Parenting while doing a PhD?

Doing a PhD is already a challenge in itself. We are learning everyday, while conducting our first research, organizing ourselves between several projects, and we have to keep to tight deadlines all the times. Having a baby is one major step in one’s life. Becoming a parent (a father in my case) is also a full time investment, a lot of documentation, a lot of apprehension, etc. Having a baby while doing a PhD? This is, well, challenging… to say the least.

I am not even talking about sleepless nights and the very demanding cries. Organizational skills is a real asset in the academic world, and parenting is pushing this skill to the level of art. At the time I am writing this post, my little boy is already 6 months old, and I feel like my life is totally disorganized. Toys and plushies are everywhere, there is a pile of baby closes marked by food stains on the table, and the bag of diapers is on the sofa. Seeing this is tiring, and made me think that my life is out of control.

I was about to write about that in this post, but then I realized that under this apparent mess, there is a very tight organization. Baby’s dirty closes are out of the laundry bag because today is laundry day and I am about to wash them separately, using a hypoallergenic detergent. The bag of diapers is on the sofa because my wife is now cleaning the drawers from Baby’s dresser. The toys and plushies are on the floor because… well, there is no excuse for that; we just did not have time to clean up after Baby’s playtime.

Baby is currently sleeping, and both my wife and I are tired. After the mid-day rush– Mommy cooked while I bathed the baby, then Baby played while Mommy and I were eating, then I fed Baby while Mommy was washing the dishes– Baby is finally ready to take his nap. And as soon as Baby is sleeping, the second rush, the true one, is starting. No more wasting time playing with Baby while bathing or eating, here is the real demonstration of our organizational skills. Today is laundry time for me, and home maintenance for Mommy. Tomorrow it will be a rush to the grocery store; everyday there is something to do. However, the most demanding task is, by far, working on my PhD.

It is impossible for me to stay focused more than two hours on my work, as Baby does not sleep more than two hours straight. In his bad days, he only sleeps for fifteen minutes, and each time he wakes up, crying of course, it is lullaby time. So I adapted my working strategies. No more long reading and thinking during the day, but typing some notes on what crosses my mind and saving reading for later. No more real and beautiful writing, but only the framework of my text in a succession of key points. I learnt to become very effective during Baby’s naps, juggling between home and working tasks. My head is quite in the same shape, thinking of what I will buy for dinner while reviewing some data. Thankfully Baby is generally sleeping well during the night, which is the time for my third rush of the day. I can finally have a look at what I did during the day, and properly read the documents that I saved, and properly transforming my frameworks in clear and developed paragraphs.

Sure, having a baby significantly influenced my way of working… Or is it the other way? Working on data and processes also influenced how I manage my everyday life. I sometimes imagine my life as a succession of processes. As an example, you will find in this post the complete process of my mid-day working time in regards to Baby’s demanding behaviour and the availability of my wife. You will better understand why mid-day is not the most efficient time for me to work on my PhD.

So to find out when it would be better to work, I analysed my everyday life as if it was defined by data and processes. I found out that working in the morning and during the night is much better, as I can focus for longer periods (and hence, I don’t interrupt my thoughts that often). Indeed, Baby is sleeping better during these times, and if not, then Mommy is more available to take care of him.  

This post has already taken me too much time, and if I want to keep my tight schedule, I have to go do the laundry now, before Baby wakes up!

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