Today I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, who was in my entering cohort. She seemed eager for me to move out of my grandma’s house when I explained the situation. While I do agree with her, she seemed a little confused as to why I was moving. It’s not that Beorn and I can’t help out with my grandmother, it’s just that my uncle threatening physical violence makes the situation intolerable. I started to wonder though, is having a caring relationship with an extended family impossible during graduate school?

If my family wasn’t so crazy I think living with my grandmother would be just fine. I don’t mind watching out for her, even if it’s sometimes unpleasant or frustrating. I strongly believe that an extended family situation is preferable to a “nuclear” family. Yet it seems to be difficult to work out in our individualistic, self centered culture.

Long ago, as an undergrad I had to read a book called “Learning from the Ladakh.” I strongly suspect the author, is presenting a romantized view of traditional culture in Ladakh, sometimes called “Little Tibet” yet there is something amazing about the stories she tells. She speaks about the people of Ladakh as being profoundly happy and satisfied with their lives, even though they live in one of the harshest environments in the world. Traditionally people in Ladakh have practiced polyandry, because it took the work of several men to successfully raise one woman’s children in such a harsh environment. Can you imagine a man and his brother marrying the same woman and learning to get along together? It sounds crazy, yet somehow this is what they did for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They also ate a ton of yak milk and liked it. It’s amazing what you can get used to.

I have other friends who care for their children or their parents during graduate school (although I have yet to meet someone who has tried to do both.) It’s clear that engaging in this type of caring is detrimental to an academic career, but I’m not sure it’s completely incompatible. What do you think? Can you care for your family and be a grad student?

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