For academics: Are your kids growing up without you?

Work Life BalanceYou were probably thrilled beyond words (mono- and polysyllabic) when your kids were born and you witnessed the true miracle of those so-young lives. The kids grew older, and you hunkered down into your academic career. Maybe your feelings changed—you don’t love them any less, but you may see the children as distracters and interrupters of your work. After all, we have important completions of all the conference abstracts, articles, books, chapters, dissertations, even the course syllabi. And we need to finish all these projects for advancement.

Granted, children can be annoyances and disrupters. Most of the time, though, barring a fall from the tree house, they are bothering you because they want—no, crave—your attention.

Your children may not comprehend everything about what you do, but they want to be included. Not even knowing what a doctorate, dissertation, or study really mean, they’re nevertheless proud of their parents. Clients in my academic coaching and editing practice have told me they’ve overheard their children explaining to friends on the playground that their parent is “still in school, dummy.”

Clients have also shared how you can give your kids attention in several ways that not only satisfy them but also protect your work momentum.

Explain Your Preoccupation

Sit the kids down—granted, you must make time for this, but it’s worth it. Compliment their maturity, whatever their ages. Then explain that you’ve received a monstrous homework assignment from the Wicked Witch of the Desk.

Younger children understand when you put it in terms of homework (given to children today at ever-younger ages). Older children can relate with their special projects and term papers. If the kids have had or are having a hard time with their own assignments, so much the better. If you’ve helped them with any projects, so they empathize more, you can repaint in vivid colors the hard time you both had.

Ask Them

Tell them too that as you work on your project you want to figure out how to have special time with them to do things they like. Invite their suggestions and let them know you’ll plan the time together. Ask too about special upcoming school events they’d like you to attend. You can work these in as breaks around your own academic production time.

Enlist Them

Involving your children in your work is another great way to have exclusive time with them, as clients have told me. Rose appointed her daughter, who was eleven, as a “special assistant.” The girl delighted in alphabetizing reference note cards and making copies of Rose’s propagating journal articles. Wade recruited his teenage son for periodic Amazon searches on the latest books in the field and monitoring the email alerts. Claude’s college junior, the computer whiz, helped him mount his intricate PowerPoints.

Honor your kids’ strong points, as in these examples. Get their ideas too how they would like to help. Especially after you’ve explained your project, you may be surprised at their creativity and ingenuity.

Date Nights and Days

As breaks for both of you, arrange special dates. Here are some successful activities my clients have had with their children.

  • Take the family for a bash at Chuck E. Cheese or other neighborhood video arcade-crazy place.
  • Schedule a special-interest outing with one or more of the children—a local humane society for your budding veterinarian, the planetarium for your mini-astronomer.
  • Arrange a weekend dinner at home or a restaurant, at which everyone shares their week’s accomplishments (including you on your academic project).
  • Cheer from the bleachers at your child’s baseball or soccer game.
  • Shoot hoops in your driveway.
  • Host a party for your kid’s pals.
  • Arrange a special place and time for a private heart-to-heart about your child’s current anxieties or concerns.

If your kids are grown and out, when they come back for a visit, they will likely still be interested in what you are doing. When you explain your projects, as adults they may finally comprehend them. And they probably still crave time alone with you. So give them the choice of any of the activities here or others they may suggest.

You’re a Model

When you’re a parent-academic, you’re a great role model to your kids. Maybe your own grown children have become academics. Take the credit. They realize that you’ve gone back to school voluntarily to better yourself and the family. They recognize more fully the importance of education and want to emulate you.

I know one six-year- old who regularly works alongside her father at the dining room table on her own crayoned “dishtaysun.”

The high-school-graduating son of another client told his mother, “I’m so proud of you, Mom. You’re my inspiration for college . . . and the master’s.” He’s already gotten early admission to two of his three choices.

The new assistant professor son of another client said to him, “Dad, I saw you hidden away in your study so many nights and weekends. Now I know what it takes, and thank you.” My client and I got teary-eyed together.

In the End

Every so often we read of seven-figure CEOs who quit their jobs so they could spend more time with their families. They realized the values and joys of family, often at late stages. Let’s learn from them. By planning, scheduling, and keeping dates with your children, you won’t feel you must quit your job, even if it’s less than seven figures. Your children will relish their greater part in your life, and you will have both a satisfying and accomplishing academic career and a fulfilling and joyous family life.


Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).

© 2017 Noelle Sterne

Note: See also Noelle’s companion guest blog in Abstract¸ March 21, 2017, “For Academics: What to Do When Your Partner Wails, ‘I Never See You Anymore!’”


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.