When you become a parent, every thing changes.
And your time in education as a parent is no different.
When my oldest daughter was 8 months old, I went back to school. I had completed my bachelor’s degree while working several jobs and imagined going to get my master’s degree while just staying home would be a breeze.
Well, it was a breeze—a hurricane-esque breeze. If you’ve ever spent time with a baby/child, which if you’re reading this, chances are you have, especially a high-needs baby/child, you know doing anything that requires brain power is going to be at least tens times more difficult than you originally imagined.
Going back to school, for me, was my first dose of this reality.
Luckily, I made it through (as did my high-needs now 4-year-old). During the journey, I was able to bring another a baby into the mix, add in teaching part-time plus this magazine, and still graduate.
As many parents head back to books, whether to change career paths, finish something they started long ago, or determined to be an educated role model for their child(ren), here’s a mini-survival guide, put together based on information from Steve Koehler, media coordinator at Ozarks Technical Community College, and my own experiences.
Full disclosure: Kandice is an adjunct instructor at OTC’s Richwood Valley Campus. Other area higher education facilities did not return requests for information by this issue’s press time.
1. Get Support
From family, friends, co-workers, anyone in your network. Let them know how important going back to school is for you and tell them your goals. This will be motivation, and they can help to remind you of why you started this journey when it starts to get rough.
2. Get Reliable Childcare
Whether you reach out to your support system, an in-home provider or a licensed facility, plan to have someone watching your child(ren) beyond just the time you spend in class. Koehler says students should plan to spend two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. So for a three-credit hour class (in most cases that comes out to be a single class), plan on spending six hours of outside-the-classroom homework, reading and preparation. It could be more, it could be less. Either way, don’t let your goals get de-railed by not having enough time to dedicate to them. Check if the campus you are attending as an on-site child care facility or affiliated child care program. Care.com is another trusted resource to find childcare options.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Based on the time commitment school takes, along with parenthood and possibly employment, don’t feel rushed to take more classes than you can handle. Go at your own pace to ensure you can succeed. Koehler says some students may start with a few classes “to get their feet wet and adjust to managing school/work/home life.” Personally, when I went back to school as a parent, a four-semester program took me three fall semester, two spring semesters and two summer semesters. There’s no shame in going at your own pace.
4. Choose Classes You’re Interested In
The learning and homework will be more gratifying if you enjoy the subject. There are, of course, general education requirements, but make your education as exciting for yourself as possible. Choose a major/career path you enjoy, and take classes that will support that goal. When choosing a major, Koehler suggest seeking career counseling early on. This can come in the form of visiting an on-campus career center, or the Missouri Career Center. Also, be sure you are choosing a major that has classes that fit with your schedule. For example, the Allied Health programs at OTC often require a full-time, daytime commitment.
5. Seek Help
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk with your instructors/professors. Many of them have been in similar situations. Students also receive assigned academic advisers that can help navigate class schedules, requirements, and on-campus help, such as supportive counseling services.
Going back to school as a parent is life changing, for you and your family. Beyond the tests you will take in class, you will test yourself. Your child(ren) will see the value you place in education, and your attitudes will influence their own (probably one of my most gratifying realizations when I was in school). Through all the late nights of balancing homework and families, moments of doubt and achievement, completing your education will leave you feeling victorious. After being a parent and a student, the life of just a parent doesn’t seem so intimidating.