Welcome to M/Otherland

It’s no secret that 100 Days to the Doctorate & Beyond is written by a mother. I share my experiences as a juggling solo parent of two teenagers along with my creative writing and academic journey. I often write that doing a doctorate – and navigating post doctoral life – is like motherhood.

These M/Otherland articles specifically focus on combining motherhood and the writing and academic life.

M/Otherland comes from my desire to interrogate the demands, expectations and compromises mothers make when they are also occupied with creative careers. The blogs intend to provoke debate about the way society sees mothers who are passionately engaged with their careers and creative lives outside the home. And the way they are depicted in popular culture.

These blogs are an invitation to explore motherhood and writing and academia in the 21st century.

And there is no better place to publish them that at 100 Days to the Doctorate & Beyond

Dr Evelyn Tsitas

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Reflection: The mother-student juggle – by Evelyn Tsitas

* I wrote this in 2006, when my children were quite young and I returned to postgraduate study to start my Masters in Creative Writing.

After 20 years in the workforce, I’m back at university doing a higher degree. It’s not the first time I’ve worked and studied – but this time, instead of juggling journalism and media law I’m juggling children and creative writing.

I’ve been asked by fellow students if I work and I reply that I am the primary carer of two young children. There is an initial blank look then the swift politically correct reply “Oh, god, that’s tough” before they do the sign of the cross and quickly step away, as if parenthood might be contagious.

What’s harder – juggling children or paid work while studying? The answer is everyone should have the exhilarating experience of spending four years at university after you leave school, with nothing more taxing than intellectual advancement, a social life and that nagging frenzy about your future.

For having a fully fledged grown up life and studying is always a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Family, friends, cooking and bills go on the back burner when there is a major university deadline – except that before children no one suffered buy your waist line if you chose to eat takeaway while hitting the text books after a day at work.

Kids demand to be fed, loved, cared for and taken to school and back – a working day with children isn’t like a day in the office – kids might be dropped off at school in the morning, but unless you leave them to languish in aftercare five days a week, you have to down tools at 3 pm to pick them up – and then it won’t be possible to hit the books again until they have gone to bed.

It’s hard to be creative at 9 pm after a solid five hours of referring, taxing, cajoling, homework supervising and nurturing. Harder than it was after a day in the office – sure, in the former life you might have ended up brain dead, but after motherhood’s demands, you are dead on your feet.

But the rewards are plentiful – the dirty little secret of motherhood is that one aspect hasn’t changed – you still lose all vestiges of self esteem the second you spend a moment more than designated maternity leave with your children. It gets worse the longer you are out of the paid work force – honestly who thought of that phrase? Interesting how caring for children is only work if you are looking after someone else is getting paid to do it.

So getting back to a world of adults by going back to university is like eating meat after a vegetarian diet. It might get stuck in your teeth but it fills you with energy.

Technology has conspired to make it easier than ever to juggle children and studying. When they’re asleep you can access every library catalogue in the country online, and order books that way too. Look up journal articles in between the laundry….after all, my if my mother could do it back in the 1970s – why not me?

When it all seems too difficult, when the other mums look at me as if I have three heads and wonder why I bother – I think of my mum. She went back to finish her teaching degree and also her arts degree and I proudly remember going to two different graduations of hers on the same day – at two different universities.

She always said at the time I’d remember it. Did she imagine that it would sustain me now – and inspire me to copy her?

I believe it will help teach my children that hitting the books, being disciplined and making time for your mind – and let’s face it, damn hard work and deferred gratification – are the norm. And eventually rewarding

I hope so.