work domains, and academia specifically, many of us feel that we are diminished to the work we produce. You are constantly demanded so many different actions and people. expect. so. much. of. you. Before having a son, I think I had the tendency to always be thinking about the work I could or should be doing, and diminish views of myself, and sometimes others, based on the work I was able to accomplish during a particular day or week. Since becoming a mom, I am constantly reminded: I am more than the work I do. I am more than the articles I read, the presentations I give, the manuscripts I publish, and the projects I complete. Thinking of myself in this view reminds me that the people I work with, too, are more than the work they accomplish. They also do other great things with their time that deserve to be recognized. I try to remember this when working with folks and see them first as a human being that I get to share my time with, and second as a work partner or colleague.
Again, these are not new and novel insights, but I have recognized the importance of each of these lessons since becoming a mom, and I hope that grad students and other people find them helpful.