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November 17, 2005 9:44 PM   Subscribe

When is the right time to have kids? My partner and I (24 and 23, respectively) have been together for six years, and are both senior undergraduates. We know that now isn't the right time for kids, but we can't help but feel that it should be soon.

We have been together for six years, have made it through a year apart, several out-of-province relocations and have supported each other through our degrees. We are happy, healthy, and stable. We both want to get our master's, we both want to get our PhDs, and we both want to start having kids before we hit 30, however that timeline just doesn't work if we wait until our education is finished and we are "settled."

I want to know what are people's experiences with having kids while doing school? Is it feasible to have small children and be working on your PhD? Should you really wait until you own your own house/nice car/ have traveled before you start having kids?
posted by arcticwoman to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Doing your PhD is, IMHO, a great time to have babies and small kids. Universities typically have good child care, you can travel on your breaks without worrying about schools and health care is available. Plus you have the flexibility to enjoy your kids when they are young or to take time off if needed.

I don't have kids but I was in grad school and the parents I saw there were considerably less stressed than those I encounter in the corporate world.

btw- you will never be settled. The idea of setting up a personal sanctuary and populating it is horribly bogus and will cause you nothing but stress. You can switch things up, travel the world and have a life even after you have the kids- it won't kill them.
posted by fshgrl at 10:07 PM on November 17, 2005

We have two children and I don't know if it's ever the right time to have kids. Raising a child requires sacrificing a lot of time. It's pretty much a full time job, with overtime during the toddler years. If you want to pursue your degree while raising a child, be prepared for it to take much longer.

Don't let the lack of own house/nice car/ having travelled hold you back from having children. Those things aren't necessary. But if you and your partner both want to have PhDs before you're 30, then my suggestion is that you should get your degrees first.
posted by Loudmax at 10:16 PM on November 17, 2005

Best answer: I can't speak to the PhD part, although my ex completed a bachelor's degree fulltime before our daughter was five.

My advice:
- because you obviously got together young, introspect about the future of your relationship. I got married when I was 22, and by the time we hit our 30s the famous cliche about growing in different directions applied all too well. I love our daughter to bits and I'm glad we had her, but I wish for her sake that we were still together. Please do not repeat my mistake on your future children. It does sound like you are well together, but I must say this all the same.
- there is never a right time. We had very little money and rubbed along just fine. Children are portable - travel with them. Remember that the younger you have them, the sooner they're out of your hair. I can tell you for sure, having compared notes with other fathers, that the broken sleep and other strains are physically much easier in your 20s. And as you get older, your earning power will increase. Do it young, get it over with, why not? Also, ask yourself if you are person who prioritises cars and houses over children. Mmmm.

Apologies for any incoherence, it's Friday night in Auckland and my week is over.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:35 PM on November 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Huh. My girlfriend and I have been together 6 years, are 25 and almost 24. At first I thought you were her posting under-cover (we're from the NWT), except that she's finishing her Masters and is very vocal about not doing a PhD. Also, I'm really not sure about the kids issue and I'm worried that we'll end up breaking up over it.

Uh, so I guess that helps not at all...

I think that if you're lucky enough to have someone who you care so much about and who wants to have children as much as you, then from here it seems like you've got it all figured out.
posted by ODiV at 10:46 PM on November 17, 2005

I think the sooner the better. It's best to have lots of energy when raising a child and, well, you're not going to have more energy than you do now. Yeah sure, you're busy with advanced education and finding a career and so on and so forth. Even still, it's a scientific fact that your twenties are your prime. The whole being in a good financial situation is overrated. You want to be able to run around and do all sorts of stuff with the kid (and you'll have to do that most in the first ten years or so), not to mention operate on little sleep. And if you want kids (which is pretty obvious) then it'll be pretty easy to overcome other shortcomings be them financial or career-oriented.
posted by panoptican at 11:00 PM on November 17, 2005

Best answer: I remember growing in family/married graduate student housing up until I was 7 years old. If you have kids, they won't care whether you rent or own. And we could be just as stress-inducing brats when my parents got a nice car later on as back in the day when we rolled in the crummy Chevy.

So it's doable. That being said, note that while they both got their degrees, my dad is a prof, while my mom works outside of academia. Elizabeth Blackburn points out the tendency for women to "flow out of the academic pipeline." Do you want to be an "academic," or are you looking to get your doctorate and enter the private sector?
posted by neda at 11:11 PM on November 17, 2005

I don't have any experience with having kids, but I do have a bit of experience with the academic world. If you intend to stay in academia after getting a Ph.D., then common wisdom is that it's best to have kids either while you're a grad student, or after you get tenure. This is because you have a lot flexibility as a grad student, and if it takes you a couple of years longer to finish your degree than is ideal, than that is usually not a problem. On the other hand, once you're doing postdocs/tenure track, there is a lot of pressure to produce work. You know, the whole publish-or-perish thing.

I can also add that four of my grad student friends have kids, and all four of them are doing rather well, in academic terms. On the other hand, all four of them have spouses who are not currently in grad school. In fact, in the couples where both partners where grad students to begin with, one eventually took time off to take care of the kid. Everyone says that raising small kids is a full time job, and I can tell you that being a grad student is at least a full time job. So having kids while both parents are simultaneously in academia is quite an ambitious undertaking, but certainly not without precedent.
posted by epimorph at 12:03 AM on November 18, 2005

I suppose it depends on whether you think it will be a good environment for your kids, or whether having kids now will prevent you from doing certain things.

As others have said, academia and kids can go together very well. I have known quite a few PhD students with kids and they seem much less stressed by it than my friends who try to combine high-pressured jobs with bringing up their children. If you're living on or near campus, there is no commute to work and you can be at home a lot or come home quickly. You can also fit childcare around your studies in a much more flexible way than you might be able to with a non-academic job. And you have a never-ending supply of babysitters in the form of other students. I agree with fshgrl that you shouldn't feel you have to have bought the right house with the right garden in the right area with the right schools etc before you have kids.

But there's a slightly different issue about whether you feel having kids now will prevent you from experiencing other opportunities, like travel for instance. My thoughts on this are that kids don't intrinsically get in the way of that kind of thing - far from it - but that the extra expenditure children inevitably lead to will probably prevent you, financially, from doing certain things. Don't let that stop you, but be aware that choices made now may determine which direction you both end up going in.
posted by greycap at 12:04 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: I had my first daughter two weeks before my Master's deadline. My husband was in final Med and "poor as the proverbial church mouse" comes to mind. While I tutored and worked on my PhD he began the gruelling 120 hour weeks that were customary at the time (she is now 15). I was 25, he was 27. It was the perfect time, looking back, to have a child. Academic life is soooo much more flexible than other work/career.
I didn't finish my PhD but that had nothing to do with having children. My heart really wasn't in it, but people just assumed that having kids was the reason and I let them. 7 years later I had our son, and I was heading up a small company. It was gruelling, I had to wean him at 3 months for a vital business trip to Brazil that lasted an endless 3 weeks. I hated it. If I had my time over I would never have done this and I regret it to this day.
My advice is if you are totally sure of your relationship, have your children now, and the decisions about careers, academic life, publishing research will all be framed by the parameters of your life that are already known, i.e. that you are a family with small children. This is better than all the unknowns involved in delaying for when the time is right. IMO as others here have said there is no right time. If you are confident that you both want children, do it now and enjoy. I wish you both all the best, e-mail's in the profile if you want to discuss it in more detail.
posted by Wilder at 2:27 AM on November 18, 2005

I say go for it. Bear in mind that you may not become pregnant the second you decide that you're trying. You may end up with a year or so of trying, followed by almost a year of pregnancy. That potentially puts the baby a ways off from the time you start. Even if you get pregnant reasonably quickly, you will have about a year lead time.

Voice of experience here. Put it off and put it off, recently started trying and I'm wishing we had started at least six months earlier.

So I guess what I'm saying is don't wait for it to be perfect. There are other variables than just the decision to try.
posted by wallaby at 2:56 AM on November 18, 2005

When you get your first ultrasound, you'll know it was the right time!
posted by leapingsheep at 3:15 AM on November 18, 2005

Response by poster: Bear in mind that you may not become pregnant the second you decide that you're trying. You may end up with a year or so of trying,

It may even be harder for us than typical, as we are lesbians and will have to go through artificial insemination.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:38 AM on November 18, 2005

Don't just think about how old you want to be when you have your first child. Think about how old you might want to be when you have your last child. Waiting until you are in your mid-thirties to have a child is fine, but if you turn out to want three or four children, with a reasonable age gap between them, things then become a little more complicated.

Sorry, I can't speak for the PhD experience. But as a graduate student might you be better able to manage and organise your own time than you might do in the future when you're in jobs, mortgage commitments etc? If so, it sounds like having children shortly would actually be easier for you. Having energy and time for the child is far more important than having money, as long as basic needs are met.

Beware of the "we're not ready" trap. In our experience, and that of our friends, you won't ever feel ready, or like you're grown-up enough, or financially stable enough. We still don't feel any of those things, and our kids are seven and three.

Hope it goes well whatever and whenever you decide.
posted by reynir at 4:33 AM on November 18, 2005

It may even be harder for us than typical, as we are lesbians and will have to go through artificial insemination.

Pardon me for asking, and for perhaps going slightly off-topic: are you considering the possibility of having two biological mothers in your family, ie. of both of you bearing children?
posted by McIntaggart at 6:08 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: My situation sounds a lot like yours. I've been with my partner for six years, too, and we survived a few years apart. We're also in our mid-twenties and thinking about having kids in a few years. We decided to wait until I have at least finished my Ph D. Part of the reason is that I travel a lot, and quite often trans-Pacific. I refuse to force a child to do that. I have a hard enough time myself. Also, we are paying off all debt as fast as we can. Soon it will be gone and we will build up some savings. This would not have happened if we had a child in tow. While there is never a point where one has the right amount of money, $100 saved today is worth a lot more than $100 twenty years from now.

A lot of graduate students in my program have children (about 40%), but every last one is male and married to someone not in grad school. Not one single female graduate student in my department has children. This showed me that this place is a lot less friendly to women who have children. So, it would be a good idea to poke around at your future graduate program to check the atmosphere.

Also, you'll need to solve the "two-body problem". I'm sure that you want to get into graduate programs near one another. However, that might involve some tough negotiations between the two of you. Wait at least until that is settled.
posted by Alison at 6:13 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: If you are planning to use a clinic and do intrauterine insemination, cost might be an issue too - unless both of you have huge scholarships! Count on spending $1000.00CDN (for medical fees and for sperm) each time you try. Most clinics will advise you that 6 months is the average time it takes to become pregnant via this method. Depending on the clinic you use it can take anywhere from 2-8 months to get in for your first appointment. After this you will have a couple of months of tests to get through, and probably a psychological assessment.

In general the younger you are, the better the chance of falling pregnant relatively quickly, though things won't start to drop off much for either of you for quite some time.

If you haven't already visited, the lesbian mothers association has some good information. They are based in Montreal.
posted by Cuke at 6:19 AM on November 18, 2005

Response by poster: Pardon me for asking, and for perhaps going slightly off-topic: are you considering the possibility of having two biological mothers in your family, ie. of both of you bearing children?

We are considering that, but we would most definitely not want to be pregnant at the same time! We are also considering adoption but we know that we need to have certain assets before anyone will adopt to us.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:43 AM on November 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the link, cuke. Fantastic site.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:43 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: As others have said, there is no "perfect" time where everything aligns and you know, "Now! Now! It's GO time!" Kids are kids and are pretty adaptable to most situations.

I'm, of course, typing this as I sit here, 31 weeks pregnant for the first time at 39 years old, having done my degrees and traveling and so forth. Yes, I wish I had more energy and that I was a bit younger. On the other hand, I feel more emotionally prepared than I think I would have in my 20's, but everyone is very different in that respect. It took all of 6 weeks of trying to get pregnant for me to end up with a bun in the oven (which was a shock because we thought it would take a year or more). We'll probably adopt for our second one but only because I've always wanted to adopt at least one child.

So, don't feel like you HAVE to start now. But if you really want to start now, go for it!
posted by jeanmari at 7:15 AM on November 18, 2005

Hey good luck Jeanmari! My wife and I had our youngest, and my first, when she was 42.

On the other hand, Arcticwoman, my little sister put off kids for years, and then it turned out to be too late. She spent much of her 30s undergoing expensive treatments that never did work. You might look up your odds of conceiving at different ages.

And I'll echo what others have said--academia is usually a very child-friendly place. Our department secretary has a file drawer full of toys and coloring books, and there is a folding playpen that has been in the department for years, going from one office to another... If you are planning a career that combines teaching and parenthood, prepare yourself to teach online. In many fields there is a great demand, and it gives you enormous flexibility.
posted by LarryC at 7:42 AM on November 18, 2005

"When you get your first ultrasound, you'll know it was the right time!"

Couldn't have said it better than that!!
posted by Gooney at 7:45 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: My mom was in college & grad-school from the time I was five until I was 13. My memories of a time before my mom was a student are vague. Being around grad students and their crazy hours seemed totally normal to me.

My older sisters, on the other hand, resented the hell out of my mom for going back to school (they were eight or nine). They remembered a time when they had mom all to their selves and didn't want to share her with the outside world.

In my experience "grad brats" and "fac[ulty] brats" are usually great kids. More independent, and capable of keeping themselves entertained, more curious and articulate than most.

So my advice is: Don't let your academic career keep you from starting your family. Let your kids be part of it, & definitely don't go the "I'll wait until they're in school to go back for my degree" route. It sets the kids up for disappointment and the parents for years of frustration.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

My daughter was born on my fourth day of my PhD program. It has been done and enjoyed any which way you can imagine, but my personal recommendation is that you wait until you advance to candidacy.

If you both want to pursue academic carreers, then you need to make a deal now about how you're going to handle the job market when you're done.
posted by Eothele at 1:19 PM on November 18, 2005

Many programs have an extremely intense first year, or first two years. I can not even remotely conceive of having had time to take care of a child in my first year, and I don't think it's possible that I would have finished that year if I had had to. Actually, my program is intense enough that I can't imagine doing so at any time during the degree, and I know it isn't alone in that respect. I strongly recommend that you decide the answer to this question only in light of the particular program that you are going to be in, not grad school in general. Perhaps when you are visiting schools (which presumably will happen in the spring) you can sound current grad students out about the issue.
posted by advil at 2:08 PM on November 18, 2005

Just don't make the mistake of waiting until you can "afford" them. And what leapingsheep said.
posted by phrits at 4:45 AM on November 19, 2005

I have a Ph.D., but don't have any kids. I think that your field of study makes a huge difference to your question, so fwiw, mine is art history. I just graduated in June, from Stanford, so my grad experience was recent and at a relatively high-pressure but also well-funded institution (we got 5 years of fellowship funding before we had to find outside support).

Anecdotally, I can report that all the women in my program while I was there who had children have not yet finished the program. This includes people who both had and did not have grad-student partners. Some of them were all-but-dissertation when I arrived (in other words, were in their 4th or 5th year), some were only a year ahead of me -- but all of them are now looking at over a decade for completion. Despite this, one of them told me (in a faintly creepy, proselytizing way, actually) that grad school was "the best time to have kids."

Basically I just want to counter the suggestion that some people are making that as a grad student you'll experience the ultimate in "flex-time" -- and at Stanford, childcare was, practically speaking, non-existent (as far as I know, second-hand, anyway -- it cost a lot and there was a long waiting list). As a grad student who had to hold down a couple of part time jobs to make ends meet in addition to working full-time on writing in order to graduate in a timely manner (6 years), I dreaded the thought of having a baby at the same time.

So I guess, I would go along with those saying "be aware that the child must be your priority" -- be willing to let your Ph.D. program slide when it becomes apparent you can't do both.

Also, while I don't think you should "wait until you can afford it," I do think you need to be aware that my annual income as a grad student averaged $15k in the Bay Area -- I think if I was seriously considering raising a family on just double that, I would be irresponsible.

And, more than a hundred times I've encountered the prejudice among Stanford (and other) faculty that having a kid is a sign that you (and "you" is a woman; this argument doesn't come up in relation to men) don't take your academic career seriously. On the other hand, the art history faculty are suddenly fecund in a way they've never been before, so maybe there's hope that this attitude really is disappearing.
posted by obliquicity at 5:54 PM on November 19, 2005

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