Going to college while raising children is not an easy task, but it can be done. Anyone taking on the additional role as a student should be possess good communication and time-management skills.
There are so many things to consider, such as when to get your homework done, how to make time for doctor’s appointments or parent-teacher conferences, who is going to watch the children and how you are going to pay for childcare, and what time you will have to participate in extra-curricular activities, both as a student and as a parent. Of course, these factors will be different for everyone, as everyone has unique situations and children of different ages that require different kinds of parental involvement. For many people, though, the responsibilities don’t end there; they are often engaged in paid employment as well.
Possibly the greatest difficulty is finding opportunities to work on assignments without interruptions from children. “Mommy, I’m hungry”, “Daddy, I can’t find my favorite toy”, “She hit me”…whatever it may be at any given time, can be both frustrating and can interfere with your learning. If you are lucky enough to have an available, cooperative spouse or roommate, this can greatly improve your chances for quality study time. Otherwise, you will have to include library study time in your schedule as part of your time when you will need someone else to watch the children. Even if you have a spouse willing to help, the children may not want the other parent. So, it really is best to plan study time that it is away from home and all distractions.
Parents attending college must also have a plan ready in case of unforeseen events, such as a child running a high fever that prohibits him or her from attending school or daycare. While many professors are understanding of such circumstances, others are not. It is best to find out in advance what your teacher’s policies are on absences and make-ups. If they appear to be rigid, get to know your professors and make them aware that you are a parent. It doesn’t hurt to be friendly. Sometimes exceptions to the rules can be made.
Attending college is a huge commitment and can sometimes be seen as a threat to the normality of family life. Both children and spouses are subject to feeling like they are being ignored at times. Do your best to squeeze in time for special family activities and ‘one-on-one’ time with each family member.
The final consideration is that it is possible to lose sight of yourself and your own health. College can be stressful; parenting can be stressful. All this stress can take a toll on your well-being. If you get run down and ill, you are not going to meet the expectations at home, at school, or at work. It is possible that you can get yourself to the point where you are so ill you can’t function. So, please take a little time for yourself amidst the chaos of school, parenting, and work. In the long run, you will be more productive.
Those individuals who master the balancing act of school and childrearing deserve our highest praise and respect. I know how difficult, draining, and stressful it can be trying to juggle so many responsibilities. The last semester of my undergraduate program I was taking 21 credits, working full-time, and was raising three small children. At the time, my kids were 1, 4, and 6 years old. Somehow, I made it through it, but not without serious consequences to my health. I began having seizures, which a neurologist concluded were stress-induced.
When I went on to my Masters program, I stopped working and got my mother-in-law to move in with us. Even with less responsibility without a job and extra help at home, I still felt I was sacrificing a lot to finish school. I know my kids felt I was not giving them enough attention because my face was always glued to the computer or a book. Someday, though, they will be old enough to read my thesis and will see that I dedicated it to them and thanked them for the patience they displayed, even while hearing over and over again “Mommy has to get her work done.”
My point is, going to college while raising children can be tough but it is certainly manageable. The choice is yours how difficult you will make it for yourself. From my experience, I hope you can see how easy it is to fall into the mindset that you can do it all, only to find out later that we each have a limit to how much we can do. What I learned more than anything else, is that I could do fifteen different things with mediocrity or do two or three things with excellence. In other words, know your limits, and don’t try to be a superhero. If you keep it balanced, you will excel both as a parent and as a student.