What I’m teaching my daughter by quitting grad school

One of the biggest deterrents to my quitting grad school was the example I set for my daughter. I want her to see that women should have careers and can follow their dreams. I want her to value education and intellectualism. I want her to persevere and work hard when things get difficult. And I wanted her to see all of these examples in her mom. I didn’t want her to see me as a quitter.

That’s why I agonized for so long over the decision to quit, and why I forced myself to continue working instead of taking a semester off right after she was born. Now that I’ve quit, I know that I’ve made the right decision, but I still worry that I may be setting a bad example for her. So here are some other things that she can learn by my example.

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She’s watching me closely.

When your situation changes, your plans may need to change.

When I decided to go to grad school, I was an independent single girl with nothing to restrict my career choices. At the time I chose my field of study, getting married and having a family wasn’t even on the horizon for me. Then I met my husband and it became clear that my future was going to be different from what I’d envisioned, but I still entered grad school as per the original plan. Conveniently, the school I wanted to attend was in the same city where my husband lived, so I didn’t question if it was still the right move. But I should have. His career was geographically incompatible with mine, and I knew that after I finished grad school, I was not going to be able to have the kind of career I had in mind. I also knew that I was going to be a stay-at-home-mom for a few years after I finished my degree. Still, I went to grad school because I believed in learning for its own sake, and because I still thought there was some way I could have my dream career.

Then we had a baby, and I no longer cared about following my dream career or earning a degree for its own sake. The only thing I cared about was having a strong family and helping to provide for them. In retrospect I wish I had spent those two years in a more practical degree program with better job prospects.

It’s important to make the right decision for you, at the right time for you.

I had many long discussions with my husband about quitting school from the time our daughter was born, and he almost always said I should quit. I asked a lot of people for advice before making a decision, and almost everyone said not to quit. But I kept working for another semester because I didn’t want to make a final decision until I could trust my own judgment outside the firestorm of postpartum hormones.

I may be the only person who ever thinks that I made the right decision. My daughter may someday question my decision and wonder why I gave up my advanced degree when education is so important to our family. My husband may wonder why I didn’t quit right away, or why I couldn’t give up my parenting ideals and hire a nanny so I could finish what I’d already put so much work into. Everyone I know may be disappointed in me for not finishing my degree in the final stretch. And that’s okay. When I finally decided to quit, I knew I was making the right decision at the right time.

Your marriage and family should always come first.

While I was still in grad school, I could pull myself together to take care of my daughter, but I was so tired all the time that I didn’t have any energy left to be nice to my husband, and we fought all the time. I finally realized that no marriage is immune to these effects. If it had been my husband’s job that was causing this amount of stress to our family, it would have been the right thing for him to change jobs even if it meant taking a pay cut, as long as we weren’t struggling financially.  In effect, that’s what I did, and it’s what we all needed.

It’s never too late to quit.

Everyone said that since I had already completed two years of a three-year program, I should stick with it so all my work wouldn’t go to waste. But in the end, I decided that nothing was worth sacrificing the health of my marriage for any amount of time. Even if I had only had a few months left to endure, it would not have been worth the cost. A few more months or one more year could mean all the difference to our marriage and the well-being of our family.

Quitting grad school: a family decision

I recently quit a graduate degree program in the sciences to become a stay-at-home mom. This is the story of how and why I reached that decision.

I gave birth to my daughter during winter break in my second year of grad school, and I went back to school and work when she was seven weeks old. Before she was born, I thought this timing was perfect because I didn’t have to take any time off from school. I only had one semester of classes and teaching left, and then all I had to do was write my thesis. I had visions of a newborn who would sleep all the time and wouldn’t require any maintenance other than nursing and diaper changes. By the time she became aware and awake enough to know where mommy was, I would be done with classes and home with her while writing my thesis during her naps.

That’s how I imagined it, but that’s not how it happened. Our wonderful daughter was not the sleepy angel I’d expected, but a colicky screaming mess who cried nonstop unless she was being held and bounced a specific way. I was exhausted from being on my own with her for most of the week because my husband’s job only allows him to be home on weekends. He told me to take the semester off. I wanted to do that more than anything, but I knew that if I took a leave of absence, I would never go back. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to finish my degree, but I knew that I didn’t have enough mental capacity in that current state to make an informed decision.

So I went back to school even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I took my baby to daycare where she cried all day and never slept because she could only sleep while being held. I went to classes and taught and pumped breastmilk in my office and in the lab and in my car. I held baby girl for hours while she cried every night, and stayed up until 4 am doing homework.  My brain was so slow from tiredness that I couldn’t add 5+7 without a calculator.

This was the only way she would sleep.

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