Husband & Wife Articles


 

Grad School Dad

Marriage and fatherhood have blessed my studies

By Chris Mooney

As a student in Yale Divinity School, I am often asked how I can juggle the duties of a husband and a father while working toward a graduate degree. While higher education is not always a family friendly atmosphere, I find that there are some unique advantages to being a married student.

When Julia and I got engaged, we knew that I was planning to pursue an academic path: a master’s degree, then a Ph.D. and, Lord willing, teaching theology at the university level. So we were prepared for some level of simplicity and sacrifice. While we had not planned to have a child this early, we were certainly open to new life when the Lord blessed us with our son.

Here are three other great blessings from marriage that I have experienced as a graduate student:

Sanctification of marriage. Graduate school comes with enormous pressure to lead an obsessive lifestyle: studying all hours of the week, a chaotic schedule, single-minded devotion to your field, and continuous attention to your reputation. With no set boundaries, graduate students always feel the pressure to be constantly working.

In an environment like this, my wife and son help to center my life around love instead of the anxieties, pride, and even idolatry that can come in graduate school. What helps me most is that my family gives me an entirely different set of values. Julia and Christopher don’t care whether I made the wittiest comment in class, received glowing praise on my last paper, or read an extra article to impress the professor. And if I should ever teach, they won’t know or care about student evaluations or how much networking I accomplished at the last academic conference.

My wife certainly cares about whether I can provide for our family, but my fears and pride so often go beyond that simple goal. She cares that I’m a good husband who joyfully loves her and our son, that I love the Lord with my whole heart, that I have the discipline to work hard during the day and save time for the evening, and that I pursue the fruits of the Spirit. Just by being there, and living in my heart, my family provides ceaseless encouragement to choose what matters most in life.

Encouragement at work. Graduate students regularly struggle with loneliness and uncertainty about what they are doing. It’s very easy to think other students know much more than you do or that you aren’t cut out for the academic world. But when such troubles arise, my wife is a great advocate for me. When I express doubts about whether I should be a scholar, she says how much potential she sees in me. My fears at times get the best of me, but rarely do they overtake my wife! She has kept me from despair many times.

Balancing the cost. A full scholarship was an absolute condition for me to attend graduate school, and I will only pursue Ph.D. programs that provide stipends to cover our living expenses. Nonetheless, Julia’s job helped tremendously to provide savings and living expenses during our first year. Even while caring for our son, she still works part-time. Having a spouse who wants to support you and who loves what you do can make the difference in affording graduate school.

While the cost of graduate school can weigh heavily on a couple, especially with children, in many ways this has been a means by which we’ve been blessed. We’ve grown much closer to our families and friends, who have generously helped us, and our part-time teaching jobs have been richly rewarding, personally and professionally.

We can get by on meager incomes with frugality and an appreciation for a simpler life. A wise older couple once counseled us that family life is expensive only if you want it to be. We maximize dates at home, love to cook, buy used clothes, use the library, walk, bike or take the bus, and get help when we need it. We’re rather poor, but we were going to be poor in our 20s anyway, so why not be poor together? It’s a fantastic life and we never feel like our house is devoid of joy. We’ve come to love the things that we get to do and the people we get to spend time with rather than wishing for a different life. Despite the difficulties, or because of them, I have become a much more disciplined, careful, mature, and loving man these past two years than I would have been as an unmarried student.

Chris Mooney received a Classics degree from Georgetown in 2013 and is currently a student at Yale Divinity School, studying Patristic and Medieval theology. He lives in New Haven with his wife, Julia, and their son, Christopher.