August is "Back to School" Month at The Motherhood Collective. Over the next few weeks, our writers will be sharing their teaching moments, the ways they encourage learning, their thoughts on education or the things THEY are learning as a parent. Even if your child isn't heading back to the classroom in a few weeks, we hope that our thoughts on learning will inspire you. ~TMC ---
For many adults, choosing to go back to school is a big decision. It means a commitment in time, energy, effort and resources. This is especially true for a woman deciding to go back to school after having a baby. Unlike the single years where a student can schedule large blocks of time without interruption, pull all-nighters when necessary and hang out at the coffee shop all day, the college-bound mommy has to juggle her daily responsibilities on top of her school work. The good news is it’s not impossible to manage both- it just takes a little more planning and effort!
When I decided to pursue a Masters of Fine Art degree in Photography after our first-born son was just four months old, many people flatly told me I was crazy. After a while, I began to wonder if they were right. Could I actually manage to spend quality time with my son and husband, cook, clean, exercise and study? The answer is yes. Sure, there were crazy times and a few late nights (try 3 a.m.), but after two semesters of trial and error, I feel that I finally found the mommy/student balance that works for me. For all of you lovely ladies considering a return to school after starting a family, let me offer you some advice that can save you a little time and perhaps gives you the encouragement you need:
Be Realistic. Let’s face it, being a mom means that your study sessions will be interrupted…a lot. Have realistic goals of what you can and want to accomplish each day. If you expect too much, you may be disappointed when half of your school related “to do” list remains undone. Aim for a balanced day, where no one aspect dominates your time and attention (unless it is your baby that needs you, of course). Keep this in mind when you schedule your week: “How much can I realistically get done?” Know that this will most likely change- up to several times a day- and that’s okay.
Touch it every day. Sure, you may not be able to dedicate large blocks of time to school every day. You can still accomplish more than you expect and avoid cramming when deadlines approach by doing a little bit each day. Aim to work on tasks (reading, writing, etc.) in small chunks of time. Have 30 minutes? Try to get through one chapter. If you do this throughout the day, you can quickly read the week’s reading assignments. Do this every day, it will add up throughout the week.
Work Around Their Schedule. Try to have a general schedule with your baby in mind that you work around every day. For instance, if your baby takes a longer morning nap, dedicate that time to working on school. Once he or she awakes, close the books. If you know that a portion of your day is dedicated to your studies (no matter how small), you will feel comfortable leaving it undone, knowing that you will return to it later that day or tomorrow.
Stay Flexible. Let’s face it- babies are unpredictable…and that’s okay. If there’s a day (or two) that schoolwork goes untouched, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be afraid to close the books and devote your attention to your baby. Just return to your normal routine when life allows. Ultimately, your family is more important than a paper, but be proud of the fact that you are still making an effort to improve yourself too.
Tag Team. If you are fortunate to have the support of a husband, family members or friends, let them help you by taking the baby out to run errands, for a trip to the park, or to their house for a nap. Even 30 minutes can make a huge difference- giving you the opportunity to plan, start writing a paper or catch up on reading.
Remember What You’re Doing: You’re Learning! Having a baby and going back to school are similar: it’s a learning process. The key word here is process. Don’t get discouraged if everything does not click into place within the first few weeks or the first semester for that matter. It will take time to find what works for you! Be patient, remember why you decided to go to school, and see this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself- what you are capable of, how you work best, and what is most important to you. Constantly evaluate how you are doing, celebrate the successes no matter how small, and make adjustments when needed. The point is, you are learning and growing!