Balancing Graduate School and Mothering: Is There a Choice?

Alena Prikhidko, Cliff Haynes
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 313-326
Aim/Purpose: Multiple emotional and cognitive resources are needed for graduate students to overcome stress associated with balancing studies and personal life. This research aimed to explore the difficulties, which graduate student-mothers face while balancing school and parenting, and describe mechanisms of the balancing process.

Background: Graduate student-mothers need to structure their time so that they can equally distribute their energy between their children and graduate school work. Mothers face challenges in balancing graduate school and parenting, making choices between school and family responsibilities. This paper addresses the perceptions and experiences of graduate student-mothers who navigate coping with multiple role responsibilities.

Methodology: Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with eight graduate student-mothers who studied at a research-intensive university. Thematic analysis was used to explore the process of balancing graduate school and mothering.

Contribution: In this paper we describe the mechanisms of the balancing process among graduate student-mothers and lay a foundation for the future research on coping strategies utilized by this population.

Findings: Student-mothers may perceive balancing graduate school and mothering as a challenge, feeling guilty for not spending enough time at school and with their children, and experiencing stress choosing between school and mothering responsibilities. The coping mechanisms for balancing graduate school and parenting roles are compartmentalization, changing behavior, and changing thoughts.

Recommendations for Practitioners : Graduate student-mothers could benefit from specific psychotherapeutic services within their institutions, learning to deal with the stress of balancing graduate school and mothering. Compartmentalization is a balancing mechanism that mothers may learn to use in counseling, separating life experiences of school and family in their mind and preventing feelings from one area of life – graduate school – to intervene with emotions related to mothering.

Impact on Society: Current research highlights the necessity of counseling services tailored specifically for graduate student-mothers, who may have increased levels of stress due to multiple responsibilities.

Future Research: The research on the effectiveness of suggested counseling strategies should follow.
graduate school, student-mothers, intensive mothering
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