Being a mum and completing a Ph.D. was tough for me because I had to make choices about what kind of mother vs. scholar I wanted to be.

It was even more challenging because I transitioned into motherhood and Ph.D. at the same time!

The journey was fun at first because it felt like the Ph.D. didn’t take over my life completely.

However, now that I’m done and I find that I have so much more time with my kids to do the fun stuff which was once a luxury, I can see how the Ph.D. did take over my life.

Coping on a day-to-day basis

My husband took on a lot of the parenting.

We both realized that needed to happen if I was going to complete my programme; so in my last year when I was deep in writing-up, he took on more activities like bedtime rituals, morning runs, school drop-offs and so on.

Although I wasn’t entirely absent, I had to prioritize the Ph.D. and finishing in that year.

The inner struggles

So when I mention the struggle between what scholar vs mother I wanted to be – it was choices like sending the kids to a party with their dad, while I stayed home to write.

I started to ask questions.

What does it mean to be a mother?

Is it tied to a specific role?

Am I not a mother if I’m not doing some of these things?

There was also the struggle of dealing with society expected of me.

For instance,  in my writing mode, I would jump over the untidy living area to go into the room where I did my writing.

It sounds like no big deal, but for me, it was choosing to write and not be the quintessential homemaker some might have expected me to be.

It was about being strong enough to handle the fact that my kids spent more time with their father as he became more of their primary caregiver.

In fact, they are still adjusting to having me around a lot more.

On the other hand, I was also learning how to be an academic.

I realizing that because I had kids I would have to miss some of the evening events – where all the academic networking takes place.

I got a visiting fellowship when my youngest was around 6 months old and I was breastfeeding, so I needed to travel with my family.

However, the university was only willing to assist me in getting single-room accommodation.

If I was traveling with family, I needed to make my own arrangements.

I look back now and think, maybe I should have let it go, but I went through the hassle of organising my own accommodation in a foreign land.

Being a Mum and pursuing a Ph.D. came with all sorts of challenges, but it also made me realize I didn’t fit the ‘ideal’ or expected profile of an academic – and that was ‘okay’.

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Coping mechanisms

I struggled a lot emotionally BUT I found a Facebook group –  Ph.D. and ECR parents

It’s a group of people who are both parents and working towards a Ph.D. or early career academics.

I found my tribe and they completely understood what I was going through.

It was a place where I could vent and find people dealing with similar issues, and we could talk about anything. It was a lifesaver.

I think because I don’t have a lot of extended family living around me, between my husband and I, we had to make it work.

Maybe if I was in my home country, I would have had the grannies and aunties helping with the kids.

On the other hand, however, because it was the two of us, we actually transgressed gender roles and rules and came out happy about who we have become.

The Husband as the primary caregiver… issues?


People passed all kinds of comments, but I’m glad we were both on the same page – so we ignored them.

It also helped that we were migrants who didn’t have any strong extended family ties to enforce cultural norms etc. We did it our way.

Tips for new mums thinking of PhDs

If you have a partner/co-parent, they are an important part of the puzzle piece.

The Ph.D. is a huge investment of time and emotions.

I’m thankful my relationship survived. The Ph.D. placed some pressure on it, but we weathered the storm and made the shifts that were required.

Find your tribe.

Your tribe is made of people who get what it takes to be a parent and do a Ph.D.

The Facebook group I belong to comes highly recommended.

The group will cheer you on, and if you need a listening ear to vent to, they are there.

A lot is shared on navigating the delicate balance of PhD-ing and parenting on this Facebook group.

Also, be kind to yourself. Make time for yourself.

Ph.D. and parenting tend to demand lots from you, so you have to be intentional about self-care.

Do stuff that nourishes your spirit.

During my intense writing period, Sunday mornings were the time I had to myself while my husband and kids went off to church.

You probably wonder shouldn’t church have recharged me? Well, I needed to be alone, and that was the only time I had.

Oh! My husband says a fourth tip is BREATHE – you don’t always have to be on the go go! Stress slows you down.

Dudu Ndlovu is finally graduating with a Ph.D. this December 2017. Her research focused on Zimbabwean migrants memorials of violence in South Africa. She buys more books than she ever gets time to read, enjoys poetry and trying out new recipes.

Dudu blogs at LET ME TELL MY STORY.

Photos: Stylish Academic ©

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