15 years ago, when I met my wife, she was a college student and was also a kindergarten teacher assistant. We lived in the same apartment complex and although she was sweet and friendly, I could tell early on that she was a go-getter. Come to think of it, when I first saw her, I initially thought she was a teenager, she was walking to her car with a backpack and a lunch box. The second time I met my wife I knew she was grown because she approached me (although she will never admit to it). I won't go too far into detail about our “love at first sight” beginnings but let's just say we hit it off very quickly. It wasn't too long after we started dating that she started student teaching, and this was the first time I noticed her determination and dedication to her craft. Although she was only a student-teacher and was still working and taking classes she would stay after school, attend teacher meetings, and parent-teacher conferences. These things were not mandatory but she convinced herself that it was necessary.
After graduating with her bachelor's degree, she started teaching 1st grade and that is when I proposed to her. I actually proposed over the school announcement speaker. As nervous as I was, I knew she was the one and I was glad that she said yes because I would have looked like a complete fool in front of the entire school if she said no. After we got married, she continued to teach first grade for about two years, and then she decided she wanted to get a Master’s degree in special education.
My wife has an interesting way of telling me things that she really wants to do. It’s usually in the middle of the night while I am sleeping. She usually starts with a tap on the shoulder, followed by an "are you sleep", and regardless if I say yes or no she will start talking. On this night, she was lying next to me, rolled over, and said "I am going back to school", I knew that she had already made it up in her mind and planned it to a "T" so I agreed and said that’s great and we went to sleep. The next morning she asked me if I was okay with her decision and although I knew that her going back to school would mean that I would have to take on more, I never discouraged her, and instead, I supported her in the best way I knew how.
I have read all three of my wife's blogs and I think it's time to gives some tips to all the husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, partners, who are married to highly ambitious mothers. I'm going to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all and give some tips that I have learned along the way.
The Good: Let's just start with the obvious tip, don't try to stop her or even slow her down. If you try to stop her or slow her down be ready for trouble. I love my wife's ambition! I love the fact that when she sets her mind to doing something she develops a sense of tunnel vision and any negativity that comes her way only fuels her to go further. Nothing or no one distracts her from reaching whatever goal she sets for herself. I have never met anyone who could go through pregnancy, give birth, and in the same moment find the strength to study in the late hours of the night. I still don't know where she finds the strength. She is amazing. The other piece of all of this is that she shows our daughters how to be a strong woman with drive. Another tip I have for "the good" is to compliment and acknowledge her to keep her motivated because next comes "the bad".
The Bad: With starting anything new there will always be excitement, nerves, jitters, and anxiety but when it comes to completing a degree and there is a family involved it's a different level of sacrifice. During her 1st degree, it wasn't as many challenges because we were young, newlyweds, and had a lot of support with our daughters. But by the time she started her Master's degree not only did we have two daughters she was pregnant with our oldest son. This was a difficult pregnancy for my wife. She struggled with morning sickness all day and experience a lot of dizzy spells when she was at work. She was placed on bed rest for the last six weeks of her pregnancy, which gave her more time to focus on school, but it made her sad because she couldn't be with her students.
There were other challenges during this time. I began to pick up double shifts at work which meant that she not only had to focus on school and pregnancy but she also had to take care of our daughters when I was at work. I definitely learned a couple of tips during this time 1.) Schedule time for her to be alone! She needs alone time. I personally would take the kids for hours to my family house, the library, parks, or where ever, just so she could have some peace and quiet. It was worth it because when we would return she would be in a much better mood. 2.) Get a babysitter and plan a date night. Now I will admit I am not the best at date night but I definitely know what my wife’s favorite restaurants are and that’s a great start. Even if it is only for a few hours, spending quality time together is so important to keep your marriage together (We are going on 14 years). 3.) Help with cooking and cleaning: When my wife was completing the last two years of her Ph.D. I hired a housekeeper that would come twice a week to clean our home and help with the laundry. It was the best investment at the time because it took some of the responsibility off of us so that we could spend more time together.
The Ugly: All marriages have their ups and downs. Arguments usually start because someone feels unheard, neglected, or alone. When both parties are working and/or going to school as well as managing to raise children there are bound to be some major challenges. During her dissertation phase, there were many "crying" nights. There was a lot of pressure on my wife and sometimes she felt she was simply not good enough, ready to give up, and settle for less. This is when I had to step in and get my thoughts together to motivate and encourage her to push through.
One moment that stands out in my mind was when my wife was taking a course in quantitative statistics. She was really struggling. "Math is not her strength" (these are her words, not mines). One night she called me from the school parking lot. She had just left class upset after she received a low score on one of her exams. She was feeling like a failure and ready to give up and I had to do something. I called one of my friends whose wife was a professor and a statistician and asked him if his wife could tutor my wife. By the time she got home, I had already set everything up. Long story short, not only did she help my baby pass her class she even worked with her during her dissertation when she had questions about her data analysis.
That brings me to my final tips: Do whatever it takes to help her finish her dissertation. Help her find the resources she needs to push through, rub her feet, run that bubble bath, or just sit and listen to her vent about her day. I can't tell you how many times my wife just ranted off about all of her frustrations and I just sat and nodded and then I would say “you want to go get something to eat" and then she would smile and say "yep".
In the end, I would do it all over again, but I am also glad that the "schooling" chapter is done and over for my wife (unless she decides that she wants to get another degree then I will support her again). Although I never read her entire dissertation I did read her dedication page which stated "I would also have to thank my loving and supportive husband. Without your encouragement, achieving this monumental goal would not have been possible". I wasn't expecting any special note but I'm glad my hard work and dedication didn't go unnoticed.
So to all the individuals out there that are watching their wife, girlfriend, partner go through the challenges of managing life while trying to pursue any kind of degree the best thing you can do is show up with kind words, small loving gestures, and lots of encouragement. My philosophy on it all is "when one of us wins we all win in the end". Stay strong and stay the course!