• April Harper

3 Tips for More than Just Surviving Graduate School as a Mom

Anyone out there trying to do something BIG that feels impossible with only 24 hours in a day?


When I started my doctoral program, the professors advised my cohort of students to give ourselves permission to lower our standards on other areas of our lives. If that gives you a sigh of relief, then go with that plan! For me, all I could think was, "So, should I stop washing all the sheets? or planning birthday parties for my kids? or just let the laundry and dishes and everything else just pile up?" I'll tell you, none of that was going to help me get through graduate school in a positive mental state. Sure, I could start buying things that I would rather make, or not attend every single social event that we were invited to. Those I could live with and you know where that line is for what YOU can cut and still be happy.

But for all the things that if I lowered my standard on would make me want to quit my program, I had to delegate. Okay, you might be thinking, that sounds absolutely horrible. And yes, you are right to some degree especially when you are a control freak or just REALLY like doing things for yourself like me. But ultimately, it was worth it.

Here is what I currently delegate (this is the part where you start judging me):

  • Sorting, washing, folding and putting away ALL of the laundry for our family

  • Picking up the house two times a week, which includes cleaning up the kitchen (all the mess we made from breakfast, etc.), all the main areas of the house, and kids' bedrooms.

  • Cutting up fruit and vegetables for my kid's lunches each week

  • Preparing fruit and vegetables so that it is ready for juicing and green smoothies

  • Dropping off and picking up dry cleaning

  • And then any other thing that I add to the list, such as taking care of all the recycling mess, doing dinner meal prep, picking up groceries, labeling and organizing all the breastmilk bags in the freezer, etc. etc.!

Now you might be wondering, who in the world is doing all of this for you? I hire a college student to come over twice a week for 2 hours each time (give or take). That is four hours total. I pay her a couple dollars more than what I would pay a babysitter, because I think the work deserves that. So, you can figure out what that appropriate rate would be in your location. It took a bit of training, but after a couple weeks of showing her where everything goes, and how I like for it to look, now I can come home and all of those tasks are done. Do you know how much better of a mom, student, and wife I am because of this? I'm sure you can imagine.

Spending that kind of money might not be possible for you right now. But if you are giving yourself luxuries of any kind, like $5 daily lattes, then I would challenge you to give this a try instead. When everything is piling up, if one thing gets accomplished, it gives me the energy to keep the ball rolling and I can do so much more! Some of you might have a parent or in-law that is always offering to help, and in the past, you've felt weird about taking their help. Stop that, and start saying yes! People love to help other people, and you have no time for pride when you are trying to accomplish huge things!!

Keep Living your Life: What I mean by this is, do not put the rest of your life on hold. You guys, I had two babies in the three years of my doctoral coursework. It gave me perspective on the work I was doing by constantly reminding me that my classes, grades, and career are truly not the most important thing. It forced me to use my time management skills to the max, and so I probably spent less time procrastinating on social media and just got busy when I had work time. I am not saying that you should tackle every dream you've ever had while you are working on this degree. Not. At. All. In fact, you will have to say no to lots of things. But, the things that would pain you to push off, like getting married, having children, or changing jobs, are not things that I would wait on just because you are in school.

Make Work Enjoyable: Now, when you are already dealing with guilt, enjoying your work is probably just going to add to that. But, that is exactly what you should do. I get my cozy pants on, go to my favorite spot, and just dive into the content that I need to be learning. I have learned the time of day that works for me, the coffee shops where I can focus, the music that helps me (check out Explosions in the Sky on Pandora if you need something to help you focus when there is noise around you). Bottom line, don't let yourself feel like you are a victim of the work. You GET to do this. And there are not many people in the world who do. So, enjoy it.

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