The Top 10 Things I Learned as a Graduate Wife

As my graduate wife journey has come to an end, and I have transitioned onto the next adventure, I have had time to reflect on what I have learned as a graduate wife. I have also had time to be thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with so many other graduate spouses, through this blog and the University communities I was a part of. Here are the top ten things I have learned, paired with some of our best posts that highlight each lesson.

1. Graduate life is only a season. During our time in grad school, I was friends with a woman whose husband had completed grad school 20 years prior. She constantly told me that grad life was a season. Although my head believed her, my heart did not. When we were in the middle of it, and the process was continually kicking us in the face, it was easy to lose hope. After 9 years of grad school life, and 1 year of being back on the ‘other side of real life,’ I can say….she was right. It really is only a season, and to be honest, it will probably end up being a short chapter in my life book!

Savor the Here and Now

2. Investing in relationships takes work. Moving, starting over, and building a new community is hard work. You have to be willing to invest time in people around you. A community doesn’t happen over night. The time you’re investing now will pay off. Stick with it!

The Mark of Friendship- Response

3. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that grad school will feel like it’s never ending. You get through one goal, only to discover there are 30 more in front of you. When I started to focus on what seemed like never-ending goals in front of us, I immediately became overwhelmed. I learned to take life one day at a time. I only needed enough strength to make it through that one day!

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey

4. Living simply is an art.  For most of us, the stipends and scholarships barely cover living expenses. I had to learn to live a much more simple life. It wasn’t easy to do, but once we settled into just taking care of what was needed, we became used to it. Since we were also part of a community that was living the same type of life we were, it was good to share ways with each other to even further simplify the simple.

Beauty and the Budget Series

5. Having your dreams shattered might the best thing that’s ever happened to you. My husband and I have always been planners. Unfortunately, graduate school is not kind to planners. It’s hard when your entire life is being determined by a hiring committee. We definitely had our fair share of disappointments: failed grant proposals, interviews that didn’t end with job offers, interviews that didn’t happen, etc. Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that those things had to happen in order for us to be who we are and where we are today.

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

6. You are not alone. I remember vividly sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend of mine telling her I didn’t think I could press on any further with this grad school thing. I also remember being shocked as she told me she often felt the same way. The very act of being really vulnerable with a friend turned the tables for me. I left the coffee shop with a resolve and strength that I didn’t have when I arrived….I was not alone.

A Name for Pain

7. Don’t put your own dreams on hold. It’s so easy to slide into being the ‘support’, but if you stay in that mode for too long, you will lose yourself.  I have a friend that moved with her husband to London when he started grad school. While they were there, she was offered her dream job in California. They had long talk(s) and decided they could live a part for year, seeing each other in person once every three to four months, to make both their dreams happen. While that scenario wouldn’t work for everyone, if you have your own burgeoning career, figure out a way to make it happen, and do it!

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

8. Learn to live in the present. My friend, Betsy, always said to me, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It resonated with me then, but especially now as we’ve entered a new city. Do I miss Oxford? You betcha. I miss our friends, the familiarity, the little family we made there. I also miss those things from Orlando and Atlanta (and if I’m honest, a pretty long list of our favorite restaurants). Even though these places are part of my story and woven into the fabric of my heart, I no longer reside in them. I am still learning what it means to embrace where I am placed.

Life is Now

9. You will change. Grad school changes you. You will not be the same person at the end that you were in the beginning. The experiences will mold and shape your character, teaching you so many wonderful lessons about life, love, and sacrifice. Some of it will be hard. Some of it will be amazing. But in the end, as your life words are being penned, allow it to permeate your soul and become part of who you are. There will be purpose and joy in your pain. I promise.

I used to…

10. This will be an experience of a lifetime. As more and more time passes between our time in grad school and this new season of life, I have come to realize what an absolute irreplaceable gift it was. From learning and living life lessons, to being part of an amazing community of people, to watching my husband obtain one of his dreams….it was all a gift. I’m so thankful we were given this amazing opportunity.

Love, Written on My Heart

As a former, current, or soon-to-be graduate wife, if you could add your own point to this list, what would it be?

-Mandy

 

 

 

 

Grad Life Voices: Life is Now

“It’ll only be two more years,” said the professor’s wife, smiling. She looked so confident, her dyed-blonde hair attractively styled, clothes and jewelry perfectly coordinated. As she encouraged us that we could do it, that seminary wasn’t all that long, I tried to smile back while a voice inside my head screamed, “Two more? Not for me!” Not even a month into the school year, I already struggled to find joy in my circumstances and the speaker’s intended encouragement felt more like a bag full of rocks.

I sat with a group of first year student wives; we listened, a little wide-eyed, on comfortable couches nestled close to the expansive fireplace. Every month, the seminary women met in the administration building, an old mansion, to socialize and listen to a professor’s wife or guest speaker give a short talk. When I walked through the mansion’s huge double doors into the wood-paneled foyer, I felt as if I should be greeted by a butler who would bow slightly and say, “Right this way, Madame.” Even with no butler, the opulent surroundings dazzled me a little in contrast to our run-down little house which boasted rusty well water, a miniature oven that burned everything, and living room windows so low that you had to sit down to see outside!

Many husbands of women in the room planned to be pastors and would indeed finish school in three years. Mine, however, looked ahead to a PhD and at least five additional years in school, which sounded to my new-bride ears like an eternity. Although I still had much to learn, that day I realized that I couldn’t just count the years, the days, until school was done and, “real life” could begin. If I did, then time, a precious gift from God, would slip past unnoticed while I pitied my hardships as a student wife. No, I realized. Life is now.

I am now six years into my journey as a student wife (with at least four to go) and I would like to offer encouragement to those of you on the same journey. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” My husband and I often refer to our grad school life as an adventure. We could endure this time as challenge, and we might survive. Or we could choose to enjoy it and really live.

So how do we live in the now instead of straining our eyes to glimpse the future, that elusive time when our partners have a “normal” job? I’ve found that it helps me to focus on the good things about this time in graduate school instead of the difficulties. And don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that it can be tough. I too stare at the budget and wish the stipend stretched just a little further and I can feel jealous of the Latin book which often replaces me as my husband’s evening companion. And yet, this time on our grad school journey has been a wonderful time of new places and experiences. We moved from a little Mid-Western town to the Pacific Northwest, back to the Mid-West, then to the Eastern coast. In each place, and during the long moves in between, I met many interesting people and stocked my memory full of beautiful places: orcas swimming in Puget Sound, deep shaded evergreen woods, long stretches of desert studded with strange and fantastic rock formations, fields upon fields of corn and beans, peaceful bay waters stretching past seeing. All these experiences I owe to grad school.

Not only is it important to find the particular benefits of being a grad student wife, but I have found that simple gratitude helps me live in the now. This past year, I read a book by Ann Voskamp entitled One Thousand Gifts. In it she encourages readers to notice and give thanks for God’s abundant blessings in our lives. As I tried to follow her advice, the sheer number of blessings overwhelmed me. I saw God’s love as I savored morning coffee steaming in my favorite pink mug, I found it in a fog-breaking rainbow across the harbor and when I basked in a quiet golden-pink sunrise. Simply noticing and thanking God for His blessings has been perhaps the most important way for me to remain content with my current season of life.

While gratitude is the key to enjoying our time during grad school, I have also found several practical tips which help me fully live in the present. First, keep your priorities and passions alive. My husband and I place a strong priority on remaining open to children, so now outstretched arms and excited cries of “Daddy!” barrage his ears as he steps in the door, a daily reminder of life beyond the papers and lectures. Our choice to start a family, perhaps more than any other, has helped us to recognize that our life is not on hold during school. Families and situations differ but what is most important to your family should dictate your life during grad school, not the other way around.

Supporting a partner through grad school is a worthy task, but don’t let the busyness drive you to abandon your own interests. It may sound implausible to fit your own interests into a schedule already overflowing with housekeeping, child-raising and perhaps a job or homeschooling. And yet, I have found that everyone in my house benefits from a happier mama. If I stop to read a good book, or play the piano, or sew something, it helps me remember the person that I am, one that I often forget amid crying children and piles of laundry. Being a graduate student’s wife requires sacrifice, but we don’t have to play the martyr by needlessly giving up what we care about.

One of the most important ways to live your life now is to keep a strong relationship with your partner. One practice that has been very important to my husband and me during graduate school is our weekly date night. I use the word “date” rather loosely since it almost never involves leaving our house. Our actual activities may not seem that exciting to anyone else: watching Star Trek re-runs or classic movies on Netflix, reading The Lord of the Rings or Flannery O’Connor’s short stories aloud, my husband attempting to teach me chess, or just sitting on the couch to talk. Perhaps the best part of date night for me is that my husband schedules time to be with me. No books, no papers, no planner, just us. As I’m sure all of you student wives know, school work is practically endless and it is important for you and your husband to set boundaries. My husband also schedules time with our children during the week. These set aside times help keep our focus in the right place. School, however important, is just school. People come first.

Mother Teresa once said “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” We wives have great power to set the tone for our families. It is in large part up to us whether this graduate school season is miserable or fabulous. So ladies, let’s make time with our partners a priority, let’s keep our passions alive, and let’s choose gratitude. Your life is now. Let us begin.

 

Grad Life Voices: Living in the Moment

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written by Tash, a current graduate wife

I am a planner; not a meal planner – that would be helpful, but instead, a crystal ball planner. I know I want to build a family home, and although it will be years before we can finance such a project, I feel like I am already intimate with every nook and cranny of the design. I knew how our wedding would look years before our engagement, and what we would name the family dog. I’m so goal driven and outcomes based that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of our current situation and feel an inner desperation to settle, to relax, and to take a breath.

My husband has been my very best friend for a very long time. He is incredibly intelligent, loyal, and loving. He is deep, intuitive and the most incredible thinker. Like most of us, if he isn’t following his passion, he is simply a shadow of himself. Our children are 3 and 5, and, quite frankly, amazing human beings. It’s so important that my children watch what my husband is going through, because, dare I say it, I believe they are wired in a very similar way. It’s so important that my significant other is at university, because he is happy and healthy and smiling!

And then there is me. I am 27. I am a Mum and a youth worker, but most critically, I am the wife of a post grad student. I say most critically because my children deserve the stability of a strong and connected Mum and Dad. Given the pressures of the grad life, I’m okay with my order of focus.

Looking back on my past plans, it seems my crystal ball lead me on a defunct path. Where I once thought I would be a stay at home mum, I actually work. With living in a small country township, and with extended family members who could have that magic time at home with their own children, I was initially resentful.

Eventually I came to an understanding about the gift of our circumstances. My young children have genuine and incredible friendships, built through their time at preschool. They have an understanding of the outside world and a light, but clear belief of the importance of societal contribution. Through the work opportunities I have had, I’ve discovered more about myself and my abilities in the last few years than ever before. My husband’s return to university has pushed me to discover who I really am, and the gifts and talents that I have to offer. Interactions and progress within my career has given me a personal confidence that positively impacts my parenting. The intensity in which we as a household live drives us to be conscious about getting quiet time out in wide open spaces. Grad Life is a gift that has allowed for self development and enriched family life.

Despite this, I still fall into patterns of fear and loss.

I’m lucky in that I know my home is ‘home’ until The Engineer finishes his PhD. But where is home base for the long term? What if I have to let go of the community I’m so attached to, of the friends and neighbours that have been behind us during such an intense time? What if my children will have to learn to let go of their real world relationships and substitute them for Skype and Facebook as they go about making new connections in another town? What if this path isn’t leading us to the security that we convince ourselves it will, and if the husband doesn’t find work that meets his emotional, social and intellectual needs?

It’s a big, scary, wide world out there.

We can plan until the cows come home, until we’ve got the future colour coded, alphabetized, and listed. Then, when plans don’t come into fruition on our time line, it can be a lonely experience, and it can hurt.

So, we have to consciously rewire our brain. We have to push against ourselves, and we have to settle. Because as morbid and as cliché as it sounds, we get to be alive today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. What works for one may not work for another, but I highly recommend reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchin Rubin, to help get the inspiration flowing. Listed below are some of the wee baby steps that are helping retrain the way I approach this stage of life.

I began a gratitude journal. It’s where I slow myself right down, and take note of how good I’ve actually got it. My children are healthy, my husband is healthy, and my life has purpose. Some days, it’s simply I found the energy to make my morning coffee – that’s okay too. It’d be far worse a day if you didn’t have the energy to make your morning coffee!

Photography is therapy, it simply changed my outlook on life. I by no means sing my own praises, but I am fortunate to have a camera, and a great local camera club to learn from. I have slowly become aware of natural beauty, the colours of the sky, the shapes of the clouds, and the tranquility of water. I think my children are having a hard time with our lifestyle, but then I look back at the photographic memories and realise just how much mood and attitude can mess with our outlook and opinions. It turns out my kids are having an incredible childhood, and I’ve got the images to prove it. I have amazing relationships with my children’s teachers and they reiterate the balance in our children and the stories they share. So actually, as far as parents go, we’re doing just fine.

I’ve created shrines in my house. A ‘happy place’ shrine has little mementos of time with my family, and a bunch of my favourite flowers. I walk past it and smile, regardless. A shelf in our bookcase has been dedicated to our wedding, with the photo album, a shell from the beach we had our photos, the communion cup and a few other little extras. These things remind me that I am loved.

When I finish work early, I head to the university. It means the hubby and I get to travel home together and score a few minutes down time in one another’s company. Friday nights are simply not work nights. Sure we both want his PhD, but we want our marriage more. We have a jar with about a dozen washi-taped sticks. I googled ‘in-house’ and ‘budget’ date ideas, wrote them on the sticks and the stuck them in our jar. On date night, we don’t have to think about what to do, the jar will tell us. It doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive, but it means I’m not waiting for the day I get my husband back.

I accept where I am right now, in this moment. If I’m happy, that is okay. If I’m sad, that is okay. If I don’t feel up to entertaining once a month, it is okay. I am me with my strengths, weaknesses, dreams and desires and there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfect. There is a reason I am the way I am, no justification required. There is a roof over my head, so therefore I need to love it. This is my home, and I am blessed to have one. It’s a time consuming but incredibly rewarding project to make it the best darn home I can, spending as minimally as I can. The future house loses its lustre when it means I have to leave the one I’ve created!

I haven’t nailed it, I still struggle with the concept, but living in the moment is certainly one of the key and most meaningful lessons that is emerging throughout our journey. Rest assured that if this post resonates with you at all you’re not alone, and that supposedly, one day we’ll look back and realise just how awesome we all really are.

Graduation day will come, for our significant others, and for us.

 As a graduate wife, how do you live in the moment?

Monday’s Food for Thought: A Nod to Love

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. – King Solomon

As we come upon the annual day of love, I have been thinking about the meaning of love, and how through my own experiences, my definition of it has changed dramatically over the years.

As you reflect upon your own relationships, especially in relation to the graduate life, what does love mean to you? How do you maintain a sense of love in your relationship? Has your love (or the way you love) changed for your other half in graduate school? Do you celebrate your love more than one time a year? Do you love well?

Something to think about this Monday morning!

~Mandy

Love is…

So, I wanted to be all clever and write a lovely little post on love.  I started to do just that and  I recalled a beautiful poem by Marjorie Holmes  and realized she says it much more eloquently than I ever could.  I think many of us grad wives could easily add in another few stanzas saying something about…romance enticing us with riches and full time jobs and love promising commitment and encouragement even through the rough graduate school journey.

I hope these words speak truth and encouragement to you as we seek to remember what love really is all about.

Happy Valentines!

-M.C.

Romance is flying.

Love is safe landing.

Romance is seeking perfection.

Love is forgiving faults.

Romance is fleeting.

Love is long.

Romance is the anguish of waiting for the phone to ring to bring you words of endearment.

Love is the anguish of waiting for a call that will assure you that someone else is happy and safe.

Romance is eager-striving always to appear attractive to each other.

Love is two people who finds beauty in each other-no matter how they look.

Romance is dancing in the moonlight, gazing deep into desired eyes.

Love says, “You’re tired, honey.  I’ll get up this time.” As you stumble through the darkness to warm a bottle or comfort a frightened child.

Romance is flattering attention.

Love is genuine thoughtfulness.

Romance is suspense, anticipation, surprise.

Love is tenderness, constancy, being cherished.

Romance is delicious.

Love nourishes.

Romance can’t last.

Love can’t help it.

Beauty and the Budget: Valentine DIY

Happy early Valentines Day!  If you are like me, you take every chance you get to celebrate something and V-day should be no exception.  Mandy is not so much a fan :), but I am hoping to rope her into some fun V-day crafting with these amazingly simple, inexpensive (and almost free) DIY Valentines crafts I gathered online.  I have family visiting right now (yahoo!) and sadly didn’t have the time to share a few of my own, but the below are pretty fab to say the least.

 Let’s face it, we are graduate wives, we support, love, and sacrifice a lot during the year so let’s celebrate this season that honors all those things we are learning how to do best.   Treat yourself to a box of chocolates and have fun making some of these goodies for those you love.  Enjoy!

I am kind of into the “You light my fire” theme for some reason…and came across these two little beauties.  Super special and sweet. (for tutorials and sources click here & here)

Seriously….I couldn’t resist this.  Where oh where do our grad school spouses spend most of their days?  Bingo…love note library cards.  Genius. (for tutorials and source click  here )

I mean let’s be honest, who doesn’t wish we still said ‘da bomb’  (This is a great deal, fun to make and just think of how to put the leftover massage oil to work!) (for tutorials and source click  here)

Last but most definitely not least.  Yes, please!  It took me about two seconds to realize I must do this adorable little gift as soon as possible.  If you don’t have photoshop or a scanner, just make a small framed print of your actual thumbprints.  (I hope my hubs doesn’t see this because this is what I am making for him!) (for tutorials and source click  here)

So if even if none of these DIY gems enticed you into celebrating, at least try out one of these fun treats on Feb. 14th.  Yummm! (for ice-cream sandwich recipe click here)