By Ruth Wagstaff
I am sure that I am not the only PhDer who feels somewhat disconnected with their children. I spend a lot of time on the computer reading or writing. I also work 4.5 day/week, parent a son in grade 12, support a daughter at a distant university, and try to stay connected with my Dad, step-mother and eldest son. Like many women studying, I do not have the support of a husband or partner. Recently though, I have found that the skills that I am developing as I journey through uni is changing the relationship with my children in unexpected ways.
Recently my daughter was writing her first “serious” literature review and asked me to help her. She is in her third year of a performing arts degree, and has just completed her first research methods course. In the process of helping her with formatting and writing style, I learnt a lot about her own struggles. It was a time of genuine learning for both of us. I also learned a little more about the fine detail of APA. All of this was unexpected, and helped each other to appreciate each other as adults on the life long journey of learning.
I have also seen my still-at-home-completing-high-school son begin to blossom. He seems to understand that the PhD is part of a belated adolescent phase in which I am rediscovering myself after my marriage breakup. Consequently, he will pick-up a broom, put washing and and out, empty and fill the dishwasher all without having to ask. Sure, he finds that continual mess is stressful, but the key is that he owns it now, and picks up after himself. But he also tells me he does it because he knows I have deadlines to keep and time is precious.
On the other hand, when the still-at-home-completing-high-school son is under the thumb with exams and due assignment, I pick up the slack and do more. We have learnt to work as a team. The only rule is to look at the whole picture in a person’s life and help others to avoid melt down. Before you think this to too perfect you, we still have moments of melt down, but we have learnt to look beyond the moment, say sorry even if we think we are in the right, and to be kind to each other. Before studying, these life lessons were just words but now they are embedded into our lifestyle.
A specific serendipitous occasion was the night my still-at-home-completing-high-school insisted that we watch Zootopia on Netflix. I had become so absorbed in marking that life existed of work, mark, sleep. My son reached out to me and in doing so reminded me of the world outside my quest. It was a single act of care and insight that touched me deeply.
So from now on, rather than seeing the PhD as a journey that separates, I will remember it as a time when it brought the family together. My parent journey includes the cutting of parent/child bonds we can develop adult/adult bonds and live as independent adults. I am already proud of my children’s transitions into adults, of their independence, and how they support each other. And on graduation day, we will all be celebrating.