I am excited to present you today’s Meet a Mum as this story takes us to the highlands of Peru! This is Sarah and I hope you enjoy reading a little bit about her story…
Tell me about yourself and your family…
I’m a full time student and mum of one lively little lad who’s just turned 4. I moved to the North East of England from Scotland to start my PhD in 2009. I really love it here, there’s always something on. I’ve got a partner who also has a child from a previous relationship and from time to time we get the kids together for the odd adventure.
What are you studying at the moment was there any particular reason why you chose this course?
I’m in my writing-up year of a 4 year PhD at Newcastle University. My interdisciplinary project explores (brace yourself for the specifics!) the cultural meanings of water in the highlands of Lima, Peru in the early 17th Century and the modern-day. When I was younger I did a gap year in Peru and ever since have been back many times. Basically, I look for any excuse to go back and get Peruvian food withdrawal when I’m not there! There was research council funding available for a project in Iberian and Latin American Studies at Newcastle (which, thankfully, I was awarded) at the time I was finishing my Masters in Scotland and my prospective supervisors seemed like (and are!) the ideal supervisory team for my project.
What are some the things that motivate you to keep studying?
I’m less than a year away from finishing so these things keep me going:
1) The prospect of having free time and not feeling guilty about how I spend it!
2) The prospect of taking more than 1-2 weeks off a year as holiday. Realistically, who actually manages 7-8 weeks holiday a year?!
3) The prospect of spending some quality time with my little one before he starts school.
4) The prospect of taking up long-distance running again and do the odd race (I found it difficult to find time after my maternity leave).
Even if I can’t find a full time job right away, after 10 years as a student I’m looking forward to all of the above. A friend also advised me to envisage my graduation-it helps when things are tough!
What are the most challenging aspects?
Lack of money. The cost of childcare. Trying to fit in teaching work to pay the bills. And the effect (be it real or perceived) that academia seems to have on people emotionally, where the little free time we have is spent feeling guilty about not working. I think institutions should really look at how to solve that.
I also get irritated when many research events and conferences are held after 4pm. Would the odd lunchtime seminar really do any harm?
What would you say to other mums considering studying?
If your children will be in childcare, make sure you have a realistic idea of how much it will cost. Few people are able to afford full-time childcare fees. Find out what help you’re entitled to. Basically, I say ‘go for it!’ getting as much help as you can along the way.
Who supports you to study i.e. partner helps with child care that type of thing…?
The last few years have been a bit of a whirlwind with my husband and I separating but he lives close by and has our little one over at his house regularly. We manage to have the odd day out as a 3 which is nice. We use childcare part-time and the grandparents have been lifesavers, babysitting him regularly. Before separating I took Fridays off to save money on childcare and tried to catch up on weekends but was usually too tired to get much done.
Childcare aside, my partner is very supportive. If I have a bad day or am feeling upset about my progress (or lack thereof) he’ll ask “How can I help?” and sometimes pops onto campus with treats or just a quick hug. Recently, after many sleepless nights he turned up one lunchtime with a special alarm clock designed to help my son to learn the right time to wake up. It’s quite possibly the best gift anyone has ever given me!
In what way does your study impact your kids?
The biggest impact I can think of would be when my son and his dad accompanied me to fieldwork in a remote highland village in Peru. Towards the end of the fieldwork, I stayed behind alone for two months to finish up. I still wonder whether it was the right thing to do but my project wouldn’t have been the same without that time to catch up. It was very difficult, in a practical way, to do fieldwork with my family there.
Thankfully my son was young when we were apart (1.5 years) but to this day I wonder if it might have impacted him emotionally somehow. It sounds awful but I’ve spent this PhD feeling wracked with guilt. I do think it’s good for him to see his Mummy working hard, and, even better if I get a good job at the end of it. Because I’ve been a student for so long I have no savings and struggle to get by so it would be nice to be on a semi-decent income and to be able to afford music classes/sports classes for him…maybe even a holiday now and again!
Do you have any tips or hints for other mums?
Make the most of the good days and try not to feel too bad if you’re just too tired some days. Those days are good for finding texts/other things where you don’t have to think so much.
Try not to let partners get away with not putting in their fair share of parental responsibility. Student Mums tend to be the ones who have to take time off when the kids are sick, or if nursery is closed. If you’re married/have a partner, then make sure they treat your studies as a job.
If you’re a single parent who studies find out if you’re entitled to any state benefits.
If you think your institution could do more for students with children, consider asking for change.
All mums are busy but I think if you take time to enjoy your studies, take breaks and keep in touch with friends then that gets you through the mad, busy times!!!
Thank you Sarah for sharing your story with us!