I had no children while in grad school, and couldn't figure how the ones who did pulled it off. It would have been an entirely different experience. Of course, everything is an entirely different experience once you have kids!
Some of the ones who've been there share insights and experiences in a new anthology on the parenting academics topic called Mama PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and the Academic Life that might just be worth a glance if you're considering a life in academia, or if you're already there and wondering how to make it all work (or at least commiserate a little). Here's a casual and very positive review by Bob Drago of Take Care Net (an academic himself):
This is easily the most important piece of work to date on academics and family issues, full-stop, because the editors draw out from the authors all of the messiness, the highs and lows, the fears and hopes, the pride, guilt, anger, love and sense of failure and accomplishment and mainly great stories that comprise life for so many moms who try to make it as academics. The panopoly of supportive or unkind department chairs and colleagues, high and low status schools, childcare arrangements that work or don't work, supportive or non-existent partners, and perfect and not-so-perfect children is all here.
If you know a young woman or man contemplating kids and an academic careers, please get this book into their hands; it doesn't preach, but it will give them a good sense of their potential futures and how they might better shape those paths. There are a few common threads (but not many, and they are not the major point of the work, IMHO). The internal and external pressures of both the ideal worker and motherhood norms in modern-day, middle class America, that many of us study, are here writ large, with more than one author complaining of guilt over family when at work and guilt over work when with family.
Relatedly, the daunting and demanding workload facing academics is almost ever-present except for those who escape the pressure cooker either with a non-tenure-track career or a humane institution. And the relatively private choices and intimacy of family life often lie in stark contrast to the conclusion of many of the authors that we desparately need to make these issues public inside and outside of our institutions in order to humanize the academy. I'll admit that I'm really close to the material, having worked in the arena for almost a decade, but I've never seen such a grand picture of the scene. A great piece of work, and I hope it is widely read.
But on the off chance that you don't have the time (!!) to read this, there's a companion blog (natch!) where you can read an excerpt, among other things. Have you read it? Would you recommend it? How do you combine parenting and academia?