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The Grad Student Parent

I confess, my intentions for writing this particular post were, at least, 50% self-serving. I have a 4-month old, I’m in my final year, and I’m trying to get through this game. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to learn a bit about how people manage to keep their life in order to finish a graduate program without losing their marbles, and raise a human being at the same time. I’ll start out with a little bit that Queen’s does to help you out, and then some tips on what you can do to help you out.

 

Nearly 88% of graduate students in Canada are between the ages of 22 and 39 years old. This age range overlaps with the average age of Canadian women at the time of childbirth, which is 28-30 years old. This puts grad students in the position of delaying starting a family, or taking a deep dive into cold, sobering waters. Choosing to start or continue a family during grad school can put the parent at a disadvantage, and research consistently shows this impact is disproportionately harsh on women. Adding insult to injury, universities broadly are still yet to beef up their policies and resources for student parents to help them balance obligations of parenthood with those of academia. With that said, there are a few things that Queen’s graduate student parents should know if they’re planning to start a family, or if they are coming to Queen’s with young children.

 

RESOURCES: Support from Queen’s

Maternity/Parental Leave

Queen’s grad students can register to take two terms of maternity/parental leave. Many Canadian universities don’t offer any leave, so it’s nice to have this in place.

Maternity/Parental Leave funding

Most universities do not offer funding for mat/pat leave, which often makes the issue of not having any leave fairly moot for most. Let’s tip our hat to Queen’s for offering $5,000 in funding for folks who qualify for mat/pat leave. It’s not like you’re going to be using it to fund your leave in the Maldives, but it’s enough to lower the financial stress a bit.

Ban Righ Centre

Ban Righ Centre

Ban Righ Centre

The centre is an excellent resource to be used as a child-friendly space for student parents to spend time with their child(ren), breastfeed, or to find a quiet room for parents to study or nap in. They also have student advisors who can help mothers locate community resources.

 

 

Queen’s Daycare Centre

Last, but certainly not least, Queen’s offers daycare available for Queen’s students. They have a “lengthy wait list” and advise that you get your name in as early as you can. Their website has all of the information you need, as well as links to several agencies that can provide financial assistance.

 

Tips of the Trade

For all of you that have been making your way through grad school with kids for a while, I bow before you, and you should be writing this section. I have learned a couple lessons that I’ll share, and I’ll put in a few that I’ve seen others write about as well, because they sound like really smart ideas that I want to start doing.

Finish what you’ve started

If it is at all possible to defend your Master’s thesis/dissertation before your child is born, do it. Go at it with the fervor of someone battling a shark – your chance of winning is practically nil, but you’re so desperate that you don’t even recognize it. Go at it with this mind frame. If defending is off the table, set a goal (e.g., completing a first draft) and do it. If defending isn’t even in the picture, whatever you’ve got on your plate for projects, get those tidied up as much as you can. I had a chance to defend. I blew it, and now the tide has caught it and it’s swiftly drifting out to sea. Let’s talk about regret.

Put planning on overdrive

If there’s anything that you can set up in advance – people taking over projects, application for mat/pat leave, discussing with your supervisor how your workflow is going to change.

Reach out for help

If asking for help is difficult for you, I’d suggest finding a way to overcome it. I wasn’t a big fan of it, but if everything starts sinking, it probably makes more sense to get help than to let your relationship, your parenting, or your work suffer the consequences. Family, friends, labmates, and colleagues will sometimes surprise you. My biggest surprise is how much people love babies. I mean, you hear about it, but man, there are a lot of people out there that are crazy ‘bout babies! Every little thing helps, both in a practical sense and in a boosting-your-morale-because-you-experience-the-depth-of-selflessness-and-caring sense.

 

I could regurgitate the plethora of tips on the internet, but I don’t want to put Google out of work. But if you are student parent and you have tips you’d like to share, please (for me as much as everyone reading this) please leave your comment. Too many good hairs are being lost, let’s help each other out.

Posted in Families, Finances, General, Kingston, New Students, Student Parent Tagged with: , , , ,
3 comments on “The Grad Student Parent
  1. Suyin says:

    Thank you for posting this!

    Before I share my tips, I will tell you a little about myself. I find it helpful to hear other stories and get some perspective. I started my graduate career with a big (unplanned) surprise. My son, now 4, was born during the first summer of my MA. Unlike the year before, when I was full of excitement to go back to school again, the fall of that year was one of the most challenging semesters, ever! I had to learn to read and write my papers in between feedings, naps, and diaper changes. I was sad that I did not get to go to the Paris seminar or to lectures and other activities with my colleagues. I wrote a thesis with a one year old learning how to walk. I felt like my life was a mess and that I could break at any minute. I got through it and, as difficult as it felt then, I am a much better scholar for it. Funny enough, you don’t know it yet, but you will miss the time when all you had to do was to rock them to sleep, feed them, bathe them, and change them. My main advice for being a student with an infant/toddler son is to invest on those rocking swings, baby Einstein videos, and to use a front carrier when running errands or catching up with work. Babies love to be close to you, so they will likely fall asleep while you get things done at the same time. Also, rely on your friends for support and ask them to force you to go out with the baby. It is easy to feel lonely and unmotivated to bring your baby with you, yet YOU MUST! I will be forever thankful to my two friends who forced me to have a coffee with them once a week. You can also have people over and let them bounce that baby for you. Don’t invest on expensive baby toys, they really could not care less.

    I am in my third year of my PhD now with a four year old who just started Kindergarden. The routine and dynamic changed dramatically the day he started school. I have to get up and worry about preparing a lunch, make sure that he gets a bath, make it a goal to read to him every night, worry about whether he has enough clean clothes to last for the week, pay attention to his bed time, and remind myself to dedicate more time to just him. I smile every time I remember putting him on the swing and letting him coo at the mobile while I finished my readings. Or the time when I could make a bunch of puree and freeze it. Now, I am lucky if I can get a minute to answer an email without getting the “Mommy play with me, look at me, feed me” scold. I also have to plan a diverse meal for every day of the week. I know I will look back at this time and think of it as easy when I have to deal with homework and adolescent mood swings. Plus, we are very lucky for having so many resources at Queen’s! My last university did not have resources for parents, so coming to Queen’s with a young child (he was 2) was exactly what I needed to make it work. The daycare is fabulous: the staff is loving and caring, they feed them wholesome meals throughout the day, they learn to be more self-sufficient and independent. I was very impressed at how prepared my son was for Kindergarden. It is pricey, but our union has worked really hard to provide us with subsidies now. In addition, the ARC offers day camps and activities for young children so all you have to do is come in, drop your kid off, and head to work. The School of Education also has activities throughout the year that come handy on those cold winter days where you feel like you should do something with your kid, but it is way too cold to play outside. There are numerous child-friendly activities provided by the SGPS that truly help you feel connected to our school community.

    Still, there will be days when you will feel like you cannot do it anymore and when you feel disconnected with the rest of the world. For instance, when my single and childless colleagues complain about being exhausted, I cannot help but roll my eyes a little. For me, my break from work is mommy time. My break from motherhood is work. I don’t go home and unwind playing video games or binge-watch netflix. I tell myself that I was not ready to be a graduate student parent. I was not ready to be a mother, period. Yet, going to school and having something to do outside of motherhood has helped me maintain my individuality. It is exhausting and, at times, the frustration of not being able to give the two things you love a 100% of your time can be overwhelming. I know, however, that I am where I am because we are forced to manage our time better, to be more committed and motivated, to find ways to make it all work. As student parents, we do not have time to second guess ourselves. We get a certain amount of hours to work during the day and we push ourselves to make the best out of them. I feel resentful at times, so I remind myself to find ways to do things for me.
    With that being said, I am sharing some tips that have helped me keep my sanity:

    1)Make time for yourself. There is an amazing salon on campus (Simply Esthet-x) that offers students discounts and great packages. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I take an hour of my day to get a pedicure or a manicure. I also make sure to squeeze a workout. Exercise is key to surviving grad school and parenthood.
    2) Invest on a tablet or ipad. You might not want to face it, but you cannot be a grad student parent without one. There are plenty of educational apps or videos that your child will enjoy. I have brought my son to conferences and department events where I need to mingle and socialize while he sits on a comfy spot with snacks and watches his videos. It works!
    3)When you need to, don’t be afraid to bring your child with you to any off campus activity with colleagues. There are a couple of places in Kingston (Kingston Brew Pub)where you can bring your children. You can still hang out with friends and have your kids play with their toys, tablet, etc.
    4)Bring your child to work with you (either to the office or to the library). It is helpful and reassuring for your child to see what you do when you are not with them. It helps them understand that it is not because you don’t want to spend time with them. I bring my son to my office and he loves it!
    5)Don’t lose hope. Being a grad parent student can be alienating, but do not be afraid to seek counselling or to take a little break. You are not super human and you do not have to be the perfect mother or father. Your kids will be happy if you are happy. It is natural to make mistakes and to feel like a terrible parent 98% of the time. However, like one of my professors told me last week–when I expressed my embarrassment from feeding my child a block of cheese for dinner– he is here, alive and well, and you made it through the day.

    • Dustin Washburn says:

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, and excellent tips! And I apologize for taking this long to acknowledge the time and effort you put into sharing your experience. It’s a wonder that we survive sometimes, but it’s through these situations that we learn that are limits are at least a bit further than we thought. It sounds like you’ve had ample opportunity over the past 4 years to learn how much further yours can stretch! If there’s one of your tips that means the most for me to hear is that we need to be compassionate with ourselves. Thank you again, and all the best.

  2. Colette says:

    Dustin, highlighting what Queen’s can do to assist parent grad students is fantastic. YOur tips as well I hope will reach out to other grad parents and help them along their way.

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