Lessons from year 4 as a #PhDMommy
Lesson 1: Ignore the naysayers
“All you hatin’ is fuel to my fire, motivation” - T.I.
When I interviewed for my doctoral program, my daughter, Jordan, was just 6 months old and still breastfeeding. I brought my mom along and we stayed at an on-campus hotel just so I could sneak away during breaks in the schedule to nurse and/or pump. I used the schedule to strategically identify good points to break away without it being terribly noticeable. Basically, I had this interview weekend on lock juggling being engaged in program activities while also maintaining my feeding schedule. I was feeling pretty impressed with myself and even made it to the social with current doc students that evening. I ended up at a table with some well-meaning students who asked the traditional tell me about yourself question. Of course somewhere in there I included being the mother of a 6-month old to which one responded, “People sure do pick interesting times to start a doc program.” I refrained from responding with a quote from the great hood philosopher Lil Boosie, “You don’t know my struggle so can’t feel my hustle” and just said “Yep.” Three-years later, I still remember that comment. Don’t get me wrong, there were so many other supportive folx that I met that interview weekend AND that moment still sticks out above the rest. There will be people who question your timing, sanity, and methods but don’t let them get to you stay focused on your goals and show them just how “interesting” you are.
Lesson 2: Establish your priorities and NEVER apologize for them
“Should we apologize, nah eff ‘em and leave em pissed, aye.” - Nelly
I do NOT do work on Saturdays. Point blank period, I said what I said. Saturdays are for being fully engaged with my family regardless of readings or assignments. For me, being a engaged and fully present mother is my top priority. Sometimes this means missing out on conferences, writing retreats, and additional research opportunities. For others, that priority may be post-graduate job or salary which requires other sacrifices. There is no right way to be a #PhDMommy there is only YOUR way. Do you boo boo! I say this now, in hindsight, but it was a difficult journey to get to this conclusion. I started going to yoga classes in my second year and the instructor would start each class by saying, “Stay on your own yoga mat and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You don’t know how long they have been practicing or what kind of day they had. Focus on yourself and what your body is doing.” This resonated with me as I was constant trying to compare my level of productivity to those around me.
Lesson 3: Find your tribe
“Yeah I love my ninjas, And all my ninjas love me, Yeah I love my ninjas, Till eternity” - Lil Boosie
In my first semester, my cohort submitted a proposal to do a panel of sorts about different pathways to doctoral work. It was accepted and scheduled for a Friday, the one day I did not have childcare. I went back and forth about what to do but finally just mentioned to the class that I wouldn’t be participating. The overwhelming response from my classmates and faculty was to bring Jordan with no hesitation. I have been blessed with this level of support in both my academic and personal life. From my partner’s Daddy Daughter Dates on my working days, my mother taking time off while I study abroad in Ghana, friends turned family who babysit, and my fellow doc students and faculty who always have my back, I could not do this #PhDMommy thing without the support and encouragement from so many people. I’m just saying my dissertation acknowledgements bout to be DEEP.
Lesson 4: Enjoy the moments
“I keep telling myself man I’m living the good life.” -T.I.
It is definitely not an easy feat being a #PhDMommy and with a million things going on, it can be difficult to take a moment and enjoy where you are and what you are doing. You are pursuing your dreams, you are creating a legacy for your child(ren), and you are breaking barriers. I have had to stop so many times to remind myself, I will (hopefully lol) never be in this space as a doc student again, Jordan will never be this age again, and hell I will never be this age again. Life is not stopping because I pursued a PhD and neither should I. For me this meant, staying late on campus on my “school days” to be in community with my doc family, taking time away for a vacation to Disney World, and going to Ghana for study abroad. Each of these things made me a better mother and scholar. So while there are always a million and one things going on, seize these moments and opportunities as they come.