For parents, the idea of pursuing an advanced degree can sound daunting and even impossible. Being a successful parent and student can require a bit more juggling than what’s required of those who are in just one role.
Yet, many do make it work — in fact, 4.8 million undergraduate students, or 26 percent, are raising dependent children.
The key to joining this group of colleagues who are seemingly doing it all? Mastering the three keys of balancing parenthood and your studies: setting boundaries, practicing time management, and being compassionate.
Depending on your children’s ages, you may be facing tantrums, moodiness, and the testing of boundaries that is key to their development.
Fortunately, your studies may provide extra motivation to set limits, which will help your children gain the self-control necessary to perform well in school and have meaningful relationships themselves.
To set boundaries, start by determining how much time you’ll need for your studies each week. Then, list out all of your personal commitments (e.g., parent-teacher conferences, sports practices, sports games, etc.). Use this information to prepare a schedule for your family.
Clearly communicate this new structure to each family member, and give yourself some time to put it in place. Keep in mind that a set routine helps children of all ages better understand what is expected of them, so the ability to set — and stick to — boundaries will serve all of your family members in the long run.
Practicing Time Management
Pursuing an advanced degree will present no shortage of opportunities to practice time management, whether you’re raising children while taking this task on or not. You have group projects to complete, advisor meetings to make, lectures to attend. Then there are the meals to serve, bedtime stories to read, and the homework to check — yet your day still consists of just 24 hours.
Start by being mindful of what distracts you and keeps you from completing key tasks. Accept what you can’t change and change what you can. Rather than studying at the kitchen table where you’re interrupted by well-meaning partners and demanding children, schedule an hour each afternoon for some library time. When you remove distractions, you can get more done in the time you have available.
Next, build your time management toolbox. Just as you would use a tool like Time2Track to track your clinical training hours, take advantage of similar tools that were created for helping you make the most out of your time. A quick Google search will uncover a wealth of tools created to serve different purposes and available for all budgets.
Finally, learn the power of delegating. You may not be able to outsource writing your research paper while keeping your ethics, but you can call on your support network for help with household chores. Take this opportunity to teach your child how to fold their own laundry or take the trash out. If you have a live-in partner, split meal-making responsibilities so neither of you is in charge of making and serving three meals a day.
Guilt is a feeling with which most parents are intimately familiar. It’s easy to blame yourself when children act up as your inner voice says that maybe, just maybe, if you spent a little more time with your child then they wouldn’t have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In order to balance all that’s on your plate as a parent and a student, it’s important to recognize when feelings such as guilt are getting in the way of doing your best.
Treat yourself with warmth, care, patience, and understanding, the same as you would a friend who was struggling in a similar situation. Avoid critical self-talk as it often keeps you in an unproductive rut. By doing so, you’re not only setting yourself up for success, but you’re also modeling a behavior that will help your children cope when life gets hard for them down the road as well.
Seeing the Light
Setting limits, managing your time and practicing self-care may seem difficult when you first begin to integrate them into your daily life. The good news is that it gets easier! As long as you keep your eye on your end-goal — earning a degree to create a better life for yourself and for your family — you’ll soon see that the sacrifices you make along the way are well worth it, not only when you’re walking across the stage to accept your diploma, but when your children achieve their goals because they were inspired by your tenacity.