Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

A Moment in the Life of a Single Mom Graduate Student

Guest columnist: Teresa Hulsey, B.A., University of North Texas

I look at the clock. It is 2:00 in the morning and I can finally sleep after finishing my report. Suddenly, I wake to the sounds of my three-year-old daughter crying. I look at the clock again; it is 3:00 in the morning. I rush to her bedroom and recognize the telltale signs of a stomach virus. As I gather a change of clothes and carry her to the bathroom my mind begins to rush through all of the work that will have to wait, and all of the people I now need to reschedule with or notify that I will not be attending school. Despite knowing the understanding nature of both faculty and students, I am still frustrated that I cannot be two people at once: the single mom who takes care of her daughter and the graduate student who gets all of her work done on time.

Later, after contacting necessary people, no one implied that I am irresponsible or using my daughter as an excuse. Actually, everyone expressed concern, sent well wishes to my daughter, and relayed desires for me to get back to them later. Times like these contributed to me allowing myself the space to discover what life looks like for me as a mother and a graduate student. The best student I can be looks differently now that I have my daughter, and the best mom I can be has changed now that I am a student. I have spent this first year of graduate school learning and redefining what being the best me in these important life roles means.

Ultimately, my daughter reminds me that graduate school is not my life. I also discovered that the world will not end if I cannot attend school, am late to a meeting, or turn in late work. I have been able to witness how resilient my daughter is and that the quality of our time together can be more meaningful than the quantity. I have experienced the outpouring of love and support from close family and friends who contribute to my daughter’s development.

Advice from my mentor and program director significantly helped me this past year. These pieces of advice were to first, accept help and second, when completing work think “done, not perfect.” I still struggle with both of these, but am willing to appreciate that I am human. If I could go back,  I would tell myself to appreciate the struggles. The struggle represents being blessed to be a mother while able to pursue my passions. So, in that moment while my thoughts rushed about school as I carried my daughter to the bathroom, I then became aware of whom I was carrying. I realized that my daughter needed me in this moment, and all else could wait. The best me, even with the demands of school, refocused on her. This 3:00 AM moment filled with an assortment of stomach virus symptoms warranted appreciation. This was a moment I could never get back.

This column is part of a series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, or CARED (James Garcia,