As of October 3, I am now A.B.D. For the uninitiated, it stands for "All But Dissertation," meaning that my only barrier to the Ph.D. is the dissertation. It's a big deal (not as big as the Ph.D., but I'm right on target for my program, and that's a positive thing), and I frequently get asked how I did it with a kid.
First, let me say, I have the most agreeable child in the world. He is very good at entertaining himself so I can write or grade, and he is patient to go to school with me to get errands run. This was a major factor.
Second, I am lucky to live near my parents and J's parents, who stepped up with alarming frequency to provide me with both study time, time to teach, and date nights. My mother-in-law was a constant saving grace because she watched E almost every day that I went to school. I seldom had to ask for help, because those around me knew what was involved and stepped up.
Still, getting it all done to this point (with or without children) wasn't easy, so here are some tips:
1. Get and Stay Organized: To me, this is the key to all success. I'm a huge fan of a good planner, a sturdy binder, and lots of lists. Use what works for you. I can talk for days about my Moleskin weekly planner and monthly planner and how I would be lost without them. But if your phone calendar works better, by all means, use that. If you have little hands around, keep this stuff out of their reach. Don't risk it.
2. Do YOUR Best: It's very easy to get competitive in graduate school. In my program, it's not worth it because we are all studying diverse topics. My friend's dissertation about women of science is in no way competing with my dissertation on corporate media. So, I just had to concentrate on doing my best work, not THE best work. It resulted in success for me because I was just confident in my abilities to perform quality scholarship.
3. Just Get It Done: It's easy to have flexibility in the timeline of a graduate program. Barring serious issues (illness, death, etc.), try to stick to the fastest timeline. The longer you take, the more money you lose, either in tuition or lost employment. It's easy to say, I'll just take one class this semester, but if you can handle two, by all means, get it done.
4. Be Proactive: Have a back-up plan for everything. Save your work to Google Docs or a flash drive every day that you write. Have a babysitter on call (or a way to take your kid to school with you if you are able). Don't wait to register for classes, because if you can't get the ones you need, you need to set up an independent study or readings course. Do not leave things to chance.
Now I'm continuing work on the dissertation, which is going well. I have numerous chapters in process, and I hope to be done in a year or so. I'll try to take my own advice.