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Challenges Facing Mothers in Academia


Doctoral Mom studying with her children
Doctoral Mom studying with her children

Think about the ordinary challenges facing people in academia. For students, it includes hours of studying, sleepless nights, lectures, seminars, deadlines, essays, exams, and dissertations. On top of that, students may be dealing with imposter syndrome, mental health issues, part-time jobs, student loans, and the cost-of-living crisis. For teachers, academia involves long hours, preparing modules, coursework, supervising dissertation students, teaching, grading, and dealing with student queries. It may also involve doing research and writing papers/books on the side, unpaid labor, and being underpaid. Now imagine doing this while also having a child, or several children.


While being a parent in academia will always come with challenges, mothers and fathers do not always have the same experience, due to the mother often being responsible for childcare. This could be explicit, if the mother has been “assigned” to being a “traditional” mother for cultural reasons, but it could also be implicit. Even in “equal” societies, mothers are expected to take the main role in caring for their children, which is why working and/or studying mothers are often shamed, especially if they chose not to take any maternity leave.


Doctoral Mom with Daughters
Doctoral Mom with Daughters

Even without the additional challenges that are faced by single mothers, mothers with disabilities, and mothers who were working from home during the pandemic, being an academic mother is hard enough. A study conducted at the University of Cape Coast Distance Education in Ghana found that student mothers struggled to attend their lectures, had a hard time preparing for their exams, and were “unable to perform their childcare functions adequately” (Dankyi, Dankyi and Minadzi, 2019, p.2493). Another study conducted in Canada found that academic mothers with children felt vulnerable, isolated, inadequate, stressed, pressured, and not acknowledged or supported (Hirakata and Daniluk, 2009, pp.286-289).


It is therefore vital to take the perspectives of academic mothers into consideration, as mothers have a right to have a career, the same way that men do, and they need to be provided with the necessary support. The best way to do this is to listen to mothers, who are less interested in even more studies confirming the already known fact that mothers in academia face challenges, and more interested in providing solutions (Mcalpine, 2021). Because currently, we are “perpetuating the elitist myth that one must sacrifice having a family as a way to guarantee academic success” (White, 2016).


References


Dankyi, J., Dankyi, L. and Minadzi, V. (2019) ‘Struggles and Coping Strategies of Student Mothers at the University of Cape Coast Distance Education, Ghana’, Creative Education, 10, pp. 2484-2494. doi: 10.4236/ce.2019.1011176.


Hirakata, P.E. and Daniluk, J.C. (2009) ‘Swimming Upstream: The Experience of Academic Mothers of Young Children’, Canadian Journal of Counselling, 43 (4), pp. 283-294.


Mcalpine, K.J. (2021) “Let Us Be the Architects of a New World”: Moms in Academia Speak Out to Address Workplace Inequalities. Available at:


White, M. (2016) Academia and motherhood: We can have both. Available at:



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