This is a question that many married graduate students contemplate. Is it better to get the kids "over with" while you have a flexible schedule, or is it more strategic to wait until you have a job and a real salary?
The decision to have a child at any time, whether you are in grad school or not, is one that needs to be considered very carefully. The tough part about having a baby in graduate school is that you cannot just quit your job if life gets tough. You need to work hard until you get your diploma, which is tough even when you do not have children. At the same time, many graduate students have flexible schedules, so they are able to fit their work around their children's needs. While contemplating your decision, remember that a baby needs care 24/7, around the clock and every day. Therefore, there are two very important things you will need: 1) money and 2) support.
You will need a lot of money to pay for childcare. In some parts of the country, the cost of daycare is the same or even more than a graduate student stipend. Depending on your household income, you need to decide whether your finances allow you to send your baby to a daycare. Take into consideration all the other costs such as diapers, formula, baby food, baby clothes, medical bills, etc. You can probably get an estimate of these costs from a local parenting group. If you can afford to have a baby, then you passed the first part of the test.
The second part, which might be even more challenging, is finding support. Graduate school is rarely a 9-5 job, so even if you have a full-time daycare, you will still need help on weekends, evenings, and when your baby gets sick. Here are some suggestions from other graduate student parents:
-Talk to your husband about how you will share childcare and housework.
- Find out your university's policy on maternity and possibly leave of absence.
- Enlist the help of your family after hours and on weekends (if they live close-by)
-Trade babysitting with other students, taking turns watching each other's kids
- Hire a young teenager (much cheaper than a babysitter) who plays with your baby while you are at home, so you can work or clean the house
- Borrow money from your parents to pay for childcare. Although this might put you in debt, you will probably graduate sooner.
-Daycares fill up fast, so get on all the waitlists as soon as the baby is on the way
-Consider "nannysharing", where one nanny cares for 2-3 kids, making the cost/family reasonable.
- Look at home-based daycares, which are usually cheaper than traditional ones. If you decide to go with option, make sure the home-based daycare is licensed. Sending your child to an unlicensed daycare is illegal in some states.
Before you finalize your family plans, be sure to talk to other students who are parents. While having a baby is a lot of work (and costs a lot of money) parents usually find ways to become more efficient at work and to live on less money. Parents in your area are the best resource, so ask them many questions!
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet