At times, it really becomes difficult to balance the load of graduate school and spending time with your family- especially if you have young kids. How do I balance the load of graduate school work with family demands and quality time?

–Student Parent

Dear Student Parent,

We all know how time-consuming pursuing a graduate degree can be. The classroom part is not a problem, usually. You can even zone out while the professor is showing a video if you have had a rough day or pulled an all-nighter for a test in another class.

But then you go home…

There are papers to write, internet research to be done, communication with classmates, group projects, presentations to create, and reading assignments. It is as if each professor believes he/she is the center of the universe and other classes don’t exist. So you get this all under control, organized, and tied up in nice little timely packets.

Now you look around and remember that you have a life outside of graduate work. For some it is a significant other; for others dependents. And for another group, it is both. Where do they fit in this picture? Maybe that is the wrong question. Perhaps the proper perspective is where does your graduate education fit into your personal life.

This is the first step in creating the right balance in your life: Identify your priorities. Among other considerations, why did you elect to pursue a graduate education in the first place? There are as many reasons as there are graduate students; it is a stepping stone to more financial security, increasing your opportunities for employment, getting a better position, following a dream, desired recognition, and so on ad infinitum. For most it will relate to some aspect of improving your quality of life at home.

Second, who are the individuals in your life who are most deprived when you are engaged in pursuing your degree? Your children, your spouse, a significant other, your . How adversely are they affected when you are not available? In this part of the assessment try to determine the severity of the impact and how much redistribution of your time commitment it would take to remedy the situation.

Third, let’s divide the weekdays and, separately, the weekends into segments. Take a calendar and for a week record your hours spent working on your degree. Record also your daily responsibilities: job, meal preparation, laundry, shopping, sleep, and others. Now let’s see what is left. Looks pretty meager, right? This is where you can see how your degree pursuit has eaten up your time.

One of the things I have learned over time, by making and correcting my own mistakes, is that there is plenty of opportunity in any given day to consolidate your efforts. For example, if you have to do some grocery shopping, plan to stop at the cleaners, get gas for the car, pick up lottery tickets, and get dog food along the way to or from the market. Another opportunity is to include your family in some of the obligations, for example, by buying fruits and vegetables at a local farmer’s market. Quality time does not have to be structured. If you take the child/children for music lessons or gymnastics, take some of your reading assignments with you and read while you wait for them rather than making 2 round trips. None of this is rocket science; just looking at your day and your obligations and rearranging some of the things that you do. This will allow more time for those who you love. With repetition, you will find that you will begin to think, plan, and arrange your daily life with anticipation rather than by random occurrences.

Another option that you have to consider is the timeline to your degree. It may be that, in an upcoming semester, your personal commitments are so demanding that you do not have time for those that are important to you. It is in this situation that you have to consider taking a semester off so you can give attention to what is foremost in your life.

As you have already learned by seeking an education, you have to make time to accomplish excellence. What I have suggested is applying the same concept to your interpersonal commitments. Make time for what is important in your life, or you may come to graduation and have no one waiting for you after you walk across the stage and receive your diploma.

–Luba Zuk Levy, PhD


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