So, it’s the time of year when University places are being offered to prospective students, and people are thinking long and hard about their options.
It’s an exciting time, where the first steps are tentatively made towards big dreams. It can also be a time of trepidation, as potentially life-changing decisions are made, and the logistics of actually following through are considered.
Studying can be stressful, for sure. Arranging new schedules, purchasing textbooks, figuring out timetables and placements, and orientating to an entirely new environment are all tricky enough to navigate. Add the pressure of raising kids, and maintaining a family into the mix, and it can be a veritable minefield of stressors.
Now, before I start, I want to say that I have been a university student a few times now; both pre, and post, kids. There were significant challenges present in each of those experiences, so please know that although I’m directing this blog slightly more towards those who have chosen to return to school AFTER starting their families, I’m not for one second minimising how hard it can be, heading off to university as a “young one”. Trust me guys, I’ve been there too.
First things first:
Now, this is such a cliche, and I’m cringeing even typing the heading, but seriously, spend some time getting yourself organised before you start. I don’t mean going and buying matching stationery, and fancy notebooks for each subject; that crap is pointless busy-work, and you ain’t got time for that no more.
I mean sitting down with a calender (or in my case, a gigantic wall planner), filling in the details of your life, and giving serious thought as to how to fit your study in around it. Kid’s sporting obligations, appointments, family dinners, and birthdays are important.
Make sure your paid work (if you are also working while studying) is slotted in there, because paying the bills is also important. Studying gets iffy if your power is cut off because you haven’t paid the electricity bill. Just sayin’.
That calendar is going to be FULL.
But, your life is not going to stop, or even slow down, once you get started, so by having your non-negotiable stuff written in, you can figure out how to pencil in the other stuff.
Timetabling 6 hours of lectures into a day where you know little Johnny has an orthodontist appointment at lunchtime is, quite frankly, setting yourself up to fail. So try and keep your days semi-realistic if you can.
Bulk scheduling of your classes into only couple of days in the week can be a master stroke in helping you to create a definite division between Uni time and life time.
I used to try and fit most of my classes into Mondays and Tuesdays, so that I could really be present at home for the rest of the week. The bonus to this approach was that I could usually secure a regular day of daycare once a week for the semester, which gave us all some sense of routine and a little bit of predictability.
Gather your village
This bit is super, SUPER important, especially if your classes require you to attend placements, or observer shifts. Over the next few years, you are going to need to call upon people for help.
It’s not an IF, but a WHEN.
So, make a list of people who might be available to help, and speak to them before you even start. It might be babysitting, or picking up kids from school, or cheering for your kids at sports events when you can’t be there. It might be dropping off a meal from time to time, or folding some washing, or even just being a sounding board to vent to when things are getting hectic. Partners, grandparents, siblings, neighbours, friends, and potentially even good daycare facilities are going to be crucial participants in the whole studying-with-kids gig.
When I returned to Uni to study nursing, the Girl Child was 11 months old, and the Boy Child was 3 years old, and I can tell you, point blank, that without my team of happy helpers, including Hot Husband, his mum, my mum, my grandparents, and a whole bunch of friends, there is absolutely no way I could have made it through.
So, be realistic. You can’t be everywhere at once, so make sure there is a loving someone to be there in your absence.
For the most part, teaching staff and lecturers are pretty understanding when the balance gets out of whack for their students. They’re people too, and you’ll find many of them are walking the same tightrope as you are, in juggling work and families. But if they don’t know where you’re up to, and you just stop handing work in, their only option is to grade you based on what they receive from you.
So, talk to them.
If you’re falling behind, because your toddler has had gastro for a week, and you missed a heap of classes, go see them.
If your assignment got eaten by your computer because your eight year old downloaded a virus watching kids unwrapping Shopkins toys on Youtube, go talk to them.
If you’re struggling with the lecture content, and feeling like you know nothing in your prac classes, send them an email and get some support.
They can’t fix everything for you, but they’ll sure as hell do their best to make your time as a student manageable.
Get Started Early
Please believe me when I tell you, leaving stuff until the last minute is going to blow up in your face. It’s almost guaranteed that the week your major assignment is due, your entire household will be flattened by some horrendous virus, the car will break down, and the dog will eat something funky and end up at the vet. So, get your stuff done early. You want to at least have draft versions of your assignments completed the week before the due date, so when the apocalypse strikes, all you’ve got to do is a brief edit and submit.
As the mother of kids who constantly had croup, or ear infections, or other funky viruses, I can’t tell you how many times this strategy saved my arse.
Be Nice (Groupwork SUCKS)
No matter what degree you are studying, it’s extremely likely that you are going to be required to complete at least one assignment or presentation as a group, most likely with people you don’t know well, possibly don’t like much, and would probably avoid on the street if you didn’t find yourself crammed together by the circumstance of a group project worth fifty percent.
Make no mistake, no one likes groupwork.
There’s always that one team member who can’t be contacted by any means until the day before the damn thing is due, or the person who contributes absolutely nothing, aside from their name on the front slide of the powerpoint presentation.
Don’t be those guys. If you commit to a timeline or a role, stick to it. If you promise to email something through to the group, do it. And if something is affecting your ability to do that, make sure you let the other group members know. Common courtesy and common sense are two ridiculously amazing traits to carry into group work.
And if you’re stuck with a jerk who does NOTHING, make sure the people grading you know exactly that. Being a nice group member doesn’t mean carrying the dead weight of slackers. You can be nice AND be assertive, and honestly, there will be times when you need to be.
Don‘t go getting judgy
While many of the people in my nursing and postgrad degrees were mature aged students, there were a whole bunch of beautiful folk who weren’t. And while like attracts like, and often the oldies would stick together, and the straight-out-of-schoolers would do the same, I formed some really beautiful friendships with people who were living completely different lives to me. Many of those people are still my friends today.
Don’t assume that because that young chick up the back came into class late, she’s a slacker. Don’t go picking anyone apart because you think they’ve got things sooooo easy. Yeah, it’s mindblowing studying with a family, and the logistics of it all can be a bloody nightmare, but don’t fall into the trap of judging those who aren’t in the same situation.
Those “young ones” are learning about life, often away from home for the first time; experiencing relationships, and housing dramas, and financial strains that they’ve never dealt with before. When they say they are tired or stressed, it’s because they really are. These life experiences are brand new to them, and they’re not being ungrateful or weak to struggle with those things.
Conversely, that mature aged student who is madly rushing to get out the door straight afer class isn’t deliberately being rude when she doesn’t stop to make conversation. She’s not being a bitch when she doesn’t have time for small talk in group meetings, and she’s not being intentionally abrupt when she wants to know the nitty gritty of the assignments, rather than listening to what people did over the holidays. She’s most likely got five minutes to get to daycare before closing time, a cake to bake for her kid’s birthday tomorrow, and groceries to buy on the way home, before even contemplating opening the books for the evening.
Everyone is there for their own reasons, and your stressors are not going to be the same as the girl next to you. And that’s okay, because at the end of the day, everyone is there giving it a crack, and that’s what matters.
Say goodbye to TV, and probably most of your social life.
If you’re studying with kids, the golden hours begin from the minute they’re asleep. Which means all of the other stuff you used to do during that time frame is probably going to be put on the back burner. Get off Facebook. Record TV shows you love for bulk watching in the holidays. Recreational reading is going down the gurgler, at least for the time being.
Your time is going to be limited, more than you can probably imagine right now, and there’s going to be some serious prioritisation of time going on. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s kind of just the way things are going to be for a while.
You’re going to be at the hairdressers, reading lecture notes. You’re going to be playing podcasts in your car on the way to pick up the kids. You’re going to say no to coffee with friends so you can listen to that lecture you missed online.
Welcome to this new life of yours.
Just be prepared to do what needs to be done. If you’re going to put yourself and your family through the chaos of studying, do it properly. Don’t go failing classes because watching The Block was more intriguing than your essay on patient centred care, or because you were caught up flicking through your Instagram feed.
If you’re in, be all in. There’s no point going half arsed on this. Make every minute count.
You are going to feel more tired, and pressured, and stretched than you’ve ever felt before. You’re going to feel guilty, and exhausted, and pulled in every direction.
There are going to be times when all you can think to do is buy the kids Happy Meals for tea, and you’ll fall asleep on the floor more than you think you will.
There are going to be many, many late nights, and early starts, particularly where placements are involved.
So, if the opportunity arises to catch up on some sleep, take it. Don’t overbook your weekends and holidays with too much, or commit to too many things; take the time to rest, and re-centre. You’re going to need it.
In a Nutshell…..
Without a word of a lie, studying with kids will be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do, and there will be times when you think you’re crazy to even consider it.
But, don’t give up! Don’t you dare!!
The rewards are absolutely worth it. And with the right supports, a giant family calendar, and a buttload of grit and determination, it’s absolutely achievable.
From one who has been there, and come out on the other side to find my dream career, I promise you, it’s going to be worth it. Set those goals, one day at a time, and smash the hell out of them. You’ll be at the end before you know it.
You’ve got this in the bag, baby! Now get out there and give it your best.
I believe in you.