When I was in college, I looked like this. Note the relaxed look on my face and the far-off look in my eyes. Not a care in the world.
Today, more and more college students look like this:
And sometimes this:
In other words, for most of the students I work with, being a student is only one part of who they are. They are also a mom, dad, firefighter, grandparent, employee, caregiver, volunteer...you get the idea.
Going to school when you have family and work responsibilities takes guts. I know this because I've been on both sides. I went through college as an 18-year old with very few serious responsibilities. When I was in my master's program, I was married but we didn't have our son yet and I worked in an assistantship on campus, so my life was almost solely focused on success in my program.
Then, when my son was about eight weeks old and I was home on maternity leave, I began my most recent program to earn a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership. It was a hybrid program, mostly online with a few weekend classes in Boston. Along with my son, I had a mortgage and a full-time job. This program was important to me but I'd be lying if I said it was my top priority.
The program ran on quarters instead of semesters, so I was enrolled in two courses at a time for two years straight with about a week-off in between. These were also the days of sleepless nights, teething, diaper-changing, pureed food, etc. When I think back to that time in my life, it feels a bit like a dream. It was hard. It was about 100 times harder than my college experience, give or take.
And though it sometimes feels like I just must have closed my eyes and just survived that time in my life, I know that's not true. I had clear goals. I had a study system. I had a ton of support.
One of the things I tell my students is that when you enroll in school as a parent, you have to make learning a family affair. Some students try to approach college like some secret they can squeeze into an hour after their kids go to bed. They think that family life can continue exactly as it has been. They decide to carry the burden of their decision to go back to school on their own. In my experience, that doesn't work. You need to get everyone on board.
Sit down together as a family and talk about why you decided to go back to school. Talk about how college works, with courses, assignments, and due dates. Let your kids ask questions.
If your kids are older, do your homework together. This is such a great way to model good study habits for your kids.
If your kids are younger, set boundaries. I can remember when my son was about three years old, I was sitting in the kitchen doing homework. He came to me and asked me to play. I felt terrible saying no, but I had to get my work done. So I didn't say no. I said, "Mommy is going to set this kitchen timer to the number 30, and you can watch the timer for me. It's going to ding when it gets to zero, and Mommy will play with you then." He loved the excitement of waiting for the timer to go off and he liked the responsibility. Did I feel a little guilty? Of course. But I got my work done.
That's my next piece of advice. Don't just focus on what your kids are missing when you go back to school. Are you going to have to say no to certain things so that you have time to do your work? Yes. But think about what your kids are getting. They are getting to see the most important person in their world working toward their dreams. Your kids will carry the image of you hunched over your textbook or laptop in their minds for the rest of their lives. When it's time for them to fight for their own dreams, they will call up that image for inspiration.
And remember, sometimes we don't have to say no. Instead, we can say not right now.
"I can't go to the movies with you this weekend because my paper is due. But I promise we can go next weekend when my workload lightens up a bit."
Last but not least, never underestimate the power of a quiet room. That quiet room might be in your house, but chances are, unless you can be home alone when your kids are at school, there is no longer a quiet room in your house. But there is a magical place that I visited when one of those big doozy papers was due and I needed to focus: the library. Scope out the libraries at your school or in your surrounding area and make the trip as needed. I can remember telling my husband I would need to spend "all day" at the library to finish a paper, and then the funniest thing would happen. Because I was able to focus so much better at the library, I would usually finish my work in only a few hours and be able to get home earlier. What's better? Three hours away from your family in a quiet space or ten hours at home feeling guilty and torn and distracted?
And remember, these are just suggestions, just advice based on what worked for me and what I've seen work for my students. The important thing is that you figure out what works best for your family.
This blog is focused on exploring ideas around yoga, career, intuition, purpose, and passion. Please leave a comment. Namaste.