Tell me about yourself and your family…
I’m a single mother of 2- I have a nearly 6 year old whose dad lives somewhere in America and a 2 year old son from a donor. We live in Victoria with our one mental cat – who loves the kids- and one normal cat- who loves me and tolerates the kids.
What are you studying at the moment and was there any particular reason why you chose this course?
I’m working on my PhD in history and am just a few short weeks away from submission. I was nearly finished a BA/MA program in history (BA double major with anthropology with a minor in classics, MA in history) when I got pregnant with my daughter. She was a newborn all the way through the last year of my Masters.
I was in America and the economy collapsed right before I graduated. As a result, I was suddenly overqualified for the secretary roles I’d done before but all the teaching jobs at community colleges were being taken by those with PhDs. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to ‘come home’ and do my PhD so I could at least be competitive.
My topic is a comparison of convict transportation in Virginia (1614-1776) and Australia (1788-1840). It’s a topic that speaks to both my American and Australian heritage. The American side is also mostly unknown and it’s important to me to bring it to light.
What are some of the things that motivate you to keep studying?
In some respects simple necessity. I can’t get a job doing what I want to do (teach) without the degree. The scholarship keeps a roof over our heads, and gives me a little freedom to once in a while be mum too. I also really enjoy learning new things – it’s exciting to uncover some unknown little nugget that has laid buried for many years.
What are the most challenging aspects?
Being single makes a lot of things challenging. I miss out on a lot of things- like seminars or guest lectures because I have to leave campus for school/daycare pickups. Conferences are also hard- especially out of state or country ones. It’s not like I can just leave them with dad.
My kids also spend more time in care than I would like- the thesis is a cruel mistress sometimes. Another hardship is simply concentration. I’ll finally be getting in a good writing groove and one of the kids will interrupt, or I’ll have to stop to go get them. And when they are sick I can lose a lot of time.
I think though, the biggest difficulty is feeling resentful of others who are doing their PhD without kids. Because they can jet off for a conference or go to a late night lecture, and those things feel like an impossible juggle.
What would you say to other mums considering studying?
Be organized and yet flexible. I treat this like my job. I go in, work, I go home and be mum. I try my best not to work at home (but break that rule when a deadline looms). I work on the train in the morning, but play cribbage with friends on the way home- you deserve a break too.
Every day I set out with a goal of what I want to achieve, and then I do my best to meet that goal. Today I didn’t make it- but rationalize that getting “lost” in legal dictionaries of the 1609s was just as productive.
Who or what supports your study?
My daughter is in school and the before/after care. My son is in daycare. My mum and stepfather help occasionally, but I really have to “save” those for REALLY IMPORTANT things. I get a bit of a guilt trip from mum every time I ask, so I don’t ask often.
I’ve left my daughter overnight with my mum when I was pregnant with my son for a conference, and will leave my son for the first time next Jan for the same reason. But that is an extreme rarity.
In what way does your study impact your kids?
Good: My kids have a good study habit. My daughter in particular is constantly working on “homework”.
Bad: I work a lot. I’m gone from 7am-6pm. None of us have enough energy after dinner for reading or family time. Evenings feel really rushed.
Do you have any tips or hints for other mums?
Play with your kids as much as you can on the weekends. Get them to be part of the housework. Having my kids do laundry/dishes/sweeping/mopping with me makes them feel like I’m spending time with them and I get stuff done.
Take a notepad on the train (if you commute), and use that as writing time. Just free flow ideas. Not only will you be productive you can save the data allowance on your Smartphone
Explain to your kids what you are doing. Sometimes they are clever beings.