Learning Through Life: Balancing Graduate School and Motherhood

There are salient similarities among the cultures of mothering and academia. They both, for example, place harsh demands on one’s body and mind. If one were offered a purview into homes across the country in the wee hours of the night, one might find both academics and mothers pacing the floors, searching and pleading for that elusive cocktail of soothing strategies to lull a crying baby to sleep or the rhetorical flourishes needed to complete that vexing chapter. The intensity and reverence with which academics and mothers undertake their respective ‘labors of love’ is undoubtedly similar. And certainly both vocations can be marked by constant self-scrutiny and a nagging sense of incompletion and imperfection.

Yet in spite of these ironic similarities, being both an academic and mother is quite incompatible in practice. Women who find themselves precariously trying to balance these two roles often struggle and sometimes fail. The sheer time demands coupled with the unrealistic yet normative conceptions of ‘idealized’ mothers and ‘100%’ academics means that one can never truly be both. These tensions and contradictions can be particularly explicit during graduate school, when aspiring academics are being ‘socialized’ into their new vocations, and when many women are experiencing motherhood for the first time.