Doing a PhD while raising kids

Last week, I posted a question on my Facebook page asking how many hours sleep PhD students were getting.

I’ll post an article about sleep soon, but today I’m going to talk about something else that came up in the comments…

Doing a PhD while raising kids

During my own PhD, I had few other responsibilities. I was teaching martial arts and was training 6 days a week, but this was routine, predictable stuff that I could easily manage (it actually probably helped with the PhD because I had an escape).

But it’s not uncommon for students to do PhDs while raising kids (or to have kids while doing their PhD). This means trying to do a PhD while also trying to nurture an entire new human life.

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In all honesty, I don’t know how people manage it. But they do.

So instead of my usual posts giving advice, I’m just going to open up the comments to let you share your experiences and any advice you may have for others in the same situation. You are not alone!

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37 thoughts on “Doing a PhD while raising kids

  1. Guys you can do it!

    I want to write here how I manage it because I have been doubting whether starting a PhD with kids was a good idea for a few months before deciding. So here some words of encouragement.

    People without kids do invest their time in other activities equally demanding and they often feel like they cannot do it. Our activities are…just different!
    I am 29 y.o., starting my 3rd year now and I am among the PhDs in my department who has had the greatest output in terms of articles and conference presentations (and I am the only parent).
    I have two children, the oldest is almost 5 and the youngest is 2,5 y.o.. I got my first when I was finishing my MSc in engineering and yes, everybody wondered how I could ever manage to graduate. In between my MSc and the start of my PhD I have worked for 2 years. This was way harder. Stricter times and crazy deadlines that depends on a team and not simply set by you and your supervisor. PhD is fun in comparison to other jobs if you can really study something you like. My youngest was about 6 months when I started my PhD and I immediately was writing at full speed. My husband has a full time job and we have found a very good day-care. Although I am often super tired I only focus my time on writing, teaching and taking care of the kids. No other distractions allowed, no sport unfortunately, just walking the dog. These are complicated years but things are going well and my supervisor thinks I have enough papers to finish up my dissertation. I live in The Netherlands where normally you get 4 years to do a PhD. I don’t know about other countries, so I might be lucky here.

    The hardest part for me is to deal with the guilty feeling of not dedicating my entire day to them and, with the words of discouragements from my peers or other scholars. Often when they would hear I am a mother they clearly show doubts about my possibilities to finish on time. So the greatest skills I had to learn were 1) not to care and 2) to let go.

    Dear parents, organise, plan, eat healthy and get through it! And remember: if you are a parent of a toddler and you survived, you have got impressive leadership and management skills! And no supervisor’s disappointment can let you down anymore. Your resilience is going to be your greatest asset for the job market when you are a doctor.

  2. It is not an easy task indeed to raise kids whole doing her/his PhD. I got married in 2014 and had my kids (twins) in 2015. I’m doing my PhD since 2014 and I thank God that I could finally find a straight way to finish it very soon. I’m a full time assistant lecturer as well. I hardly have 4 sleeping hours per night. It is sometimes fun but mostly very hard.

  3. I am wirting my Phd thesis and I have one son. Things are really difficult at this situation. I hope i would be able to finish it on time.

  4. A person doing phd and having kids is like doing double phd. I have 4 kids but they are not with me. Despite that they are away i have to manage many things for them from abroad. i do miss them its since one year did not meet them. They always ask when are you coming. Its hard but life needs sacrifices which can not be scaled sometime

  5. I am a single parent who is legally blind. I have raised my 3 young men ages 21, 22 and 23. I also have a son who is 40 years old. I am 56. I have been pursuing my Ph.D since 2014 and since I have started my dissertation I have been stuck on Chapter One. I am in my extended classes of my dissertation and I will be traveling through airports in August 2018 to go to Grand Canyon University to do my residency for a week, for a 3 week extended course as I hopefully start my continuation dissertation 2. I am so tired. My kids are all home except the one 40 he has been gone since he finished school and is doing well. My two youngest are starting community college in the Fall and the 23 year old is doing readmission into the local university. I am so tired and I don’t have any family in this small town. I will be the first of my family to receive this degree. Getting this degree is so important to me because I started this journey with the intentions of helping lots of people one day. My degree will be a Ph.D in Philosophy with a degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Performance Psychology. I would love to either teach or work with people. My financial aide is running out as far as loans and I am I guess getting tired mentally and physically. Running a household on one income, disability is a bummer. God has really showed up and showed out over the past four years. I am asking anyone who is reading this please pray that I move on from Chapter One figuring out my variables and finish my revisions to Chapter two. Then I can start Chapter three and on to four and five. Thanks I really need to vent this one (smile). Much love and blessings to you all?

  6. I completed my PhD in 2016. It took me 7 years, did it part time while working in a full time job. Had 4 kids on the way also. It was tough and there were many sacrifices, more so on my families part. You need metal to get through and good supervisors and a very clear vision or roadmap. Most importantly you need the support of your family.

  7. I am an international PhD student in the US. My wife and I had a son during the second year of my PhD. Although, my wife is the primary caregiver, I do try to devote some time to her and the kids everyday. When I can’t (e.g., when I get stuck on some part of my research which needs to get done), the guilt is huge.

    Second, we have no relatives close by who can help us. My wife is not allowed to work (we are in the US) and we cannot afford childcare.

    I also teach an undergraduate class every semester to help pay the bills. Teaching often gets exhausting, but is worthwhile sometimes when students are engaged. Our sole income is from my teaching, and it is pretty low. My wife does extraordinary management and somehow we manage to survive. By the grace of God, we have family members who we can count on for some monetary help to pay the bills, if not child care (which of course, is super expensive).

    • We had our second son too a couple of years back. So overall, yeah – doing a PhD with kids is pretty tough if you are an international student, with no relatives to help with the kids and also a limited income.

      • I have started my PhD in Australia and I have two daughters.My husband for now is stay at home dad.Being an international student limited income is one problem for us.Also when I go back home ,kids are all over me before I put down my bag even.I have to then manage kids n tidying up place along with cooking.Its so tough

  8. Has anyone gotten married in the final year of PhD…would like to know your thoughts and whether you’d do anything differently.

  9. I am in my final, 7th year! My eldest is now 13 and youngest 11. It has been tough and much work is done v late at night. It is actually getting harder as they get older as they go to bed later. Ironically I am studying parent engagement and during this last push I have booked 4 writing retreats and am disengaging from the family.

    Our family diet leaves a lot to be desired at the moment though the kids are helping to cook.

    The house is a tip but that is fine – the husband does way more than his fair share.

    I try and book in a few hours solid time with each family member a week. It is never enough and guilt it huge.

    I am fully relying on my husband and many, many friends who are playing taxi and often 2nd mum to my girls. A village will have raised this PhD.

  10. Wow I am soooooo glad that I am not alone. I often feel so embarrassed that it has taken me so long to finish my PhD. I became pregnant during the time I was supposed to complete my PhD. The pregnancy was not easy so I took an early maternity. After having some family issues I was not even able to complete after a year of maternity and to be honest I didn’t feel quite ready to do so. Almost 5 years later I finally submitted and awaiting my viva. I didn’t have anyone living with me for the consistent help, however I did have my sister who helped me look after my son. Most of my work was done during the night time. I tried waking up very early but that did not work out for me.

    I had many sleepless nights during my writing stages. And I remember some nights I had to hold my son with one hand and type with the other. It was not easy but I am glad I got there.

    If anyone has any viva preparation tips when you have kids that would be most appreciated.

  11. I started my PhD two weeks after a Cesearean section. I take my baby to lectures with a nanny on standby. we are 8 months now and so far so good.

  12. Hi everyone!
    This is such a wonderful and important thread – James thank you for opening the comments space as it’s almost a new article in itself! So I am offering a slightly different [no kids yet, PhD almost done] and very empathetic perspective here [I admire you ALL] that may be useful for some of you, not sure. Essentially: your single PhD friends without kids are likely very willing to help you succeed and give you time off to write!

    I am a teacher, artist, a 6.5yr almost done PhD Candidate, and woman without kids yet although I do want them. Have found dating very hard during grad school, almost impossible. My choice was PhD first then maybe family next – this was deliberate as I saw many PhD women friends in particular struggle during my Masters who mentioned the pressures of kids/hubby/PhD while teaching full-time, and two got divorced – but they all finished! 🙂 Personally, to make it through grad school, initially with 2 dogs who are now gone: I work up to 4 pt-jobs around my research/writing, teach & supervise, am volunteer curator at a gallery on campus for 4 yrs, bartend pt nights/weekend, make/sell art and upcycle furniture on the side [great art therapy!]. Financial and emotional pressures are real, and PhD life is not easy on any of us. So I respect SO MUCH all of you raising while PhDing and have lots of parent friends doing the same.

    What I wanted to share was the idea of asking for support from your non-kid having but kid-loving PhD colleagues like me! A, the single ones may have more freedom, time, and flexibility to help on a whim or bbsit after work/one day a week so you can go write somewhere; B, we as solo income earners often need the cash if you can pay or barter by feeding us meals/paper editing/even offer us a homestay if you need a pt nanny; and C – most important – as we may not have family near (mine is in the US, I’m in Canada) and most single PhDs/postdocs live alone, PhD existence is beyond lonely. All meals are often eaten alone and days go by without speaking to other humans. My most favorite healing joyful moments have been when I babysit and stop by once a week after work to see my bf’s 4 year old J. It offers a real moment to be off the computer, fully present to a little child by remaining curious loving and light, helps my exhausted friend, and reminds me there is LIFE outside of grad school (PhD can be so heavy!). It is literally sometimes the highlight of my week to goof off and play cars or go for a walk with him after a long exhausting mental writing day. His mom is a single parent and when I am there, she can take a bath, run errands, go out on a date, or relax. Other times, she can drop him off at my office and we spend an afternoon on campus while she goes to the library, exercises, grocery shops, etc. Maybe there are other PhD moms and dads on campus to network with and trade off days?

    So we would likely not be part of parenting online groups but we are here, admiring and willing to help you, and for those like me who LOVE kids and hope to have some one day…it is such a beautiful trade. I’ve happily bbsat for my mom and dad PhD friends for 5+ hrs so they can write and even done a weekend so one friend could rent a cabin by the ocean to write in peace for 3 days! So remember there are people around who might help out if you ask 🙂 hope this helps!

  13. I was on this fast trajectory to finish. Then my wife got pregnant entirely unexpectedly. We’re in our 40’s and thought we knew where babies come from, but after years of trying, no kids. Seems Thai food and chocolate are the trick. Who knew?

    Anyway, three years in to a five year pace, the baby shows up. I’m 45 and she’s 42. Everything got turned upside down. Everything. He’s an incredible joy and we could not be more in love, but I’m in year seven now and barely through one chapter of my dissertation.

    So much has had to change. So many priorities have shifted. I am often the primary caregiver because my wife works a lot. So, PhDad is real and time consuming and I’m never going to get these toddler years back. So…the slow train from now on.

  14. I began my PhD with three children aged 2,4 and 6. At that time, my husband was able to help with many of the home tasks. After a few years, when funding was low, I realized that I needed to work full time alongside the PhD because my partner was unable to get high paying jobs becuase we had focussed exclusively on my education. Now, I have been in the thesis for 7 years, and I work full time. But I chose a teaching profession which allows me to travel for fieldwork and meetings. Also, it has benefits for our kids. My daughter, who is now 8, has her own PhD book that she works on and both of my sons are supportive and hold admiration for my goals. My husband is now updating his credentials and has obtained a BA while staying at home. I think that pursuing a PhD with a family is very much a family affair, and involves everyone, and sacrifices. I think of the thousands of hours that the work has taken away from parenting, and the guilt associated with that. However, now that my children are older, the thesis represents a golden ticket for our family, and I am grateful for that. My advice to women PhD students who are also parents is to surround yourselves with strong female mentors. Unfortunately, the path is not easy, and requires a lot of boundary building and strict time management. Also, even thought you are in a PhD, and required to communicate in academic language, it is essential to develop the capacity to “shift down” easily into parenting language, and loving language with your partner. The goal, I think is to become reflexive in your ability to move between academic rigor, work, parenting and partnering with greater and greater ease. Finally, what has helped me a lot is developing periods of quiet time in the morning, and one-hour breaks for quick exercise each evening, for physical and mental balance.

    • I have started my PhD in Australia and I have two daughters.My husband for now is stay at home dad.Being an international student limited income is one problem for us.Also when I go back home ,kids are all over me before I put down my bag even.I have to then manage kids n tidying up place along with cooking.Its so tough.please advice how to manage both home and kids along with PhD.I am behaving very irrationally and angry most of the time

  15. It is when you regret why you did not do your PhD before childbearing. Kids need time and rightfully so. The best thing for me to do is to utilise the night when they are sleeping for my reading and writing. Waking up at 3 in the morning has worked wonders for me. I try to do work when they are awake but the focus is definitely divided.

  16. I’ve been at it 2 semesters now (PhD in Education) while working full time and very active 9 year old girl/boy twins. I’m thankful I went into this with a lot of communication with my wife and revisited expectations and time management before the start of the second semester. My top tips so far:
    – If you have a spouse/partner: have open lines of communication and take time to revisit expectations and renegotiate responsibilities – if you thought communication was important before, it’s even more important now!
    – Block your time for maximum productivity and plan it into your weekly schedule (I stay late one night a week at work, but just roll into school work after hours and stay late)
    – Plan your week so you have dedicated family times that you can train yourself to be completely present (Friday night family nights, Sundays no school work, etc.)
    – Communicate regularly with your kids about what you are doing and why you are doing it, even if they are very young. Ask them to pitch in and help as much as possible – they’ll not only rise to the challenge but feel proud that they are part of your success

  17. I’m a solo mum and started my PhD when bub was 4 months old. I submitted and was conferred 2 years ago (she was 4.5). I have no family living in my city so relied on childcare (4 days/week), lovely friends at other times as needed, and a university stipend to partially cover living expenses. I also worked part time to supplement my income. I’m glad I did it when my daughter was tiny as it allowed for much more flexibility with my time. Though of course was very demanding in other ways!

    So to anyone parenting whilst PhDing, it is very possible but your struggle is real and acknowledged! Hats off to you!

    Also big ups to the Facebook PhD and ECR parents group as mentioned above!

    • Sounds like you had a good support network in place. I think that’s probably the most important thing!

  18. Good morning,
    I actually like this post, I am a PhD student in my fourth year and I have a nine month baby with other three children and I am still lecturing, teaching and supervising students, that has not been easy for me. The only time I program for my self is to work intensively on my PhD for only two days in a week ; the remaining days for my work and family. I also have a nanny that is helping me at home. However, I will still like to have pieces of advice from my colleagues bcos I have been benefitting from your posts.

  19. Hello James.
    My two kids were two years and ten months when I started my phd. I submitted last month, which means that they are now seven and almost nine.
    It surely takes a village to finish a phd whilst parenting. Awefully difficult when you are on a tight budget to afford child care, have no or little family to help you with kids, or when you are the primary parent (meaning that most of the child care mental load is forced onto your already phd loaded brain).
    I think most parents manage their phd when they find their network of support. Failing that, no matter how brilliant they may be at their phd, they will just loose hope and give up. It takes a lot of management and most importantly resilience to bounce bsck and snatch bsck every hour that was unexpectedly lost due to on-going and endless parenting stumbling blocks.
    In my case, I was lucky on a few fronts
    1. My ft job sponsored my phd – meaning they gave me a job plus sponsored my phd on condition that I get a phd. Failing that, I loose job plus total reimbursement (ouch!)
    2. Because of no 1, I had enough income to finance child care services to take care of my kids during my ft job and study (although the guilt was perennial throughout).
    3. Because of the working conditions explained in no. 2, I HAD to get a phd. No second thoughts or change of hearts. I had to do it, and the fear and anxieties of that pushed me to finish it no matter what.
    4. I was lucky to have a supervisor who always mentored me not just as a student but as a complete person with my parental and working obligations. I honestly think, this aspect was crucial in keeping my confidence in my world of phd parenting.
    5. Last but not least, a partner who though was not very hands-on in day-to-day parenting (especially when they were still babies and toddlers), was supportive in my decision throughout but especially in the writing up stage and when I needed to fly out for supervision mtgs and conferences.

    With more and more adults taking on phd studies whilst working and parenting, I think there is a great gap in phd coaching that needs to be addressed.
    Most of these adults end up sandwiched like me, when apart from raising children, I also had to support serious health issues of my parents. That on its own, not only minimises the family support of raising up the kids whilst studying and parenting, but also adds a new layer of care responsibility towards a second family.

    I cannot not mention here the invaluable support that I virtually received from other phd parents. I never physically met any these incredible persons but they were always a button away on FB pages. Here I am referring to the FB group – Phd Parents and Early Career Researchers group and their spin off groups – Virtual SUAW – Parents Edition and the Full Draft club.

    It takes a village: literally, physically and virtually.

  20. I was pregnant when I started my PhD. I managed to submit my proposal and put to be 2 weeks later. It has not been so easy because I cannot turn on my laptop to work if my son is awake. He demands attention and I have to meet up with my deadlines as I have to resume to work. My son is now 2year and 3 months but I am coping.

  21. I’m glad that this topic attracted attention! I’ve had to change my research question while I was pregnant and managed to complete the in-depth interviews in the field before the birth of my son. I have to admit that the parenting style one has or adopts shapes his/her relationship with the little one. In my case, I took a year off of my studies and during that year, I tried to read as much as I can about the literature that I might have missed beforehand. Accompanying a tiny human on his journey brought incredible insights into my life. I’m immensely grateful for it. On how you manage to sleep: You need to rely on team spirit. Your partner, a day-time helper (for the chores and food, maybe a sitter/caretaker for a couple of hours) and you. It all depends on your finances. With no help (or just the help of the partner), keeping the boat serene might be hard. Bless the village! On the second year, the baby (toddler) started to gently find his routine and I went back to my scheduled study routine during the day, though a large part was still occupied by my son’s needs. A balance that is working both for you and the little one is essential. Now my son’s about to celebrate his second birthday and I’ll be defending my PhD thesis in 3 months. It’s been a wonderful time. Hard, yes. Sometimes brutally hard. But worth every second.

  22. I have three kids and am in my final year of my PhD. I have dedicated childcare for three afternoons after school time, I carve out a long session (usually 4-5 hours) one day at the weekend, and I always have a book, printouts, notes etc with me to read stuff at the sidelines of activities.

    I used get up early and do work in the morning but in the last 6 months I have started doing 3 early morning gym sessions instead as my health needed it !

    I do shitty first drafts, I plug away at writing, reading, marking, teaching, and find that when I do get long days to write I can do a lot in a short time. I take up opportunities for play dates when offered.

    Simple things like batch cooking, cutting corners in housework and getting the kids to do some household jobs also really helps. My kids get to watch too much tv around deadlines though….

    Doing a PhD with kids means that there are times I have to drop work when I really want to keep reading/writing. But it means also that there are many times when I get to drop the PhD and go to the park, to the beach, out for a hot chocolate with my kids. I try to concentrate on them when I have kid time, and concentrate on PhD when I have PhD time.

  23. It is very hard , nobody realises how pain is your journey and you have to catch up with your peers in performance , achievements and stand out in a fierce competition. And also you are also treated as the rest of the PhDs graduates when you are working. The society does not care how you have got the PhD.But I guess it is part of the system ans how you face challenges with a real life test.

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