Surviving the Insanity of Grad School as a Single Mom

It’s 1:00 A.M. and it’s finally quiet. By quiet I mean the baby, sorry, my 4-year-old is very loudly sawing logs next to me in the bed as I work on a tedious research paper. The screen brightness on my laptop is turned to almost nothing, which I’m sure really helps with my overall loss of night vision. My son usually isn’t in my bed, but tonight he is sick. Being a mom and a nurse is not a great combo in this scenario. Yes, it’s true, nurses don’t take their children to see the doctor unless its pretty emergent. I am no exception to this rule. However, we’ve seen so much that my sick children get direct eyes on them viewing, just in case. Tomorrow is a workday. Meaning, I rise at 5, and have my youngest out the door and on his way to daycare by 6:15 A.M. Silver lining, due to his persistent fever, he will be home, which means I will be home, which means no work for me. Tomorrow.

 
 

I have now, for the time being, classified my life into two categories. I know you’re thinking “before being married” and “after being divorced”. Very true. Those two could be spot-on for some single moms. But I am in grad school. So it is now, pre-grad school and during grad school.

 
 

Pre-grad school

 
 

I went to work and easily completed my few shifts a week. Sometimes I even picked up extra shifts. Don’t ask me why, but in my head I think of rainbows and butterflies and well just everything was a little calmer. Yes, I was still a single mom working, living solo, raising my three busy children all but every other weekend. So of course, there was still stress. However, if I had the time to go out with, a girlfriend for lunch, or even an occasional date I went. There was no, “Mommy has to study, dear,” or “No, I can’t bury cars in the dirt right now.” Or, “Yes, honey, I know I said we would look at Pinterest to learn how to paint a Fourth of July flag on your toenails, but I haven’t had time.” Or my absolute favorite — because you know kids are just awesome — “Mom, you mean you were too busy to notice that when you ordered me those shoes as a surprise, you accidentally hit the REGULAR SHIPPING versus PRIME SHIPPING BUTTON???” So that basically means it’s gonna be about six extra days right?” AND… Door slams. Isn’t that precious? And I wanted four kids. That’s cute.

 
 

During grad school.

 
 

There are zero days of non studying. There is always an assignment coming up or due. While managing my own homework, I’m also managing my two teens’ homework. Coupled with playing with my 4-year-old, usually during dinnertime. So that’s fun. Thankfully, it’s a two-year program and I’m starting to see the light. Things still get by me though. Like for instance, getting a $150 lunch balance notice from my daughter’s school. “Honey, you mean to tell me that you’ve never turned in any of the checks I’ve given you for school, like ever?” Of course, she loses them on the way to school. Perfect. So meanwhile her gracious school hasn’t called me one time and have basically been letting my daughter eat with an IOU stamped across her forehead. At this point, maybe they’ve even signed her up for a free lunch program. Who knows? I sometimes drop my kids off at school and appear homeless due to exhaustion and or paper writing. There’s no confusion on who is the diva mom with heels on and who is not. You get my point. This requires an extremely high-level of multi-tasking during this stressful time.

 
 

Here are my best tips thus far:

 
 

1. If you can, enter this grad school journey with another person. I have been lucky enough to start my program with a friend/coworker. I honestly don’t know if I would be able to do it if I didn’t have her to vent with. I am the only person who understands her rapid-fire email to the teacher about her 99.5/100 grade. That’s because I know exactly how long (13 hours) and hard she worked on that assignment, and if she’s going to miss half a point, there better be a damn good reason behind it.

 
 

2. Ask for help and hire out. This is the time to call Joe the yard guy and Felicia the cleaning lady for extra help. It’s also OK to let grandma come get the kids for an evening and not feel guilty if all you end up doing is sleeping.

 
 

3. Also let go of the guilt about only meeting your minimum work requirements. That’s right. Your extra shift a week has now turned into one extra shift every six weeks if that. Again, completely OK.

 
 

4. You will not make it without support. I will repeat that again. You will not make it without support. You don’t have the same support system at home as some of your other classmates do. This is a great time to fine-tune your village, or if you will, your people. While some will roll their eyes as you literally come running into the cafeteria just in time to catch the last 20 minutes of your son’s school play, don’t let it get to you. Your people will see the effort and send a smile and a wave over because they’ve saved you a seat.

 
 

5. It is hard. Very, very, hard. My school partner in crime always reminds me to keep my eye on the prize. If it was easy everyone could do it. Shockingly, there’s not a ton of statistical information on getting through grad school as a single mom. That’s because it’s hard as balls.

 
 

6. Lastly, remember why you’re doing it. Whether its more pay or a better outlook for your children. Perhaps you just want to add more letters to your title. Whatever the reason, whatever the case, I often find myself subconsciously and silently chanting my long time mantra of DOWIT. Do what it takes!

 
 

Which brings me back to the beginning. My 30-plus page paper did get completed that week, despite the six-day deadline. The best part, when I looked at my grade and it was a 97.5 I didn’t even flinch. I’ll take it.

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