Deciding to go back to school as a single parent can be a very commendable, but worrying, thing to do, especially if your children are still very young. Of course, you could put off going back to school until they are older, but then there will probably be other challenges to overcome. If you are well-prepared, seek help where necessary and appreciate that you aren’t invincible, you should be quite capable of studying while raising your children. Some tips for single parents going back to school include the following.
It may not always be possible to study when you want to, especially if your children are sick or there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. However, as far as possible, be consistent in your studying. If you have a set time for study, and your children know that this is part of your timetable, you are much more likely to make the most of your time. If your children go to school and you can work during the day, then aim to get everything done before they come home. You may need to look at studying in the evenings if you have to work as well as study.
*Watch out for deadlines
You will need to pay a lot more attention to your time management if you are a single parent. Take note of any upcoming deadlines that you have and start working towards the deadline as early as possible. If you leave it until the last minute, the chances are that you will be distracted by the children and won’t meet your deadline. You will need to prioritize your work carefully, especially if you have a lot of work to complete. Work out what needs to be done first and what needs complete concentration so that you can adjust your schedule as necessary.
*Explain your situation to the school
It is worth explaining to your lecturers and anyone else you come across on a regular basis that you are a single parent. You may not meet with much sympathy in every quarter, but it will at least help people to understand, especially if you need to take time off because of your children’s illnesses. You may even find that some lecturers, who have children themselves, have useful tips for you. In some situations, you may even be able to get an extension on a deadline, although you should make sure that you don’t take advantage of this.
*Consider hiring a child-minder
If you have family or friends nearby, then hopefully they will be willing to look after your children on an occasional, or even regular, basis. This will free you up to study without distractions. In the case that this is not an option, you may need to consider hiring a child-minder. You may be able to find someone locally who is reliable and will do the job for not very much money – although if you are planning to be out of the house while the child-minder is there, you will need to be very sure of their background and qualifications. You could also check whether your college has a crèche that you can use for younger children.
*Let your children know what you are doing
Unless your children are too young to understand, it is always a good idea to explain to them exactly what you are doing and why. If they simply see that you are not around as much as you should be, they could resent your time away from them and do all they can to play up and distract you. On the other hand, if they understand that you are doing it for a better future for them, they may be less resentful. It is also an important example for them; if they see the effort you are willing to put in to your studies, they may well be more inclined to work hard at school.
*Find a convenient place to work
Ideally, you will need somewhere quiet to work. However, you might also want to consider choosing a spot in the house where your children can see you and you can see them, even if they have someone else looking after them. Younger children, in particular, may be greatly comforted by your proximity. If, however, you find it impossible to work at home because of the distractions, then look for another option. This could be your college library or a neighbour’s house – do whatever it takes to find somewhere that is convenient and conducive to study.
*Don’t try to achieve the impossible
It is not easy to be a single parent at all, let alone trying to study and work at the same time. Accept that you have limitations. It may well be worth working incredibly hard for a year or two, especially for the rewards that come with the qualifications at the end. However, if the pressure is so great that it is taking a toll on your mental health, then you will want to consider either dropping out temporarily, or seeing if you can become a part-time student. Ultimately, you are a parent first, and you need to consider your children’s needs as well as your own.
Being a single parent need not preclude you from forging ahead with your studies. However, you will need to ensure that you have the support you need and you certainly shouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself that it makes you ill.