I see you. I see you quietly working in that dimly lit office after you’ve tucked your little ones into bed. I see you sinking into the couch surrounded by papers, laptop perched on the armrest, pencils popping out of your messy bun. I see those articles and textbooks strewn across your kitchen table, fighting for space with the sippy cups and crayons.

Mama, I see youstaying up late and waking up early to meet that paper deadline or post on that discussion blog. I see you rifling through flashcards in the stands at your daughter’s softball game so you can prepare for an exam, or rushing from your clinical to meet the school bus on time. 

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I see you making your coffee from home instead of stopping at Starbucks so you can save a few extra dollars for textbooks, and I see you graciously declining another birthday party so you can get some reading done.

I see the difficult conversations with your spouse about time, money, and care for the kids.

I see the e-mails between you and your professor asking for an extension on your assignment because you had a sick kid all weekend. I see you sitting in that lecture hall when you could be home having dinner with your family or glued to your computer screen when you’d rather be cuddled up watching Frozen II (even if it’s for the 87th time). 

Mama, I’m right here with you. I’m nearing the end of my Ph.D. journeyan eight (yes, eight!) year journey. I started my program prior to becoming a mother and since have had two beautiful baby girls, with a third one on the wayand man, has my perspective shifted.

Since becoming a mama, I’ve felt tremendous guilt about the time I’ve put into my program, which has meant time away from my babies.

As a result, I’ve given up other things I love to make up for that lost time. That Sunday morning spin class I used to look forward to? I couldn’t justify going when I’d spent the previous night at the library. Friday night dinner with the girls? I turned it down, knowing a late night might make me groggy in the morning and unable to focus on school work. And in giving up those things, there have been moments in this program I’ve felt like I’ve completely lost myself.

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In these last eight years, I’ve cried and I’ve laughed. I’ve had stretches of amazing work completion, and I’ve gone months without writing. I’ve lost my passion, and I’ve found it all over again. So as I finally see the end in sight and begin to reflect on how this experience has shaped me and my family, I want you to know you are not alone. 

Mama, I see the tears falling on the steering wheel in your car after you’ve left a child who begged you to stay. I see your short fuse when you catch chubby, little hands typing on your computer after you turned your back for just one second. I see you questioning if you can finish your degree or if it’s even worth the sacrifices you’re making.

But I also see thisbehind those tears and that frustration, I see determination. I see passion. I see a spark that is fueling your fire to keep going.

So here’s the deal. whether your kids are younger or older, please know thisthey’re watching you. Sure, they might have moments of sadness and frustration, too. But whether they realize it or not, they’re learning lessons in perseverance and hard work and time management and patience.

They’re watching you pursue a passionyou wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t working toward something you love. They’re watching you set goals and prioritize to achieve them. They’re watching you struggleand that’s OK! Because they’re going to struggle at points, too. Your babies need to see how you’ve worked through that, overcome it. Day in and out your children are creating their definition of role modeland mama, that’s you. 

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So keep at it, mama.

I know being in school as a mother is so, so hard. I know there are moments you feel selfish, moments you feel overwhelmed, moments you feel ready to quit. And believe me, I know there are moments when you feel exhaustion you never even knew existed. So when you’re feeling all those things, please try to remember this is just a seasona season that will come to an end. You can do this. You will finish. You will get that paper. You will walk across that stage.

And your babies? They will be watching. 

Previously published on the author’s blog

Danielle Ricci

Danielle Ricci is a wife and mama to two (soon to be three!) little girls. She works as a high school assistant principal and is a Ph.D. student.