How to Survive Your Husband's Graduate Degree

Exactly one year from this very day, Evan will be finished with his master's degree! When he first got into Purdue, and I knew he'd be working full time PLUS going to graduate school, I scoured the internet looking for a post like this. Someone, prepare me please? He's going to be doing 12 hour days with textbooks so that means I'm going to be doing 12 hour days with a 2 year old and a newborn! Pinterest and Google failed me so I had to learn it the hard way. Here are some things we've done over the past year to make it all more manageable:

1. Make sure you mean it.

This probably seems pretty obvious but, before you start into something this challenging, make sure it's what you really REALLY want. Evan always knew he wanted to get a masters but had a hard time nailing down just exactly which degree was best for him. I am so thankful he got rejected from the first program he applied to because it would have been a nightmare for both of us. The application alone was a major struggle and I was worried about three more years of that level of stress. The Purdue program we ended up finding because of that first rejection letter works way better for his personality, schedule, and interests. Instead of me having to constantly edit re-write messy papers, I read his stuff now and it sounds like it ought to be published! He's completely intrinsically motivated. I remember during his very first class he had been studying in the basement for 6 hours straight one day and said came upstairs and said, "I need to tell you something." I thought, "Oh geez. Here it comes." And then he said, "This stuff is so interesting to research!" And I knew we were going to be alright. On the other hand, We have some friends who started into a masters and then partway through discovered that in his specific line of work, getting a masters degree wasn't going to increase his salary or provide him with any more opportunities than he would have with just a bachelors. So they bailed and found other ways to help him advance. Good for them! Make sure you're in the right degree at the right school with the right motivation for your spouse and family, otherwise it will not be worth the investment of your time, effort, or money.

2. Set a schedule and manage your expectations.

Oh, this is my mantra! Everything in life is do-able if I just know beforehand what I have to do. When we figured out how classes were going to work, we sat down and made a schedule we both could handle. Evan's degree is through distance education {read- online} so we decided he'd go into work at 6 am and work until 2 in the afternoon to get his "8 hours" in every day. Then he would stay at his office from 2 until around 6 pm reading, working on projects, going to class, studying, etc. At that point he comes home for dinner and to play with the kids until bedtime, and then usually works some more. Saturdays he studies for about 4 hours in the morning and Sunday evenings he'll occasionally do an hour or two as well. That's just the schedule that works for us, obviously every program will be different, but the point is I know when he'll be gone and I know when I can expect him home and that makes everything SO. MUCH. EASIER. Obviously we are flexible, some days he surprises us and comes home early, other days he has to stay later, this is all fine as long as I have a chance to manage my expectations. If he tells me one morning that he'll have to work until 8 that night, I can totally handle it. If he calls me from his office at 5:15 and says "Hey, I'm not going to be home until 8." I'll have a complete meltdown that will rival my two year olds tantrums. Okay not really but it's a lot harder for me to handle. For that reason, I prefer to keep my expectations pretty low as far as how much we'll see him or how much he'll be able to help around the house on any given day. This way I am pleasantly surprised much more often than I am annoyed or disappointed. 

3. Create a support system.

When your other half is gone 12 hours at a time, you're gonna get lonely, you know what I'm saying? Sometimes it gets pretty overwhelming to be running a household on your own. Venting to the man who is working his tail off all day too doesn't usually go over so well so building some real friendships is crucial. And I mean I love my littles, but personally, I find it pretty crucial to speak to someone who can put together full sentences on regular basis. Reach out to neighbors, make friends, and if possible meet up with family consistently. My Mom lives thousands of miles away, but she Facetimes my kids every morning after breakfast to read them stories and I can get the dishwasher loaded in peace. She's the best! We also meet up with friends a couple of times a week at parks, museums, pools, or even just Chick -fl-a . Play dates are great for kids, but they're even better for moms. Check out church groups, city programs (like library story time), or see if any of the other students in your hubby's program have spouses and kids that you could meet up with.  The more you reach out, the stronger your support system.

4. Have something to look forward to.

There will be moments, like the witching hour you're trying to make dinner and your kids are simultaneously crying for you to hold them, where you'll want to pull the plug on the whole operation. I find that if I have something fun I'm anticipating, I can make it through those moments a lot easier. I like to have one small thing planned every week (like a date with the Mr., or a girl's night out to play tennis) and one big thing planned each month (like a holiday, or a more extravagant family outing) to look forward to. I enjoy planning them out in my head and it gives me a lot of stress relief to know that no matter how hard things are right this minute, something exciting is always on the horizon. In one of my very favorite talks by Elder Holland Our Consuming Mission, he says:

"Modest as my big-time spending was, Pat has said a hundred times that those Friday nights got her through those years. She said, “I looked forward to them and I counted on them. I knew that however many nights you were studying or working or away on Church assignments, I still had Friday night to count on. No, the dates,” she said, “weren’t much as social extravaganzas go , but they were mine and I felt in control of both my own life and my husband’s for at least a few hours each week. It got me through some very demanding times.”
A drugstore psychologist once said that people need three things to be emotionally healthy: someone to love, significant things to do, and something pleasant to look forward to. Brethren, make sure your wife has something pleasant, something genuinely fun, to look forward to regularly."

This one is important y'all. Elder Holland said so.

5. Take interest in your spouse's degree, and learn new things on your own as well.

Six months into Evan's program, I started to feel frustrated because he would come home all buzzing with excitement about what he was learning and I only had the same old discipline and diaper stories to share. I wanted him to tell me all about his classes so I could be supportive and feel connected, but it also emphasized how different our day-to-day lives really were. I've decided to protect nap time with the fiercest strength I can muster and use it for myself. Whether its reading a book about something new or learning a hobby or skill, find ways to grow on your own so you don't feel left behind as you watch your spouse sprinting off into academia. Plus you'll have something else to add to the dinner conversation every once in a while.

6. Serve.

The very worst place to be is wallowing in your own struggles. I'm still working on this, but when I pop my personal bubble and do little things like taking a get-well gift to a sick friend or visiting a neighbor with a new baby, it reminds me that even if it is tough to be on my own so much, I'm tremendously blessed. For the last two years I had the opportunity to volunteer as a Cub Scout leader for our local Wolf Den. It definitely wasn't something I ever saw myself doing beforehand,  and was often chaos, but also ended up being so much fun! Winston adored hanging out with 8-year-olds once a week and even though it was only for an hour I liked to think I was helping out the other mothers by giving them a tiny break.  Find any way you can to volunteer or give back to the people around you.

7. Keep first things first.

School is terribly important, but keep your priorities straight. Make time for God, then family, THEN school and work. Does this mean you'll get to go to the temple together every week? Nope. But you do need to keep some balance. Have a non-negotiable emergency switch agreed on with your spouse, but only pull it when you mean it. I try really hard not to be a wussy wife and take care of as much as I can on my own while letting Evan study, but there have been a few times I had to call SOS, like when both of our babies vomited on me three times before 8 am. He came home to help that day. Knowing I have that option when I need it reminds me why we started this whole adventure in the first place, it's all for the good of our family.

Those of you with spouses in medical school/dental school/ MBA's etc., what are your best tips on mommying mostly on your own? Please leave comments! Evan is headed into a PhD once we finish this degree so I'm still looking for all the wisdom I can get. And I know who you are so don't make me call you out by name....


  1. I loved everything! Same applies when your husband is on business half the month! I'd add to get dressed every day and go outside every day (even if it's just too get the mail). And do yourself a favor and make freezer meals every once and a while. And then have people over for dinner so you don't have to eat alone (like the missionaries!) (but I guess this one doesn't apply to you since Evan actually comes home).

  2. I would add "Call McKayla over every Friday (or any other day of the week) so she can babysit my kids for free so I can go on a date with my hubby. Or go get a pedicure or a massage or plant some flowers or go grocery shopping or do whatever the heck I need to do." ;)


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