Regardless of the program, graduate school is a big commitment and brings its own set of unique challenges. Some of the challenges graduate students face are stress, time management, work/life balance, lack of personal support, concerns about the future, and problems with motivation (INOMICS, 2019). Now, consider adding parental responsibilities, too – that is a lot on anyone’s plate!
New and seasoned parents may encounter challenges related to lack of sleep, marriage expectations, planning for the future, work (Jenkin, 2010), securing adequate childcare, and stress (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2018). Parenthood can be both mentally and physically exhausting! However, with some attention to strategies to improve balance, the role of parent and graduate student is doable (albeit ambitious)!
Here are tips from the RMUoHP community to help along the way:
Prioritize Family, but Be Realistic
“Our first [child] was one year old when my husband started his DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) program. We had our second [child] during his first round of clinical. Do what you can, when you can. We learned to set realistic expectations and support each other where we could. It was so worth it!” – Lindsey Acor Lefevor (Spouse of RMUoHP DPT Alumnus)
“We had an infant when my husband started his MS-SLP [Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology] program, and we added another little one during his last year. He did a great job of staying involved with the kids constantly by calling during the day, and when he got home he would change diapers, wrestle, and give us all a lot of attention at least for a little before returning to homework.” – Natalie Scherck (Spouse of MS-SLP Alumnus)
“Communicate with your spouse and work extra hard around the house when you graduate.” – Dr. Jay Gerzmehle (RMUoHP OTD Alumnus)
“Sometimes, there is no such thing as ‘balance.’ Balance implies that there are equal amounts of energy/resources being devoted to all of the responsibilities in life. In graduate school, sometimes school requires more time, energy, or attention. And sometimes family requires more. The trick is knowing when to make one a priority over the other and having realistic expectations. Most of the time making either choice feels terrible, but you do it because you have to and somehow it all works out in the end.” – ElBea Stonier (RMUoHP MS-SLP Faculty)
Lean on Others for Support and Encouragement
“[I] got pregnant in PT school. [I]don’t recommend it, but since it was not supposed to be possible, I’ll take my miracle. The support and encouragement of my classmates meant the world and got me through!” – Skila Schuch Jennings (RMUoHP tDPT Student)
“I had my first [child] the beginning of my MOT [Masters of Occupational Therapy) program! If anything, it keeps you motivated!! Great family and spouse support are helpful. Now she is almost 10 and I’m almost done with my OTD [Doctor Occupational Therapy].” – Chelsey Edwards (RMUoHP OTD Student)
“Right after starting my OTD [Doctor of Occupational Therapy] degree at RMUoHP, I found out we were pregnant with our first. It took lots of prayers, extra hands, late nights, and naps to get us through, but we made it!! And my little boy was there when I walked that stage!” – Dr. Alexandra Hubnik Webb (RMUoHP OTD Alumna)
“We had quite a few moms in my [Master of Physician Assistant Studies] cohort. Most moms I know still did > 50% of household/child-rearing while in PA school. One of my friends gave birth during the didactic year and was right back in school taking her short breaks between classes to pump breastmilk. She’s a rock star. My advice – have a supportive spouse/family and make sure you take time to turn off the study and just be mom/dad.” – Heather Robson Dunford (RMUoHP MPAS Alumna)
“I learned I was pregnant with my second child the day after I interviewed for a Master’s in Child Development, Infant Studies, program and was five months pregnant when I started. I was back in class on Day 10, not wise. But my infant and toddler helped inform my studies, for sure! [On] round two of grad school, my tDPT [transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy] at RMUoHP – that ‘baby’ is now 17 and helped ME with my statistics homework! My 19-year old is helping me do research and recruit participants for my capstone!! So, my advice: put your kids to work!! Having a supportive partner has also been helpful.” – Sue Donohue (RMUoHP tDPT Student)
Being a graduate student and a parent isn’t easy, but it can be done and be very rewarding. It comes down to prioritization and support! As a reminder, RMUoHP provides support services for all students, including access to BetterHelp.com (professional counseling services). For additional resources, visit https://rm.edu/student-services/.
Author Talia Blatter
INOMICS (2019). “Ten biggest struggles of PhD students.” Retrieved from https://inomics.com/insight/10-biggest-struggles-of-phd-students-610514
The Annie E. Casey Foundation (2018). “Young parents face daily challenges, says a new report.” Retrieved from https://www.aecf.org/blog/young-parents-face-daily-challenges-says-new-report/