From the Desk to the Pram: PhD and Parenthood

By Susan Hoppert-Flaemig, September 2014

One of the things I love about being a PhD researcher in Peace Studies in Bradford is learning about other researchers’ lives since they come from all over the world. When I was pregnant I talked to my colleague from Ethiopia about social and family policy. He was surprised to hear about the social benefits for families in Germany – “You get money for having a baby?!” It reminded me how blessed I am; I live in one of the countries with almost ideal conditions for raising children (even if many Germans don’t think so): it is a peaceful and safe environment with access to health care and education and with financial support from the state. Indeed, my baby is healthy and happy, and as a mum I am happy too.

As a PhD researcher, however, a baby is a challenge. While my colleagues finish their PhDs, publish articles, and apply for grants, my researcher career slowed down several months ago. I can’t really say what it is like writing a thesis and having a baby because I have not been able to work on the thesis since my son was born. But I do remember what it was like to write a thesis and I observed some similarities between doing a PhD and having a baby: PhDs/ babies demand a lot of my attention and time. I am constantly thinking about the PhD/ the baby and I tend to neglect and forget other things: Social life is scarce, the dirty laundry is piling up, and I just can’t remember the pin number of my credit card. It also takes hours before I get dressed in the morning – I might lose a good idea on how to continue with my chapter if I don’t sit down immediately after breakfast; and my son doesn’t care whether I’m in my pyjamas or not when I carry him around.

I also observed some difference between doing a PhD and having a baby: for someone who spent years sitting at the desk, it is physically exhausting having a child. Not only am I sleep deprived, I am also constantly carrying my son while shopping/ washing the dishes/ making dinner; instead of sitting at my desk I walk around; and the pram needs to be lifted up and down the stairs daily. Finally, although I like my research topic, life with a baby is more fulfilling; it feels more complete and goes deeper. Every now and then I have doubts about my PhD but raising a child is always meaningful.

Next week, my husband’s paternity leave begins (another benefit of living in Germany…) which means I will start working on the thesis again. I have mixed feelings about it: I look forward to returning to academic work (and to sitting down at my desk) but it also means less time with my son, and the pressure to complete the thesis will be more present. I will have to learn to live with that feeling that probably many PhD researchers who are also parents know: The constant feeling of being torn between being a good parent and pursuing an academic career.

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig with her babyTo read more about PhD and parenthood, read Kari Mariska Pries‘ article on “Fieldwork in Violence and Security: The Impact of Researcher Pregnancy.

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