When I discussed my blog with the editor of this website, I promised that I would always be honest in describing what I was going through, all struggles and trials I might encounter as a postgraduate student, who is foreign, a mum and mature. “There is no point hiding anything if I am going to write about a topic like this; if I end up crying in my bed, I will tell you all about it,” I added something along these lines. It was, of course, an exaggeration, a hyperbolic statement.
Little did I know that it would not take more than a week to go through an emotional upheaval that would cause me to spend two days in tears, unable to write, read, do any course work or do anything much. And here is why:
When it became known that I travel twice a week to attend seminars and lectures at the university, one person whom I am not going to identify in any way other than to say that they are also a woman, started telling everyone who cared to listen that I am a selfish, unsupportive wife and a negligent mother. Can’t I do an online course instead if I must? She also stopped short of calling our younger son a village idiot, which is obviously a result of my selfish, uncaring actions, such as improving my education and with it, hopefully, the prospects of the whole family.
At first, I was shocked because this attack came from nowhere. I simply did not see it coming. I spent two days thinking about how I am going to move the whole family and sell the house preferably before Christmas. Then the upset turned to anger. How dare anyone make comments about our marriage and children just because they obviously have some personal issues with me! Ultimately, it is not anyone’s business if I study or not. Moreover, in 2017 suggesting that a wife is not supportive of her husband if she expects seven hours of childcare a week from him after she has done the same non-stop for five years, every day, beggars all belief.
Do I really have to justify myself, explain that I supported my husband through unemployment, teacher training, that I held the fort all that time for many years? Do I have to spell out that in order to attend those lectures, I have to cook extra meals, prepare clean PJs on the bed so it is really easy to go through an evening routine? That I use every free minute for studying or writing so it does not affect the workings of the family? No, I should not have to. Yet, it rattled me to the core. For a split second I even contemplated giving up. With a safe distance of a few days to calm my emotions down, I can see that the attack was incredibly calculated, thought through; the person who did it exploited all my insecurities, one of them so familiar to other parents when you constantly ask yourself:
“Am I doing the right thing by our children?”
Our older son is autistic, with delayed speech development and social challenges. Neither side of the family have accepted the diagnosis although various professionals took a long time to assess him correctly. Even with all the publicly available information, I have been subjected to regular comments such as “there is nothing wrong with the children, they are not just well-cared for.” Try to suggest that a mother is not doing a good job because her legless son cannot chase a football. Yet, parents of autistic children still get this kind of abuse. The only time that we felt vindicated was when a specialist paediatrician, who was obviously happy with the progress our son had made, told us that we as parents are obviously doing a great job with our children. It is a little consolation when you get undermined all the time. I only wish people left us alone if they can’t be helpful.
Now I am back on track, I have to catch up with work after those two lost days last week but I am determined not to let anyone get to me like this again. Through this, I have become aware of my own fragility; luckily universities have good and available mental health services. It is just one click away on the website. The telephone number is written down and kept safe in my purse: I feel I may need it in the future. I can see it is going to be tough but in a different way than I foresaw. I never thought I would ever say this in all seriousness: it is clear to me that writing essays will be the easy part of my course.
Natalie is originally from Prague, Czech Republic. However, she has lived in the UK for a while with her British husband and two young sons. In her native country, she is a published author under the pen-name Natalie Nera. She starts a part-time Master's degree in Creative Writing this autumn at the University of Newcastle. You can find more information on Natalie, here.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.