I’m half way through my first semester at Princeton. My two year old lives. I’ve completed all my work. We are generally happy. Here are some of the ways we’ve made it work.
1. Accept your limitations. No, you won’t make it to that 4 pm philosophy colloquium. Zizek lecture? You will so not be there. Your experience is going to be different than many others, but that’s okay. Your life will be enriched in different ways as well. Some days you won’t get all the reading done. Do write all the papers and definitely show up for class.
2. Remember that you bring something amazing to the table. All those maternal references in Augustine? You get that. Discipline, discipleship, love, fear, commitment, ceaseless devotion, gut wrenching selflessness, care for the helpless, the recognition of our helplessness. What is motherhood apart from these things? These are also the defining characteristics of the Christian life. And you’ve been in the 24-hour a day school for those things for a while. People are going to stay stupid things. You’re going to get push back, especially if you try to make changes to the way things have always been done. Remember that you are a gift and you bring the seminary the gift of your presence.
3. Reading week is your friend. Use it wisely. Write as much as you can and read ahead.
4. If you have the option of a summer field ed vs. a year long field ed, try to make summer field ed work. Field education sucks time out of your week like nothing else. Our field ed office is incredibly accommodating and I bet others are as well.
5. Fish around for the right balance of classes. Talk to other people about their experiences with particular professors. I think this is a good breakdown: 1 class with difficult/intense testing, 1 class with intensive/extensive reading, 1 class that is conceptually challenging but low work, and 1 class that you consider easy or working from an innate strength. The reading will eat your time, the testing will use up your stress quota, the difficult class will challenge you without overwhelming and the class that builds on your academic strength will help your self-esteem and sense of purpose.
6. You get two times to work: nap time and when your kid goes to sleep at night. So think about whether you are disciplined enough to get everything you need to in those hours. Don’t try to do work when you should be interacting with your child. This will only build resentment and stress. If you do need more time, think about getting seriously regimented. I know one family where the dad goes to bed at 8 pm every night so that he can wake up at 3:30 am to study. You can do this. You just have to be willing to do what it takes.
7. Find the other women (or in my case the one woman) who is going through seminary with a preschool aged child. Get their lay of the land and their specific tips for how they make it work.
8. CO-PARENTING. Were this not stream of conscious with low editing due to limited time to write this would be number 1. You cannot do seminary and young children with a strict sense of gender roles, particularly gender roles that divide household and family care along gender lines. Now, I still clock in for the Second Shift, but I also highly depend on my husband to parent with me.
9. Babysitting co-ops. Find one. Establish one.
10. Don’t give into your loneliness. Having a young child in seminary can be an isolating experience. There aren’t a lot of married women in general in my program. As I mentioned before, there is only one with a preschool aged child and only two people (the others are men) who provide primary care for their children in the afternoon. The system is not set up for you. This is frustrating and exhausting. But it only will change if you are the voice of change. Get in there and give ’em hell, mama!