Those of you who follow my blog probably know that I have two young boys. William (2.5 years old) and Ignatius (1 year old). I am also pursuing a B.S. of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences online through Oregon State University as a full-time student. Before I combined the two I wish someone had told me the following things.
1. Being a mom and going to college is really, really hard.
I knew that this was going to be more difficult than the traditional path. But no one really clued me in on how difficult. For example, the whole idea of “I’ll do homework when the kids are napping” goes right out the window when your toddler decides naps are for sissies. Also by the time you wrestle one or both kids into bed for a daytime nap or (hopefully) a few hours of nighttime sleeping you are already mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. It takes extra perseverance and willpower to be able to work on college after wrangling a child/children all day.
2. You need “us” time.
You need to set aside time for you and your children. Time beyond breaking up fights and calming fussy babies. At first this may seem like it could break your focus from schoolwork. Really it helps rejuvenate you. If you are only really dealing with the difficult times and trying to use all the kids “good” times to do schoolwork you will miss all those times. Take a little time to cuddle up and read a book, go out to a playgroup or just snuggle on the couch together.
Also make “us” time outside the bedroom (and inside!) for you and your spouse. He/she is your main cheerleader and comrade in the daily struggle between college and parenthood.
3. Your professors want you to succeed.
I have never met a professor who I felt had it out for me. Though I am sure there are exceptions, the huge majority of professors want you to do well. Many of them either had children while in college and remember how difficult it is, or had children after college and admire you for taking on this challenge with kids. Professors are paid to teach you and in turn help you to learn. So don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify lessons, provide extra resources on hard topics or look over your work.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
First off, I’ll repeat it your professors want you to succeed. Ask them for help when you need it. But please don’t wait until last minute. Secondly, if someone offers to watch your kids for a few hours, or to look over college papers, take them up on their offer. Those few hours can make a huge difference. Having someone willing to read through boring college papers and give you feedback is extremely helpful. You are embarking on a long and difficult journey so take any help that people offer.
Many colleges also have free tutoring (both online and offline). Take advantage of these services, especially in subjects that are difficult for you (Chemistry anyone?).
5. Be open with your professors but also try to give plenty of notice.
I have taken college courses in the midst of a miscarriage, during a difficult pregnancy, and in the midst of preparing for/delivering my youngest son. During all of these circumstances I have been able to work with my professors on deadlines and grades simply because I did my best to give them notice and I was honest. Of course there are limitations with each professor. My circumstances were all particularly extensive of course. However, if you have a good relationship with your professor and are keeping up with schoolwork you will be pleasantly surprised with how willing they are to work with you when life events cause conflicts with college.
6. Have plenty of nutritious snacks/easy meals in the house.
This can be a lifesaver when you are trying to finish that big paper before the deadline. Also stress often leads us to have unhealthy food habits, so have some healthy snacks around to combat that. You have enough worries trying to manage a house, kids and college. Don’t try to be a Pininterest mom (unless you find that relaxing in which case go for it!).
7. Get outside at least once a day.
Some days this may just be a walk to the mailbox. But that walk will make a difference. Fresh air and exercise can reduce stress levels, as well as help you focus and think. Also it helps your kids. I always find that my boys will nap more easily or at least settle down more easily if we get outside at least once a day.
8. Connect with other parents.
If you can find a group of college parents, that is awesome. If you’re going online to a college across the continent like I am that may be more difficult. So try to at least connect with other parents through playgroups, church and personal connections. You need to be able to step away from your coursework and share the joys (and tears) of parenthood with others.
9. You will doubt yourself and question why you are doing this.
You will do this again and again.Particularly around midterms and finals. You will consider just getting an easier degree or a certification. You will wonder if it would be better to pick up a local job you saw in the paper. You will wonder if this is really worth the time, money and effort. You will want to give up.
It is worth it. You are creating a better future for your children. You are creating a better future for yourself. It is incredibly hard, but it will be worth it.
10. Study what you are passionate about.
Of course having a marketable degree is important. But make sure it is something you can be passionate about. Not only do you need to be interested in this as a long-term career, but you will need that passion to make it through college. You need to love what you are learn at the same time that you may be hating the stress of learning it.