First come the basic bodily functions. Sleeping, eating, visiting the bathroom that has now become something of a sanctuary in your house because it’s the only place that’s quiet – all of these things usually come at the top of the list. These are closely followed by basic hygiene. Normally this isn’t negotiable either, but the fact is that you can leave your house without having showered. You can’t really go on with the rest of your day, much less take care of a child, if you are a sleep-deprived, starving shadow of a human being. The third-level priorities then include writing, taking care of household chores, catching up on e-mails, and the like.
Now here’s the thing. And this is the absolutely critical point. You can do one, and sometimes you can do two, but you cannot do all of them. If you want to nap, you are likely going to do it at the expense of a shower. You can eat and then write, but you cannot eat, shower and then write. Your priorities will shift depending on how long you’ve let one or more of them slide. And it’s okay. You’ll get there. Just do the best you can. Hating yourself because you’re not as productive as you’d like to be is going to make you less likely to meet your deadlines and less likely to enjoy your time with your kids, not more.
Having no time means having no time to waste.
Credit for this quote, which I’m paraphrasing, goes to Laura Bennett, Project Runway’s most famous parent. It’s completely true. You might not have much time anymore, but when you do, you don’t waste it. The parenting triage principle translates smoothly to writing. It’s just about cutting the fat. What do I absolutely have to do first? Solidify the argument, address any gaps in the research, track down the only text that ever described the one London garden gate that is the lynchpin for my chapter on the architectural orders. Now, what is negotiable? That excursus on the semiotics of classical architecture is interesting but rather beyond the scope of the chapter. And I don’t have time for it…at least, not today. Just as you can leave your house without washed hair but not without, say, pants and a reasonable blood sugar level, your draft can go to your adviser without the paragraph in which you take on Habermas just for fun. But it can’t go without a clear argument and explanation of your contribution to the field.
Look, parenting in grad school is hard. So is being a working parent of any walk of life. That’s why a modicum of compassion for others and for yourself is crucial to survival. Your friend with the new baby couldn’t pick up the phone after you got dumped? Be disappointed, but be compassionate. She’s doing the best she can. Your friends are subjecting you to insulting conversations about your parenting choices? Stand up for yourself, and end it if you have to, but don’t judge them. They’re doing the best they can. Not everybody has to accept your life choices, even if they’re the right ones. Beating yourself up because you can’t spend the day at the park with your daughter? (Oh, the guilt. The guilt that comes with being a parent is a mighty thing indeed.) It’s temporary. It’ll pass. So lay off yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
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