How to Thrive When Your Co-Parent Is in Grad School


Admittedly, it’s been a few years, but back when I was in grad school, my responsibilities went as far as keeping my apartment clean enough so as to not annoy my awesome roommates and deciding where my fiancé (now husband) and I wanted to go out to eat.  Like… for a long, uninterrupted meal that didn’t involve choosing between chicken nuggets or grilled cheese.

Life looks a lot different now.

Almost nine years of marriage.

At least as many moves.

Lots of different jobs.

Three cats.

And oh—two beautiful, amazing little boys.

My husband had been going to graduate school part-time for a few semesters and working full-time when an unexpected job loss rocked our world. After a couple months, all the doors opened for him to attend graduate school full-time. We were excited and ready to face the challenges of making it happen (him being gone to military training up until classes started, me moving by myself while he was gone).

Now a semester in to this full-time gig, I’ve had a little bit of time to reflect on this journey. Although every experience will be different, here are a few of my do’s and don’ts to surviving thriving when your co-parent is in graduate school.

How to Thrive When Your Co-Parent Is in Grad School

Do communicate your needs while being mindful of school demands.

Would you really still like to make it to the gym regularly? Is a messy house going to bother either of you? Do you really need back-up for a certain activity with the kids?

For me, relationships are always paramount. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of individual moments for time with girlfriends, but I was able to schedule a cousins weekend around big projects for him, and it was a huge need-met for me. This semester, I hope to be more proactive in seeing who is free to come over after bedtime for HGTV and a glass of wine.

Don’t wait until you’re about to go under to ask for help.

In addition to communicating your needs to your co-parent, I highly advise letting close friends and family know where you really need help. I know—they might not fully “get it” if they haven’t been through this particular journey, but they love you and want to assist. Yeah yeah, you prefer to be the helper rather than the helped. Let that go. Can someone come over and keep you company while you fold those mounds of laundry? Do you need accountability for self-care?

I’d say I probably failed more than won in this area during the semester, but one good thing was getting together (usually at one person’s house) one evening a week with a friend whose husband works out of town (so she was solo a lot, too).

Do determine parenting tasks are a priority for both parents to be involved.

If you had to pick between having your co-parent available for transition home from daycare/school, during dinner, or at bedtime, which would you want? Does your co-parent have a more flexible schedule that allows for pick-up or drop-off? Is it easier for them to take kiddos to doctor’s appointments or create a craft for a school party?

For us, it’s helpful if my husband can be around during dinner prep. It’s less stressful for me, it’s good for him to eat before hitting the books again, and I want to model family dinner for our kids. His schedule does work for school/daycare drop-off, and I am still in charge of crafts. 🙂

Don’t give up date nights.

Grad school has been a huge financial commitment (along with the loss of an income), but this is totally worth prioritizing. If you can look forward in the syllabi, know when big projects are coming, and plan accordingly, fit in some kid-free time. Once, we just went to the library and individually read (don’t judge—we both just needed a complete break). Another time, we split a cookie at Panera and played card games. Whatever floats your boat and is restorative to your relationship, try to make it happen.

Do be a champion, encourager, and helper.

In my own memory grad school was hard, my insecurities were always in the forefront of my mind, and uncertainties abounded. Most likely, your co-parent is going through all of that, too — with the additional fears that they are messing up family life, straining their marriage, and that there will be more unknowns come graduation. Find ways to get encouragement yourself so that you can pass it along.

If you’ve been on this journey, what helped you survive having a co-parent in graduate school?


  1. I’m in grad school and also a stay-at-home mom. I don’t think I fully appreciated the time commitment I was making when I chose to go back to school! I thought I’d take it slowly and stretch the program out 4 years. It takes a lot of time & energy still, so when my reading & classwork are completed, I just feel like taking a big break and not doing much of anything else. I can feel a huge difference in my energy levels when I’m on break from school. After taking classes last summer, I’ve decided to now keep my summers free so I can enjoy them with my kids and get them out doing fun things.

    • Way to go, mama! It’s a LOT of work but I hope you feel like it will be worth the sacrifices! I’m sure your kiddos will enjoy that extra summer time 🙂


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