When people find out that both my spouse and I are in graduate school with two small kiddos in tow they look at me like I’m crazy. Basically, I can see why having kids in general is pretty risky business. They require sustenance, supervision and no small amount of patience. Whether in graduate school or not, being a parent ushers people into a mode of life that exercises all a person’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.

But in my first two years of graduate school the perks of living with a preschooler and early elementary rascal surprisingly enough are rejuvenation, inspiration and creative spirituality. Most parents would not speak of the early years of child rearing as restful, let alone rejuvenating—loss of sleep, early morning wake-ups and chores after bedtime can drain even the most caffeinated. However, graduate school taxes other parts of a person besides obvious sleep loss. Graduate school exhausts the intellect, attention span and the stamina to immerse yourself in one topic. My kids might make me sleepy, but they also wake up my curiosity and creativity when my books weigh me down. They offer me mandatory changes of pace when we all meet up after a day at school, and that kind of change keeps you on your toes amidst the hardest of semesters. My kids offer me the freedom to look up from my studies and exercise all sorts of my personhood to keep me motivated and renewed amidst graduate school rhythms.

Another benefit of the student-parenting dynamic is the gift of inspiration my children offer me. Their very presence creates a dynamic opportunity to test out the ideas, theologies and practices of my graduate degree with the lives of those who will inherit them, our children. One creative breakthrough they afforded me my first year at Candler was an expanded understanding of Divine Parenthood. I grew up with the familiar evangelical narrative that God the Father loves us so much that He forgives our sins… as a parent who spends her days contemplating both God and kids I began to appreciate the broader experiences of Divine parental love that moves past the limits of sin and forgiveness. Love, as I’ve experienced it with my kids, is full of strife and struggle, yes, but it is also full of cuddles, adventures, questions and joyous wonder. They inspire me to see God as a parent who delights, cares for and enjoys her creation. 

In partnership with inspiration, parenting in grad school also offers me practices of spirituality without which my coursework, ministry and commitment to graduate school would suffer. My son invites me into the spiritual practice of curiosity because there is not a question he won’t ask. Most recently he wanted to know why Jesus died. In grad school you’re often told you need the answers, but kids remind you that the questions are just as important. My daughter has nurtured my own wonder at God’s creation. A bug, birdcall or falling leaves are opportunities to pay attention, wonder at and appreciate the world outside my books, Candler classrooms and even my own thoughts.   

Love and intimacy with others is both exhausting and liberating, no matter the circumstances. Parenting in graduate school offers me a rhythm of work, play, affection and thought that allows me to make these three years a bit like monastery life. We are practicing a family life that requires intense scheduling and rhythm fused with the gifts of God’s call for engaged, thoughtful and joyful life together.