Fridays from the Frontline: MBA & Motherhood? Yes, You Can
By Osemhen Okenyi, Oxford MBA 2020-21
When I started thinking about doing an MBA, I spent hours googling “MBA and motherhood.” What would a day in my life look like? Would I be able to keep up with the frantic pace of business school, and balance the pressure with the demands of mothering? Would my children recognize the inconveniences as part of a big adventure or resent the disruption and my reduced availability?
The first MBA mom I spoke with went to another (very popular) business school in Europe. Her words? “Forget it. I had my son with me and hired a nanny. Eventually, I had to send them both back home because I hardly ever saw him. He was miserable, I felt so guilty. It wasn’t worth it.”
Not the most encouraging advice, but I was determined to make it work. When I interviewed for Oxford, my interviewer was also a mom. When she asked if I had questions, I immediately asked, “What would it be like to be a mother on the MBA?”
She gave me practical advice. “Oxford is great for families, your children will love it. You can manage, but it will require discipline and planning. Get a map, locate the business school and identify ideal locations of your accommodation and schools/nurseries for your children. Apply early for these things so you get your first choices. Ensure your children’s schools are on the same route from your house to the business school.”
I also spoke to some parents from the previous cohorts. Many chose to leave their families and come to Oxford alone for a variety of reasons. I knew I’d be distracted with worry if I did the same, considering how young my children are (5 and 3). I followed my interviewer’s advice and tried to make the best possible plans.
The first thing I did was generate a spreadsheet with data of the various colleges, their accommodation options, nurseries, schools and the distances between each location and the business school. I assigned everything weighting factors (so MBA!) and then ranked my options. Luckily, I was offered almost all my first choices of houses and schools.
And then COVID-19 hit, upending all the assumptions I’d made. Ultimately, it made things easier. I know it’s controversial, but I’m personally relieved that the pandemic eliminates the pressure of having to be at the business school from 9am to 5pm, every day of the week. The programme now incorporates asynchronous pre-work material (readings and videos) that we go through at our own pace. About half of our classes so far have been online. Even the face-to-face classes have the Zoom option to join. I’ve managed to sign up for quite a number of co-curricular activities (Impact Lab, Asset Management Masterclass, Creative Destruction Lab and Impact Finance Lab) because everything is online and you don’t have to worry about shuttling from location to location. You can just dial in on Zoom and try to avoid being double/triple booked. (You can always catch up on the recordings too!)
What does my typical day look like?
My sons wake up at 7 and we spend 90 minutes getting ready for school and eating breakfast. At 8:30, we leave home for a short walk to my older son’s school and a short bike ride to my younger son’s nursery. I’m usually back home by 9am and basically have up till 3pm when they close from school to do whatever I want. I’ll do some studying at home, or at a nearby library or study space e.g. the Radcliff Observatory or Walton Library. I also attend online classes, or any of the extra-curricular activities I’ve signed up for.
Sometimes, I have face-to-face classes or coffee chats in the morning, so I’ll cycle to the school for those. If I have face-to-face classes after 3pm, I typically go to the business school while my boys are babysat by their grandma.
I’m usually home by 6:30pm so I can catch up with the boys before they go to bed at 8pm. I’ll do a bit more studying if I can, and prep for the next day. I usually reserve my weekends for exploring local attractions (museums, playgrounds, parks etc.) with the boys. It’s not your typical metric of success for MBA students but I would consider it a good year if my kids remember Oxford and the friends they make fondly when we leave.
It’s not a perfect work-life balance but it’s certainly easier than I imagined it would be. The constraints force me to be quite disciplined with my free time, when I have it. For instance, I know I have to complete my intensive studying between 9am and 3pm. I suspect my social life is not as vibrant as it could be (I can’t go out for most drinks/dinners), but I think the friends I’ve made so far understand and forgive me. 😀 #QualityoverQuantity
There are quite a number of moms on the programme who brought their kids ranging in age from 11 years old to 9 months old! If you’re a mom thinking about doing a full-time MBA, do reach out.