Student life again?
Raising a child alongside attending university or an open learning course is like juggling 300 balls. That are on fire. And you only have one arm.
My second experience of university was very different than the first. I did my Masters when my son was two. I did it as a single parent. At eighteen being a student meant hot pants, hangovers and eating a lot of microwave meals. As a student parent my world was studying, lectures, Peppa pig, potty training and late nights. The young first years would stagger through the library in their pyjamas with club stamps unwashed on their wrists whilst I would be trying to figure out how many books I could carry home with a baby.
That said, I would not change the experience. My MA was hard fought, and I felt it, I earnt it. The choice to return to education was not an easy one but looking back it was the best time for me. Think it through, make sure it is an achievable option for you and don’t be afraid. One thing parenting makes us is resilient.
Don’t be afraid to explain to your personal tutor your situation. This is not you asking for a free pass, it is you being honest. They may have suggestions for how to manage the workload and if it does get to the point where you need an extension they will be there for you.
Get a year planner and stick it on the wall. Draw in hand in dates, birthday parties and doctors’ appointments. Make sure you have a little time both to be ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ and then to study. Ensure that each week, even if it is just 20 minutes to have a bath you have some time just for you, or you find you will burn out.
Pack in as much as you can in between classes while you’re still on campus. Don’t let the lure of heading home for an hour to do your laundry or the three days of washing up that is spreading across your countertop. The library is your friend. It has a vending machine.
Think about study times and tie this in with the age of your children; when the baby naps, while they do homework, or colouring. Explain to primary age children that you go to school too, it will encourage them to feel involved rather than pushed out. A fair amount of your studies will be done at night but don’t do it too late or you will be exhausted for the next day. One particularly fraught night I worked till 3am and my son woke up at 5am.
Sometimes your feel shattered, sometimes your shout, sometimes you will cry in the shower. I did.
Having a workspace is also good even if it’s a desk or the kitchen table, avoid working in bed or you will doze off in a pile of highlighters, files and wake with a neon green post-it on your face.
Check out the university facilities, if they have a nursery and medical centre on site, sign up. Get on nursery lists as soon as possible and make sure your aware of their term opening times. Ask about school clubs, breakfast, after school and holidays. See if you can find a childminder and workout which option is more financially viable. If you do a course like nursing, midwifery or social work remember placements may be unsociable times.
Consider finding a reliable babysitter and call on the help of your family and friends. Don’t be a martyr or think you’re failing if you need to ask for their help. I think during exam time I put a plea on Facebook for someone to please play with my son for a couple of hours!
If you have the extra cash for a cleaner. Get one. More realistically, accept that some things have to give and if your living room would not feature in Country Living for a year or two, then so be it. Make life easier on yourself by meal planning, batch cooking and having your groceries delivered.
Research. Check out what grants are available to you, such as childcare grants and parents learning allowances. There are often parental elements to bursaries. Check out the Gov.uk website and book an appointment with the universities finance office. Even if you are over 25 you will be eligible for a student railcard and NUS, make use of these discounts! If you get into difficulty there are hardship and access to learning funds. Single parents may receive Housing benefit and students are exempt from council tax and receive free prescriptions.
Get to know other parents on your course, and join the mature student societies. My peers that were parents and I would share strong coffee and trade tales of what out offspring had done the night before. There was an incident of ‘my baby ate my homework.’
You will sometimes feel guilty.
It is ok. You will also feel proud.
Balancing kids, studies and work is a lot to manage. Remember that it is normal to feel overwhelmed by all that you have to do! It is not a sign that you are failing, it is recognition that you have a lot on your plate.
Be kind to yourself, it is a massive achievement and you will get there, trust me. And when you are done you will feel like you have conquered Everest. At graduation you can have a large glass, or bottle of celebratory wine.
You are doing this for your children, your family and for you.
Have you completed courses or degrees whilst pregnant or as a parent, how did you feel the experience differed? Do you have any additional tips or where there things you found especially hard?