Mom, ABD

HollyBy Holly

I’m realizing it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated my blog. In fact, it’s been about 14 months (2 months after our daughter was born). The last blog I wrote was “Oh, baby!”, documenting the moments of being pregnant in a PhD program. Tonight, I sit here in a Starbucks, working, with my husband home, entertaining our 16-month-old Energizer bunny, Callie.

Holly daughter pic

I wanted to take a moment to offer a brief update on becoming a parent in a PhD program for those who may have a similar journey. I have fully realized the many truths I heard as I waddled around the GCSW halls with a big ‘ol pregnant belly, about being a brand new parent in this program is unbelievably hard…

But what I have learned is that it is (thankfully) not impossible.

Before I had my daughter, in my last blog post, I wrote about 3 main factors that have made my transition to motherhood such a positive one:

“1) having supportive mentors who value family, 2) having an environment where other faculty, staff, and students are positive towards the process, and 3) having one absolutely amazing spouse by my side!”

… and let me tell you, they totally remain. My mentors are rock stars. The faculty, staff, and students at GCSW constantly ask about Callie and allow me to gush over her photos in my phone. And my husband is a fantastic partner, supporting me through each step of this journey. I could not do what I do without each of these crucial aspects of my life.

For example, this past semester, I collected my dissertation data, wrote my first dissertation article, and entered the job market for an assistant professor faculty position, with interviews to nail, planes to catch, and conferences to present and interview at (one of which, my husband and daughter came with me, because it was on Halloween and we had friends and family in the area!) Meanwhile, I began teaching my first Evaluation of Social Work Practice class, and had 28 future social workers to empower and inspire to question and evaluate everything they do. I was amazed by how much I love teaching and watching light bulbs turn on, multitasking turn off, and imagining the clients that may be changed by the new information the students were hopefully absorbing!

To my list above on what’s made this possible, I would add having a support network close by to help with daycare and emergencies. Amidst the busyness on campus and at home, I was sneaking in work during naptime, calling Callie’s grandmothers to see who could watch her on certain days, and juggling my husband’s schedule with mine to determine when he could be with her. No two weeks were ever alike, and I’m indebted to our families for their love and support.

So what did I learn from this past semester, in addition to the other 3 (now 4) factors being so important? Well, there are a few things.

First, my planner and organization schedule changed drastically. Instead of mapping out every 15 minutes of my day, I quickly learned that I needed to be flexible on time. (Have you ever tried to get out the door with a baby? It’s an extra 60-90 minutes added to your daily routine with clean ups, blow outs, and a long list of things to carry EVERYWHERE, all the time.) So, I got a simpler planner that only had about 10 lines, of which, I filled about 3-5: one on where Callie would be that day and my husband’s schedule, one on whatever was due, the other 2-3 lines dedicated to what I hoped to accomplish, and a running to-do list filling the margins.

I also learned about self-forgiveness in a whole new way. I no longer had the energy to do everything I could do before (ie, the dual degree year would have been near impossible). Instead, I continued to simply tap into my intrinsic motivation to do good, important work to the best of my ability, and often reminded myself that I am only human. And, in order to do good, important work, that means I had to adjust my balancing act. No longer was I balancing just my roles as a full-time PhD student, part-time employee, and wife, but I now have this huge responsibility of loving and molding this little person whose attachment to me has shown to be a massive predictor for how she will view and interact with the world for the rest of her life. I take that role pretty seriously.

However, I take my role as a social worker equally seriously and just as I’ve spoken and written about wanting to leave a positive impact on the GCSW, I joyfully feel the same responsibility for our profession and the clients we serve.

Additionally, I learned about the precious use of time in a new way. We all have 24 hours in a day to do with what we choose. But we really need to choose wisely. If you have an extra hour given each day, do you catch up on work? Make a list for tomorrow? Spend it on the phone with a friend? Schedule an overdue medical appointment? Pay bills? Curl up on the couch with a bowl of ice cream? Pour a glass of wine and grab a paintbrush? Meditate? Learn? Drink coffee and people watch? Time is such a precious gift that should be used intentionally, fulfilling or sustaining us rather than draining or numbing. In our home, we have a quote by Erma Bombeck that hangs by the door that I think nicely reflects this idea. It serves as a daily reminder for me that every day, every hour, every minute, every second is a gift to give back or put to use. The quote reads:

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”


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