Being a parent and attending college is not an easy thing to do. It takes effort, careful time management, and the support of many people, not just yourself. But the sacrifices you make will be worth it in the end.
Form a Help 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. And people won’t know you need help unless you ask.
You may not need assistance all the time, but during high-stress periods, like around mid-terms and finals, you probably will—there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all you need to. Especially when managing a family life in addition.
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? 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 with your school efforts and some various tasks outside of it. 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 really busy periods, you may want someone to run to the grocery store for you, walk your pooch, mow a neglected lawn, 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.
And remember, always make your ask specific. It’s important to reciprocate as much as possible.
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 storytime, 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.
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 others’ kids so each of you can get a break.
Manage Your Time
When juggling several schedules, it’s vital to do practice good time management.
Prioritize the most important tasks and let others fall to the wayside. This may mean your house might not be perfectly clean, but as long as you’re getting your studying done and your kids are happy and healthy, it’s not an urgent matter.
It will help, however, if your home is organized, so you don’t have to spend too many minutes searching for things you need. Try to put all your school items in one place, for example, and prep your kid’s supplies the night before.
Scheduling your study time is also a good idea. Too often, school work spills into family time, or family time interrupts studying. But if you schedule your time, you can spend dedicated minutes on your coursework, and focus on your family when it’s outside of that period.
Time management as a parent-student may also mean you have to take courses that fall during school vacations. Many places offer winter and spring break camps. You may also want to find summer camps, which start filling up in the spring. Enrolling your kids in a summer camp is a great way for them to get enrichment while providing you with daytime childcare. Look for local YMCA, Girl Scouts or Boy Scout camps, museums, theaters, and other programs.
When you’re doing multiple jobs—and parenting and being a student count as jobs—it’s easy to get caught up in those tasks and never take a break. That’s because the list of things to do will not end, and something new is always coming up.
Make sure you practice self-care. This means eating nutritious foods, making sure you get enough sleep, getting exercise, and allowing a little time here and there to recharge.
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 power walk with another parent and your strollers, for example.
Try to go 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 child care.
Social time is self-care, too. Make room for some fun and talking with your friends. Even if it’s simple outings like walking with a friend or grabbing 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 you can do what it takes to finish.
About Haley Kieser: Haley has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Studies. She loves to travel, write, adventure outdoors, and watch football on Sundays!