How to Survive as a Student Parent

When my husband and I tell people that we are both students and have three daughters, we get reactions like, “Wow!  You’re busy!”  As we start our final year of university (hopefully!), I thought I’d share some tips from myself and fellow moms students on how to survive as a student parent.

Student mom's laptop

1.  Be organized.

Get a daytimer or use the scheduler/calendar app on your smartphone. Plan out what you will do and on what days.  I write down deadlines on a wall calendar in my den so I can just glance at it quickly to see if I have a project due or something to read before my next class.

2.  Set deadlines.

Brandy says, “For my second round of college, my program did not have any specific deadlines. They only gave me the date for which I had to complete the entire program by. So I created some deadlines for myself.”  This can help with steps of a project too; set deadlines for when you will have the research done, when you will have the rough draft done, etc.

3.  Find quiet study space.

If you have young children finding time, especially quiet time, to study will be difficult. Brandy says, “During my time back at school one of my children was in school full-time and the other was at home full-time with me. So sometimes while the oldest was at school and the other was napping, I got down to work.”

I’ve also worked while my daughters were napping, at school, playing together or watching a movie. You learn to be very productive when you have those moments to study!

We have a den that is semi-private; I can leave the door open to hear what the girls are doing while still having a bit of quiet to study. Sometime, my husband watches the girls so I can pop over to the library for some quieter study or research time.

4.  Work when you can. 

If studying after the kids go to sleep works, do it; if waking up early is when you work best, do that.  Brandy studied a lot after her children went to sleep and Monica woke up at 5 am to get ready for the day.  I couldn’t do either of that, so I’ve gotten very creative about studying while my daughters are colouring or playing in the park or otherwise occupied.

5.  Find balance.

Don’t study every day/night.  Take a night or two off. There is no harm in that. Work it into your schedule. And make sure to fit in family time in between.  I’ve had to accept that this might mean I get a B+ instead of an A in a class because I need to hang out with my girls instead of online in the class forum, but that’s okay.

Kathleen says, “We can forget about APA formatting, deadlines, and Powerpoint because suddenly someone is standing at the office door with feet-attached pajamas and holding a book in their hands. It’s always easier to return to our work clear-headed once we’ve read Goodnight Moon, and had a goodnight hug involving little sausage arms.”

6.  Find community.

Living in UVic student housing has been great for us because we are surrounded by fellow parents who are trying to finish their degrees.  We’ve been able to support each other and commiserate about exams and childcare hassles.  The UVic Family Centre also offers programs and events for student families on campus.  If you can, try to connect with other parents in your program or at your university.

7.  Ask for help.

This is hard for me to do, but there comes a point in every semester when I feel overwhelmed and need more time.  That’s when you ask for help, whether it’s your husband taking the kids out for a few hours on a weekend so that you can write a paper, or getting a friend or family member to help, or buying frozen meals for a week so you can study instead of cook.

8.  Find a routine that works.

Monica says, “Our routine was very important and even somewhat comforting to all of us.”  This routine will likely vary each semester as your courses change, so give yourself a couple weeks at the start of semester to find that routine.

Monica adds, “Remember, it is not forever (although it often felt like it was!!).  There are school holidays and vacations to look forward to and before you know it, your school days are a thing of the past and it was all worth it!  Don’t take the entire process too seriously—try to laugh and enjoy it all too.”

My fellow student moms:

Brandy started a two-year Administrative Professional and Bookkeeping diploma program via distance education when her children were 6 and 2.  She blogs at My Unwritten Life (search “school” there for more information and advice).

Monica is a registered nurse who was working while in school when her children were 10 and 14.  She blogs at Older Mommy Still Yummy.

Kathleen is a mom of two completing graduate studies here at the University of Victoria with me.

Have you returned to school with kids?  What helped you juggle parenthood and student life?

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