Attending college as a parent is not an easy thing to do. It takes careful time management, effort and the support of many people— not just yourself. However, the sacrifices you make will be worth it in the end.
1. Prioritize Tasks
When juggling various responsibilities, it’s vital to practice careful time management. Prioritize the most important tasks and let others fall to the wayside. This may mean your house might not be perfectly clean. However, as long as you’re getting your school work done and your kids are happy and healthy, that doesn’t really matter. In addition, keeping your home organized will help. This way, you don’t have to spend too much time searching for things you need. Try to put all of your school items in one place: for example, prepare your kids' supplies for school the night before.
2. Schedule Study Time
Scheduling your study time is also a good idea. Too often, school work spills into family time or family time interrupts studying. However, if you schedule your time wisely, you can spend a dedicated number of minutes on your coursework, then focus on your family freely and without stress.
3. Plan Around School Vacations
Time management as a parent-student may also mean you have to take courses that fall during school vacations when your children are off from school. Luckily, many places offer winter and spring break camps. You may also want to look into summer camps, which start filling up in the spring. Enrolling them in a summer camp is a great way for kids to become socially enriched while providing you with some well-needed daytime childcare.
4. Practice Self-Care
As a parent-student, it’s easy to get caught up with all of your responsibilities and to shy away from taking a personal break. That’s because the list of things to do will not end and something new is always coming up. Still, it's important to make sure you practice self-care. This means eating nutritious foods, making sure you get enough sleep, getting exercise and allowing yourself a little time here and there to recharge. Some things you can do specifically are:
Do Sunday meal prep for the week. Preparing foods ahead of time makes it easy to grab a healthy meal. There are tons of recipes out there.
Schedule your exercise time. Look at your schedule for the week and pencil in when you will work out and what you will do. You can combine social time with exercise if you go on power walks with another parent and your strollers, for example.
Try to get to bed on a regular schedule. Of course, with a baby or small child, this is difficult. But getting enough sleep is the best thing you can do for yourself. If your baby or child is old enough to be sleep-trained, now is the time to do it. Sleep will help your brain function and your overall physical and mental health. If you must, nap when you can. You can even build naps into your schedule, such as when you know you’ll have childcare.
Social time is self-care, too. Make room for some fun and talking with your friends. It can even be low-key fun, like walking with a friend or grabbing a coffee. Even a phone call or Skype with a dear friend can do a lot to boost your spirits. Remember, always keep your focus on your goal: college graduation. You may have to get the help of multiple people and sacrifice certain things but do what it takes to finish.
5. Utilize Your Network
A lot of independent people don’t feel comfortable asking for help, but the fact is that you will need assistance during your college years. Also, people won’t know you need help unless you ask. So, if you never ask, they will assume everything’s under control. You may not need assistance all the time, but during high-stress periods or job searching you probably will—and knowing how to properly utilize your network is important.
Check to see what supportive relationships you have around you. Write a list of the people you think you can depend on if you need help, and how much you may reasonably expect. Are there other parents from a social group you could depend on: people from a religious group, study groups or even old friends? Once you’ve written your list, consider writing an email to all of them, thanking them for being supportive and telling them you may be calling on them to help your school efforts or with other various tasks. Think of yourself as being the head of a volunteer committee for your own college education. Remember that you won’t just need help with babysitting. During busy periods, you may want someone to run to the grocery store for you, walk your pooch, mow a neglected lawn or even throw some laundry loads in for you.
When you ask for help, do it through multiple media. For requests where you don’t care who does it, you can ask for help on Facebook (can anybody walk my dog this Saturday?) and maybe text another friend to ask if they can babysit your child. You might call someone else to ask them to go to the store for you.
If your parenting partner is in the picture, make sure to enlist extra support from them and don’t feel guilty about it. For instance, if you usually do the entire bedtime routine, from dinner to bath to story time, then get them to take over part of it. If you’ve been doing the laundry and shopping and you will not be able to anymore, make it clear that the two of you need to divide tasks differently.
6. Build a Network
If you don’t have many supportive relationships already in place, now’s the time to network. Join a parent group—check with your university, local hospital, Facebook or Meetup.com. You can form a babysitting co-op, where you take turns babysitting other people's kids so each of you can get a break.
Overall, attending college as a parent can become very overwhelming and seem almost impossible at times. Rather than letting the stress take you over, focus on what steps to take that will help lead you to success. College is a time for learning and growing, don't let the pressures and worries keep you from achieving your goals.
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