Regardless of whether graduate school or children became part of your life first, the task of managing them all will reflect upon both how you experienced and successfully completed your program as well as how your children and family experienced it with you.
While you have already thought about your future and the future of your family by committing to completing graduate school while raising children, it is always the right time to be mindful and be connected with the “here and now” – or at least on the immediate task at hand: writing a paper, completing the semester, etc.
The experience of being on task, managing family, and successfully completing the program can be better achieved by following five basic principles:
1. Organize Your Life
Graduate school redefines “busy.” Being both a graduate student and a parent redefines “super-busy.” Therefore, it is essential to be organized, both in your academic and family life.
Academic Life Organization
- It is essential to pencil in all academically important dates in your academic agenda, such as tests, exams, projects and papers due.
- Remember to schedule times to study and times to work on projects and papers.
- Assign a color for each subject you are taking and try to color code each task to that subject. It will be easier for you to reconcile tasks with subjects while uploading dates from each syllabus.
Family Life Organization
- In your personal life, make sure you have a family calendar hung in a strategic place that the whole family can access. Choose a calendar with a large writing field, if possible.
- You can also assign a color for each family member and add their appointments on the calendar. It is very important that the whole family learn how to pencil in their appointments with their assigned color.
- Each appointment entry on the calendar should be brief, with the important information: Time, person’s name/initial, and what (ie. 3 – “M” – Dentist) – Additional information for the appointment can be attached to the calendar or kept in a “referential point,” such as a box next to the calendar, or attached to the refrigerator. Doing so will allow your family to know where you will be at all times, and everyone can take responsibility to inform the family of their appointments.
- Don’t forget to have a list of phone numbers accessible to each family member, with important numbers, such as your cell or work number, spouse’s cell/work number, other relative or friend that can help in case of emergency, and any number that might be important to your family, such as a babysitter or a doctor.
2. Delegate Your Tasks
Oh, how good it would be to delegate the academic tasks! But that is not possible.
Therefore, we can only delegate tasks in our private lives. Graduate students who are parents do not have the luxury of “going off the grid” and just concentrating on studying. There are lots of chores that still need to be done, regardless of whether you have time for them or not.
Delegating activities is a great way to get everyone involved, teach living skills, and get things done.
Delegating to Your Children
Unfortunately, children younger than toddlers will not be able to pitch in as much. Any older child can help as follows:
- Toddlers: can help collect toys, fold underwear/socks, etc.
- School Age: can organize their room, dust, help with laundry, dishes, etc.
- Teens: should be able to do any chore, and know how to cook simple dishes.
Delegating to Your Spouse
Your spouse should be empowered to do all tasks, if needed, and take over some tasks to take the stress and pressure from the academic spouse, such as taking care of the bills, shopping, cooking, chauffeuring, etc.
Delegating to Other Family Members, Neighbors, or Friends
Try to connect with people who can help you with some tasks. Two examples would be taking turns driving children around to and from activities, or having “sleep overs” or longer play dates to allow more time for quiet studying, especially around exams and big project due dates.
Be mindful that delegated tasks may seldom be performed to your own personal level of satisfaction. Children will do tasks at their own developmental level. Encourage them in doing it and celebrate with them when the task is done, although it may not be done perfectly.
Remember positive reinforcement. Always do something good – giving praise, extra playtime, or a promise of a home-cooked meal can go a long way to motivate.
At times, parents can feel guilty for feeling that they are not giving 100% to their families since graduate school requires so much of them. Just remember your bigger goal – to graduate and better yourself for the good of the family.
3. Practice Self-Care
Life gets so busy in graduate school that time for self-care is rare; unless you make it a priority for the family’s sake.
Here are some tips on how to practice better self-care:
Connect with Friends or Your Cohort
It is important to find a friend or group of friends or be an active member of your cohort so that you can connect with others every once-in-a-while to talk about the program, family, future plans, etc.
Find Time to Relax
Have a massage, get your nails done, go for a walk, or meditate as a self-reward after completing an important task (an exam, for example). You may also remind family and friends that the best gifts they can give at this time are gift cards for personal services (like massages or mani/pedis).
Move Your Body
With so many hours you have to spend writing and studying, your body will become used to staying still. It is important to practice a sport, or just go for a walk from time to time. Remember that you can multi-task. Record some important points you need to memorize for an exam on your phone, and listen to it while exercising.
Pay Attention to Food
It is easy to fall into a habit of ordering in, stopping by the fast food restaurant for carryout, or just cooking noodles to save time. Remember that a nutritious (and delicious) meal can help the body and mind – and will help to connect the family. Plan a couple of cooked meals per week, when all family household members can sit together, talk and eat.
Graduate school is a stressful time. One can often forget how stress affects the whole family. Here are some tips about communicating with your family:
- Be open with your spouse and talk about struggles you are having, whether these struggles may be with understanding material, writing papers, studying for a test, etc.
- Often, when you are trying to study and concentrate, you may notice that there is no quietness in your home environment. You might need to tell the family you are retreating to your room for one or two hours, or until the project is completed, and you are not to be interrupted.
- Tell your family where you are in the semester, and communicate how you are achieving the small goals for that class and looking forward to completing the bigger goal (graduation).
- Although some older children may rebel against you spending so much time studying, if you learn how to notice and at least acknowledge their needs, it will help them to feel validated, loved and cared for.
- Take time to give compliments to your children, or a hug or a kiss, and listen to their problems or just learn about the latest drama they had in their school or on their sports team.
- Give as much time to listening to your family members as you give to talking with them.
5. Build a Support System
Graduate school requires a lot from the student. The difficult task of completing the program can be lessened by support from family members, friends, and colleagues.
Connect with siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents that support you going to graduate school and who can provide moral, financial, or personal support. These family members may be the ones to give you encouraging words of wisdom or to help with paying for a conference you want to attend, or to give you that little motivational push to keep you going.
Connect with new and old friends to have a sense of normalcy and connection. After some time in the intense environment of graduate school, you may feel very isolated as you begin to grow into a career and step into a higher career status level, and some friends may lose connection with you and vice-versa.
Keep up with old friends and find new friends in your cohort or in your new career. A monthly meeting or just a phone call will go long ways in staying connected with your friends. In case you still keep up with social media during graduate school, drop a couple lines to those friends, and make sure you meet them face-to-face every once in awhile.
One can find great support from colleagues, in the cohort or the cohort ahead of yours, with professors and advisors in your school, and also colleagues at your training sites. Remember that everyone you meet is part of a network of professionals who can later help you with your career path.
Going through graduate school while raising children is both stressful and rewarding. Following these steps may help you and your family experience this time in a more positive way.