We just finished a pretty massive project in our home. No, it was not a remodeling project. It was the completion of my doctoral program. I say “we” because it was a family effort to accomplish this goal. Everyone had some skin in the game, and it was a huge decision that all of us made together. I opted to attend a traditional program at the University of Memphis, which meant I was on campus multiple nights a week and some weekends. Thankfully, my two children were blessed to have a fantastic caregiver who has supported our family for many years.
I will be honest, making the decision was very difficult. I did not want to make it alone, so I involved my children.
I explained to my kiddos that as a divorced mom, I needed to max out my education with a terminal degree to hopefully increase my income. It was great that they were very supportive and flexible. However, in real transparency, I do not think any of us understood the real sacrifices we would need to make for me to be successful as a doctoral student and full-time employee.
First, the amount of time we were apart from one another far exceeded classroom time. I did not factor in the amount of reading, preparation, and writing I would need to do each week. I also forgot that college calendars are not the same as school calendars, so our vacations stopped abruptly. The balance between work, life, school, and family became too much to bear, and by mid-year, I went to a four-day workweek. Eventually, I went down to a 2.5 workdays a week to allow me to complete my dissertation. I was blessed to have that option, but it did not come without consequences (student loans and reduced retirement contributions are the big ones).
Second, I stopped “living.” Even though I tried to maintain friendships through texting and social media, I wasn’t able to be present in life for special events and activities. When we managed to take a vacation, I worked on assignments and writing projects. During this time, when I was buried in research, friends moved away, divorced, and drifted away from me. I am grateful that some friends stuck by me and cheered me on and even more thankful for the new friendships I developed as my interests grew.
Finally, I lost what it felt like to be me. I gained weight, my vision worsened, and my sleep was disrupted. I used to have rituals of self-care and scheduled moments to refuel my soul. I found myself buried under mail (I even found an uncashed check in a year-old mail pile). Once, I bought duplicate books because I could not find anything in my cluttered garage. I also learned how to remove my gel polish because a month would pass before I could schedule a manicure. It is now three months post-graduation, and I am still trying to find my new normal.
So, what did I learn? Well, I learned that kids are resilient. My daughter told me she “learned how to enjoy being alone,” and my son figured out how to solve problems on his own, including what to do when he lost his credit card before spring break (I couldn’t pick up the phone while in class). Next, I discovered that being the oldest in the room is not a bad thing if you allow yourself to learn from the younger folks. Millennials are amazingly resourceful. I can remember thinking a classmate was always on her phone, only to discover she was taking notes on her cell phone. Finally, investing in yourself as a divorced mom is never a bad idea. Pushing myself to earn a terminal degree helped me grow as a woman and professional.