This handbook (hereafter referred to as Handbook) contains a series of suggestions (hereafter referred to as Rules) for the successful completion of one’s doctoral dissertation while simultaneously employed as the Mommy of Small Children. Although we have not empirically verified that the Mommy of Small Children can, in fact, complete a dissertation, we do have anecdotal evidence to suggest that, under a discretionary set of circumstances, a Mommy may obtain her terminal degree before her Small Children do (see Livingston, 2011).

Rule #1:

Do not under any circumstances (even drippy diaper crises) leave your open laptop with your open dissertation document alone on the couch. If you break rule number 1, read your dissertation over carefully before you save it. Otherwise your committee may encounter a phrase such as: “the discursive situation of English as a dominant global language has also stimulated processes of globalization and resulted in the diversification of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ PHHHHH DOOOOOOOP for both students and instructors (Chowdhury & Phan Le Ha, 2014).


Rule #2:

Remain consciously vigilant of all potential contingencies. Never work on your dissertation in circumstances under which you might be forced to choose between the safety of your laptop and the safety of your Small Children. For example, do not work on your dissertation while sitting on the balcony while your toddler plays with a pail of water. Your child may get both her feet stuck in the pail and begin flailing and hopping like a wet duck, and you, jumping up to rescue her, may eject your laptop from your lap, which may slide across the wet balcony, slip below the rails, and crash into the driveway below.


If you break Rule #2 make an instant, comprehensive, and accurate assessment of the risk to your child and the risk to your dissertation. Always choose the safety of your child, no matter how tempted you may be to choose in favor of your research.


If you break the addendum to Rule #2 and act to protect your laptop rather than your child (for example, by lunging across the wet balcony and catching your laptop by the cord while your child falls over and lands in a potted plant) don’t tell anybody.


Rule # 3

Maintain a large physical distance between your collection of pens and highlighters and your stack of hard-copy literature for reference and review. Be diligent in guarding the perimeter around your secondary research. In fact, keep your research and your writing utensils in separate rooms, and, if possible, keep security cameras and laser beams in place to ensure that no one, especially not your Small Children, can migrate a pen or highlighter into close proximity to your collection of work. If circumstances related to your research (including, but not limited to the desire to underline something) require you to access both simultaneously, do so secretly, in a third location (such as the bathroom).


If you break Rule # 3, invest in a large quantity of White Out, and do not be surprised if you find your carefully screened and selected articles highlighted and annotated in manner that is impossible to decode and that makes no sense whatsoever.


Rule #4

Now and then you will resolve to get up early (at about 3am) so you can spend an hour or two in quiet concentration before your Small Children awake and run screaming through the house in their soggy diapers. On these occasions, your Small Children will either spend the night wailing asynchronously in their cribs, or spontaneously awaken at 2:55 specifically so that they can chase each other across your ankles while you work. When this happens, consciously remind yourself that it is unlikely that your Small Children actually colluded to prevent you from composing even three meaningful sentences in sequence. Do not throw a pity party.


If you break Rule #4, be sure to invite your husband, other mommy friends, other graduate student friends, and several grannies from church to the party, so that there will be someone there to hold your Small Children. Bring donuts. Do not invite your dissertation committee. Bring Kleenex. Do not invite anyone who managed to complete her dissertation in less than 36 months. Bring coffee.


When you have whined and complained and felt sufficiently sorry for yourself, sip your coffee and consider the following:


  • About 750 million of your neighbors do not have access to safe water, let alone a clean cup of coffee.
  • Less than 3 % of the world’s population earns a bachelors’ degree.
  • Only 4 or 5 % of people in the world own their own computer.
  • Approximately 79% of people in the developing world have no electricity in their homes.
  • About twenty-two thousand children die each day because of poverty-related problems.
  • If neither you nor your husband nor any of your Small Children have a debilitating illness or chronic health condition, you represent less than 35 % of the US population.
  • If you know Jesus personally, you have access to resources that defy measure.


Then gather your Small Children in your arms and whisper “there are millions of people all over the world who would give everything that they have to live one day of the life that you live everyday, even with its challenges.”


And try again.


Rule #5

Never drink coffee, iced tea, sports drinks, concentrated caffeine drinks, soda, water, or any other liquid, while working on your dissertation. Never leave open or closed containers of liquid near your laptop for any length of time (as the ad council frequently reminds us, 2 seconds is too long). If you must consume liquid while working on your dissertation, try chewing on plastic ice cubes that cannot melt between the keys of your laptop computer.


Rule #6

Make back up files. Make them religiously. Make them in multiple modes and keep them in multiple locations well out of reach of your Small Children, especially Small Children who are capable of climbing or of skillfully knocking things down with the broom. Make them with bizarre frequency and make them of everything.


Rule #7

Never bring your Small Children along to meetings with members of your dissertation committee. If you break rule number 7, be sure to sedate your children with antihistamines before the meeting or else bring along a variety of engaging and very quiet activities to distract your Small Children and cause them to appear well-behaved. Never under any circumstances allow them to wrench your laptop computer from you during the meeting, toddle off with it, and use it as a surfboard. If you break the addendum to rule number 7, look for your critically important dissertation documents under new and previously nonexistent file paths, and with names such as AQ!GGGGGQQQQMM.docx and j1w2egm.jpg. Rename all such documents before submitting them to your committee.


Rule #8

Never give up. Remember the old Afghani proverb: Drop by drop, a river is formed. Drop by drop you will finish.