Academia Beyond Grad School · Children · Family · Finances

The graduate life…through the eyes of a child

Written by Kat – a former graduate wife’s daughter

I write, not as a graduate wife, but as the daughter of a graduate wife mom and a philosophy professor dad.   When MC asked me to write for the Graduate Wife Blog, I wasn’t quite sure what I could share.  But as I thought back over my life as a kid growing in academia (this is truly all I really knew until I got out of college and got a job in the business world), I realized how many wonderful memories of fun and sweet times I have! It wasn’t necessarily a glamorous existence for us by the world’s standards, but there was an abundance of joy that carried us through the tough times.  I’d love to share some of my memories with you.

Just a few of the ‘historical’ facts to start: My dad started studying philosophy at Oxford in 1979, he met my mom in Vienna over Christmas, and they married in June of 1980.  Two years later, I was born, and we moved back to the States when I was 3 months old. My dad taught for a year, and then he entered a PhD program, which he graduated from in 1987.  He couldn’t find a job, so we stayed an extra year while he did a post-doc, my brother was born, and then we moved to the east coast where my dad got a job (he was 35, my mom was 38) at a private, liberal-arts college…and my parents are still there today.

Some of my first memories are from the PhD years when we lived in the married student housing apartments.  At the time, we were basically broke, but my parents decided that it was more important for my mom to stay home with me, than to have more money, so she ended up running a small daycare of sorts out of our matchbox-sized apartment.  As legend has it (it’s probably reality too!), we ate mackerel casserole 3 times a week because it was cheap.  While I can’t claim to have developed a love for mackerel casserole, something that I surely felt as a child and can express now as an adult because it did make a lasting impression on me, was how my parents were willing to sacrifice luxuries and things they wanted in order to spend time together and save for the future.  As a child, I never noticed that we had nothing; I had my parents present with me, and I was happy as a lark!

Even years later, when I was a teenager (and therefore much more aware of our circumstances), I would regularly ask my mom and dad, “Are we poor or rich this month?”  We laugh at it now, but something I admire them for greatly is how disciplined they were to make sure they spent time with us—even if that meant sacrificing financially—and to not live above their means.

Speaking of spending time and discipline, my dad made some amazing choices when my brother and I were kids about when and where he worked.  As we know, grad students and new professors have just tons of freetime…yeah right, don’t we all wish.  I am sure that when I was an infant, my dad often brought work home to do in the evenings.  However, as I got older and was able to play more with daddy, and then especially when my brother was born and there were two kiddos at home, my dad made a point of trying to do his work in the office/library so that when he was home, he was HOME and fully present to us and to my mom.  That meant that when daddy showed up on the scene, he was ours!!! Sometimes he’d come home early and then go back late to do more work (so that he could see us); but we knew that when he was home, we didn’t have to worry that we’d be interrupting or distracting him, we could just play and hang all over him. Oh how we loved those times!

Life of course wasn’t always sunshine and happiness.  I do not have a clear recollection of this one particular evening, but there is a drawing of mine to commemorate what happened.  This was back when my dad was in his PhD program, and I was likely about 4 or 5 years old.  He came home in the evening, sat down at the table and started crying.  As my mom tells it, he was so worn out, we were (as usual) broke, and he had taken a number of hard hits that day from his advisor regarding his thesis. The Lord has gifted my mom with wells of great strength and resolution, my mom is my dad’s biggest fan, so I am sure she listened to him, put her arms around him and encouraged him to press on. In the meantime, I drew a picture: daddy was crying, and mommy and I were standing next to him holding his hands.  I gave it to him to make him feel better, but all it did was make sweet daddy cry again J  My mom says there were many tough and disheartening days when they wondered if they could go on. 

My parents always put their relationship above my brother and me.  It’s so funny what you notice, but don’t quite understand when you’re a child…and then how when you’re older, the pieces start to fall into place.  A case study: the “Don’t bother us after 9:00” nights.  At least once or twice a week, my mom or my dad would say, “Tonight is a 9:00 night.”  Yup, we knew right away what this meant. Mommy and Daddy were NOT to be bothered: no knocking on the door, no hollering for them, no fighting so that they needed to be called—unless you were seriously injured, you had better keep away. What were they up to?  We didn’t know!  We thought: probably mommy and daddy talk, or maybe they were sleeping, or maybe they were playing UNO, but it was like a club and kids weren’t allowed.  Well, being now older and wiser, I’m doubtful that they were asleep…maybe they were playing, but it certainly wasn’t UNO.  What I now realize is that these evenings were some of the biggest blessings for my brother and me.  My parents made sure that, even though date nights financially weren’t possible, and despite all the busyness, the worry, the stress, the crazy kids, they took time to be alone with each other.  This allowed them time to pray, and to communicate and connect, which kept them on the same page made them hopeful and strong together.

Both my dad and my mom deeply love the Lord, and by His mercy and grace they made it through those years of grad school and the crazy years right out of grad school when he started teaching.  My mom was such a rock through everything and as a team they journeyed together.  Despite all the challenges, I have so so many wonderful memories of my childhood.  Looking back, I never noticed that we struggled financially, or how hard it was for my dad to continue and for my mom to keep encouraging him.  What I remember and still sticks with me is the love and the physical presence of my parents in my life and in one another’s lives.


On your graduate wife journey, do you have any fears about raising your children during this season?  Any advice?  Any encouragement?


2 thoughts on “The graduate life…through the eyes of a child

  1. I loved reading this. I have just graduated with my PhD – praise the Lord! I have a loving and supportive husband, who is also studying for various professional qualifications and we have a three year old daughter. It has been an incredibly tough couple of years, financially and emotionally and oftentimes, time with baby girl has been sacrificed. I enjoyed hearing how you feel your parents; sacrifices did you good… : ) Thank you for sharing!

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