Mission impossible: How to successfully juggle studying and motherhood

Studying while you have a young family can be the best time to retrain, re-skill or to simply fulfil a personal goal. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but if you’re even thinking of it, it pays to do some homework so you’ll be better prepared for what lies ahead.

That’s what I should have done when at the age of 18, I took a leap of faith, left part time work, enrolled in a three-year degree and became a full-time student. All great except after two years I started working part time again.

And so began my rather extended life as a mother-student. I completed my first year full-time.the next year and juggled baby and study. In my third year, I continued full time and whilst juggling my daughter. Onwards I went, completing my two years full-time with my toddler. When I finally graduated, I was ever so pleased and happy within myself that I completed my degree

It took me three years to complete my degree. I just kept plugging away because I knew that if I ever stopped, I would never go back to it.

I won’t lie. Studying like this was hard. Some days it felt way too hard. There were days I cried. But then there were fabulous days too – when assignments and exams were completed and I got the reward for the effort. And that fantastic end-of-year feeling when everything was handed in and you were totally done? Priceless.

And beyond me achieving my goals – getting my degree and resetting my career – I really DID something for myself with my little one on my side. Looking back, studying when I did was actually the best thing I have ever done for myself. And I have just recently completed my masters degree 🙂

So with this in mind, here are my top tips to make studying and motherhood work.

Don’t put off till tomorrow what can done today

Procrastination is what got me my very, very average HSC marks when I was at school. I always delayed getting started until the very last minute, but when you’re a mum, you just can’t do that. There will be a million legitimate reasons why life gets in the way of study: you have a sick child; you were up 10 times in the night tending to a crying baby; you want to go to playgroup – so when you have the opportunity to do your work, take it! You never know what is coming round the corner, so take the chance NOW and put your head in your books.

Be practical about the elective subjects you choose

Most courses have compulsory subjects and you’ll have no choice about what they are or when they are timetabled. But when it comes to elective subjects, do some research and have a really good think about what you can manage, what the study load will be through the semester, how much reading there will be versus how much coursework you will have to complete. You’ll be surprised how much variation there can be between subjects and what might have once worked, may not work now.

Part-time studying mum vs full-time studying mum

When you’re a busy mum, making the decision to return to study – or study for the first time – feels epic. And that’s because it is. You’re investing a lot of energy and effort into something outside you, your family and your home. You want to make sure it’s a success. Before you begin, think about what’s practical in terms of the hours you can commit to study, and don’t forget that there will be plenty of homework to get through too. For a lot of busy mums, part-time study is a more practical solution even if it does take you twice as long to complete your course. Part-time study gives you more wriggle room to fit in the rest of your life.

Do the reading!

I won’t lie. The course reading is a killer. And if you are an exhausted mother, the course reading is like some kind of magical double-strength sleeping pill. I would dutifully make time to do my reading – usually at night once the kids had gone to bed – and then promptly slip into a coma five minutes later. If you possibly can, try and prepare for classes when you’re not dog-tired and do try to get the reading done. Without doing the reading, you only get value from the turning-up-to-class part of the course, which is a real lost opportunity. AND without doing the reading, your job come exam time will be way, way harder.

Don’t apologise for studying

This one is a biggie. Undertaking a course of study is not the same as regularly going to book club with your girlfriends. Sure, it takes you out of the house and away from your family but for ongoing study to be a success and sustainable, you and your loved ones, cannot consider it as an extracurricular activity, something that can be squeezed into a busy life and then dropped when things get hectic. To study successfully, you will have to make room for it in your life. Every single week. You may need to rearrange your schedule and that may inconvenience others a little bit. But if you want to commit to studying, then you have to commit to studying.

Keep on truckin’

Applying for any course – whether it’s a three-year degree or a one-year diploma – can feel super-daunting. But the one thing that motherhood teaches us all is that time goes by so quickly and before you know it, you’ll be done. Don’t think of it as three long years of scary commitment: instead break it down to THIS semester, THIS term, THIS month, THIS week … whatever makes it feel more manageable for you. Because I studied when my kids were babies, my study goals were really modest. I just went from week to week and assignment to assignment. Any day that an assignment was completed, was a good day. And I concentrated on celebrating the good days. And that got me through.

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