Parenting Career Crossroads: Am I Wasting My Ph.D.?


I am sitting at a crossroads familiar to many parents. Do I pursue full-time work outside of the home? Do I try to strike the magical unicorn balance of working from home and being there for my children? Do I accept that there is a season for everything and spend this time in the home, believing that my career opportunities will still be there later?

The best answer is to refocus my energy and spend more time at home while keeping a toe in the professional world. I am privileged enough to have the financial options to do so and am lucky to have a spouse with insurance and benefits. I am getting a chance many parents do not.

I cannot help but feel like a traitor. Not to some golden image of “working motherhood” (we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got—and it’s not a contest to win or lose). Not to some capitalist notion of what it means to be successful. Not even to the feminist movement I hold so dear that told me I could be anything (but maybe didn’t fully prepare me for how hard it would be to be everything at once).

I don’t feel like I’m selling out the women’s movement, but I do feel like I am giving up on my former self.

Background before I tell the rest of this story- I was valedictorian of my tiny rural high school and the first in my family to go to college. I took my full-ride through undergraduate onto a Master’s and then a Ph.D., which I completed on time despite having taken a full-time job half-way through, having one baby, and being pregnant with my second at my dissertation defense. This time last year, I was in my sixth year as a full-time college professor where I had been steadily climbing the academic ranks. I was serving on curriculum design committees, presenting at conferences, had publications in academic journals, and was living the life I had thought I would live. It’s also important to know that I loved my job. It was a vocation for me, and I was proud to do it for the rest of my life.

I had planned to work in that position even when life threw curve balls. My oldest child was a toddler when I started, and she was in full-time daycare so I could meet the demands of the position. I continued serving on committees and even took on a new role as the faculty professional development coordinator as I had my second child. I found ways to make it work through breastfeeding, post-partum depression, and transitioning my daughter to homeschooling. I was as committed to my career as I was to parenthood because my career mattered to me. I knew I was making a difference in the world, and I felt I was built to do that work.

In December 2017, I found out that I would be laid off. In May 2018, I stood in front of my final class and held back tears as I said goodbye to the students I loved, the work that fulfilled me, the life that I had worked so hard to create.

I had to make a decision. In the time between getting notice of my lay off and today, I worked to build a freelance client base, creating a source of income that allows me to spend time at home. I have dreams and goals about ways to shift my expertise into other paths, but I also feel drained and more than a little trapped.

I worry about what message I am sending to my children and to myself. Is stepping back a chance to regroup and see new opportunities that I may never have seen otherwise? Perhaps. Is stepping back now taking myself out of the running for opportunities I will never get back? Likely. These are trade-offs, and trying to predict the future is exhausting.

What am I telling that past version of myself who headed off to college with her dreams held in front of her like a blazing banner of hope? What am I telling my own children about following their dreams if they see me temper my own?

Those are the questions that won’t stop echoing, the ones I cannot answer.


  1. I’m working through something very similar–I will be finishing my PhD in the spring and had two children along the way. My husband has a ministry job he loves and we do not want to leave it for now, but it does require I provide some income as well. I am preparing to build a freelance income stream beginning in January. I hope to be able to use my writing, research, and editing skills in some way and I know I also love to teach. Maybe we could meet sometime–do you have a blog, website, or email I could contact you at? Wishing you well!

    • Hi Katie! I hope you find the freelance world as interesting and engaging as I have. It’s a bit of a learning curve in figuring out which projects are worthwhile and which ones are not, but I am really enjoying both the financial freedom and the variety of projects.

      As for ways to connect, my big dream is a curriculum design project, and I blog about it over at

  2. I am the mom who got her PhD in chemistry and then decided to be a stay at home mom eventually to 4 kids over 11 yrs. My littlest is heading to K in the fall.

    What I have to say is that the paths to academic career paths are not all straight. I have currently been tutoring online (brushing cobwebs off) what has now become 20 hrs a week. Anyone can see how many hours of tutoring I have this last year alone and all the student satisfaction ratings. I have all my class materials now in order and ready to start up again. I may even begin online classrooms too. Either I will join up with a community college to start to reintro myself to people in the know here til I get contacts to transition or I will find another way. We all know it is a mix between who you know and the money you bring the university. You just have to find it again. We said I can’t find a fresh post doc as a state school for that matter?

    …and…having been a mother for 10 years has improved me. It was so much harder than getting my PhD (which was hard at the time). I will be entering the workforce as a better person too. I know that my 40 yo self is a better hire than my 26 yo self.

  3. (And PS. My kids (4-11) seem completely thrilled and proud of everything I have done this year. I almost imagine to them…if I can pull off a teaching position… it will be way cooler because it isn’t something I’ve done their whole lives. They will see the work I put in themselves.)

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