A lot of anxiety, no matter what the situation is, stems from the unknown. If we haven’t thought out a situation or are going into it blind, of course we’re anxious about it, because we aren’t prepared. While no one can ever be prepared 100% for anything, having some tools in your toolbox to handle situations that might arise can be reassuring.
Here are some tips to help balance school and parenting:
- Talk with your partner about schedules and expectations. If you have a partner, talk with them about your expected class schedule, dissertation writing time, meetings, job hours, and what you’d like to see during the semester. Let them know what would be helpful to you, and listen to their response. What are they able to do to shoulder some of the responsibility? If you don’t have a partner, figure out what kinds of help you’ll need: is it picking the children up from school or daycare? Night-time help? Weekend help? Talk with family or your support system about your needs, and plan accordingly. Have back-ups ready, just in case. Communication is key.
- Accept that sacrifices will be made. Going back to school, especially while working and having a family, typically means some type of sacrifice will occur. This might be financial or it might be social – ie, less time for social events or television, no vacations, and so forth. It’s helpful to remind yourself that this is temporary, and once school is over, your lifestyle will adjust accordingly. Thinking of your schooling as a second job can help with this mindset.
- Get organized. Use your computer calendar, a paper planner, or your phone. Organization is so important when you have work deadlines, school and dissertation deadlines, meetings, events for your children, and other obligations. Being able to see your week and/or month in advance will help you see how you need to budget your time, and even money. Organization also includes meal planning. Recruit your partner to help with this – plan the week’s meals ahead of time, and have them help you when possible. This will save time agonizing over what to make. Even better, make things ahead of time and freeze it, and then just heat it up when the time comes.
- Choose a flexible program. There’s a reason why online and low-residency programs are becoming so popular – not everyone has the time to sit in classes all day on campus. Do your research about the programs you’re interested in, and find a flexible one that works for you. In the same vein, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about whether your place of employment allows employees to work from home one or two days a week. Little tweaks of scheduling can be important to your success.
- Find your people. Make sure you have a support system of people who care about you and believe in you. Tell them about your plans with school and work, and have them hold you accountable. Even though you’ll be busy and you might have to cut back on late nights out with the girls, it’s still important to maintain friendships and not isolate yourself.
- Set boundaries. Let your family know that there are certain times that while you might be at home, you’re working and cannot be disturbed. This can take some getting used to on everyone’s part, but it’s crucial for your work.
- Don’t forget about YOU. As a parent, it’s easy to put everyone else before yourself. Take time every day to focus on you, and don’t forget about self-care. Eat right, drink enough water, get adequate sleep, get some fresh air and exercise, and even take some down time and do nothing. Relax. You’ll likely find that after practicing some self-care, you’ll be able to return to your work refreshed. Remember: you can’t pour from an empty cup.
- Let go of guilt. As parents, we’re well acquainted with guilt: are we doing this right, are we doing that right – those parents did this, have that, went here or there. Relax. You’re doing fine. If you need to turn the television on and let your kids watch an episode or three of Sesame Street while you go over your proposal again or finish edits, that’s okay. They won’t be scarred for life. These things happen, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing.
- Set aside time to do things as a family. Even on a budget, there are free and low-cost things to do with kids and with your partner – and family time is important for everyone involved. Have a picnic in the local park with favorite family foods. Take advantage of family days at local zoos, theme parks, or attractions. Frequent the library storytimes or arts and craft days (most libraries have a whole schedule you can look up online). Find out when local museums have family days. Have a movie night at home with favorite movies – make a pillow fort, wear comfy pajamas, and pop popcorn.
- Find what works for you, and feel good about it. Just like parenting, juggling school, work, and family can look different for everyone. One size does not fit all, and what works for me might not work for you. Don’t be afraid to lean on friends, mentors, and family members, and don’t be bashful about asking for help if you need it. You might find that you need to go through some trial-and-error to find what runs smoothest for your family, and that’s okay.
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