An education: five tips for parents who are studying
‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’ - Benjamin Franklin.
Getting an education, or extending your eductation, is rarely something you’ll regret, but when you’re a parent the commitment to study comes with a huge list of considerations that you didn’t have to contend when you were foot loose and fancy free. Pippa Henderson shares a few tips to help smooth the way.
Ensure your partner is fully on board
Study really is a team effort. While your head is in your books your partner will inevitably pick up more than their fair share of childcare and domestic duties. When you’ve already come to the agreement that your study is a worthwhile course of action and you both have the end goal in mind, you’re less likely to sweat the small stuff, like who does the vacuuming, or folds the laundry.
Master your schedule
Look very closely at the course timetable. Terms can be deceptive. My course said one year, full-time, which initially sounded impossible, but on closer inspection it only involved four or five contact hours a week, and the academic year was actually only eight months long. Of course you’ll need to pack your calendar tightly to make it all work, but don’t overestimate how much you’re capable of. You know your capacity – is this tight schedule sustainable? It’s inevitable your child/children will get sick from time to time, or have an accident. Plan ahead about who will deal with this and how. Unfortunately no matter how much you’re prepared to neglect the cleaning and basic housework, groceries still need to be done. There are always way to carve out more time for yourself, like ordering groceries online, or taking turns to host regular playdates with other busy parents, but at the end of the day, parents need some wriggle room. Track down other parents who’ve done the same course and ask how they managed it. There’s no shame in pacing your course over a number of years, or deferring.
Make your peace
Education comes at a cost, and not just in terms of finance. The cost of your lost downtime can actually hit you harder. I basically missed out on the luxury of TV and movie watching for the duration of my course, and turned down plenty of social engagements to ensure I did my study justice. But I did actually enjoy the course content, so it wasn’t really a loss, rather an exchange. When I struggled to find the self-discipline I needed, I reminded myself it was only for a season, and how short the season really was.
Don’t sacrifice exercise
This was something I refused to cut, no matter how tight I was for time, although my walks and runs did get shorter as deadlines approached. But I found even 15-20 minutes in the great outdoors relieved my stress, and got my blood pumping through my inactive body and tired brain.
Multitasking is often glorified, but when it comes to studying and parenting, it’s over-rated. Children deserve your undivided attention, and your assignments will demand it too, no doubt. So go crazy compartmentalising your time instead. Devote yourself fully to the task at hand in the time you have allocated. When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. This will relieve you of guilt as well. And when it’s time to hit the books, hit them hard. There’s no room for procrastination in this game. The only multitasking I permitted was thinking about my studies while doing the housework. I had many an epiphany while hanging up the laundry.
Pippa Henderson completed her masters in creative writing at the University of Auckland.