So you’ve decided it’s time to go back to school. Maybe you want to earn the MBA you left on the back burner. Perhaps it’s time to change careers with a completely different degree. Either way, there’s just one thing that’s holding you back: Your kids. How can you raise a family and study for endless exams, put together time-consuming presentations and complete lengthy research papers?
As Nelson Mandela once put it, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Here are five secrets to balancing parenthood all while earning your degree.
1. Take Steps, Not Leaps
It’s not going to be a hop, skip and a jump to pursue your degree while being mom or dad. It’s going to be stressful. At times, you’ll question your decision. But keep your goals in mind and know that it’s not a race. There’s no need to complete your degree in a year. Spread out those credits throughout the next two, three or even four years. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach and put too much on your plate, especially if you’re also working full time. You’d be surprised at how flexible degree programs can be. There are online classes, evening and weekend courses to accommodate you on your new journey. If you’re an adult learner, look for degree programs that help you pursue your education while balancing life’s other demands. They exist.
2. Talk to Your Instructors
Your instructors are real people with families too. Don’t be nervous about discussing your career goals with them. Make sure you let your professors know you are a parent. You have the obligations of raising a child and sometimes a sick child will need mom or dad during class. Your instructors want you to succeed and graduate. They may have a contingency plan for you and other parents who are taking their course. Just make sure to give your instructor a heads up and typically, they will deal with circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Some colleges even provide resources for housing, transportation or child care.
3. Strong Support System
Your support system is made up of your family and friends. They’re the ones who will support you through thick and thin. Turn to them during this time of transition as you add “student” to your list of duties. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to errands and your children. The most obvious supporter is your spouse. Have a discussion as a family about how you’re going to tackle college and come up with a plan. Take turns picking up the children from daycare, cooking, taking out the garbage, etc. Let’s not forget about mental support too. Surround yourself with people who care about you and will ask “how are you?” over a coffee break or on the phone. Your kids can also be a support system. Teach them how to be helpful with housework and chores while mom or dad adds more responsibilities to their lives.
4. Family Study Sessions
If your kids are school-age, they’ll likely have homework. So why not have family homework sessions together? It’s one more way to spend time with your kids while pursuing your degree. If they’re too young for homework, teach them what “homework time” is all about. Give them coloring books or an art project that they can work on alongside you. See it as an opportunity to let your children witness you pursuing your goals and dreams. Lead by example.
5. Keep Up with Yourself and the Family
From time to time, you’ll feel the mommy- or daddy-guilt. Am I not spending enough time
with my children? Am I putting myself ahead of my children’s needs? Get over that guilt. Remember that you’re going back to school to not only get the career you want, but also to make a better life for your children. You’re also setting an example by proving higher education is an important part of getting where you want in life. That being said, don’t let “homework time” be the only time you spend with your children. Take a few hours during the weekend to take them to a local play or the movies. Have a spa day with your daughters — it’s a win-win for both you and your kids. Don’t forget about your spouse. Have a date night every week or every other week. It’s valuable time that’s reserved for just you and your significant other and a chance to talk about how you’re both doing during this time of transition.
It’s not going to be easy. You will have to make some sacrifices to your lifestyle, finances and routine. But know that it’s only temporary, and it’ll all be worth it in the end. All it takes is willpower, a network of supporters and some good planning. You’ll find the balance between parenthood and earning a degree, just as other parents have before you. You’ve got this.
Stories of Parents Who Went Back to College: