Studying while parenting

I’m often asked how I do it.

I’m a mum to four boys aged 15, 13, nine, and six and I am currently in my second year of a three year Doctor of Philosophy. This is my third degree since having my children.

I enrolled in a Masters degree by research when I was five months pregnant with my first, and by the time I finished that degree as a course work degree (thanks so much, post natal depression!) I had two children. Then I took a five-year break and enrolled in a second Masters by research when I was six months pregnant with my fourth – something about pregnancy seems to fill me with a desire to study. Some women eat dirt, I read theory.

So, I guess I’m fairly qualified to write on the subject of studying while parenting. But this post will not be a list of time management practices, or study techniques. Reason being that I don’t believe there is a ‘right’ way to study. We each do it according to our personality traits and needs.

Even for one parent/student there may be many different ways of tackling study, depending on how old your kids are and what your circumstances are like at the time.

I did my entire second Masters between the hours of 1am and 4am – I definitely would not recommend this strategy. But it worked well for me because the rest of the household was asleep and as a breastfeeding mum I could feed my youngest at 12.30am and then count on three hours of uninterrupted reading and writing until he woke for a feed at 4am. I also had a husband who could let me sleep until 8-9am while he sorted the kids for school and kindergarten. That crazy schedule worked for us at the time.

Now that all my kids are at school, I am able to go into an office at uni four to five days a week and work between 9am and 3-4pm each day. I like to pretend it’s like having an actual paid job – my ultimate goal.

studying with kids

So, how you study is something you have to figure out for yourself (that’s helpful, isn’t it?). It pays to ask other people what their study hacks are, because you may well find many of them useful, but there is no such thing as ‘doing it wrong’ if you are getting the results you’re after.

So, then my question is why are you studying with kids? (Don’t worry if you just replied, ‘Because I’m insane!’ We all say that.)

Once you know the real answer to this question, you can prioritise your choices about ‘study and parenting’ balancing act issues with greater clarity.

Some parents study because, quite frankly, they have no other choice. They need a qualification to secure work and thus provide for their family. For these parents, the end point is very important and there is usually a time-based deadline, which must be met. If you are this kind of parent, you will likely need to prioritise your studies over having a Better Homes and Gardens magazine display home. Or as I like to put, ‘Cleanliness may be next to Godliness but it won’t get this essay done’. You may also need to prioritise your studies over taking the two-year-old to see the Wiggles, or catching up with your parents group every Thursday – maybe every second Thursday will do?

There will be some tough choices, but your goal is work flexibility in the long run, or affording the education your want for your child, or just being able to put food on the table. It is worth the short-term sacrifice!

If you study because you really enjoy the process of studying, but it is not necessary for providing the basics, your priorities might be different. You might decide the stress of four subjects per semester is not worth the disharmony it is causing because your friends feel you’ve abandoned them and your child is having to miss out on play dates because mum or dad is studying. You can afford to par back to one or two subjects and actually enjoy the process of stimulating your brain and adding another facet to your persona.

Another vital thing to remember, studying, just like parenting, is not a competition. Yes, there are competitive jobs and sometimes it’s not just enough to pass a subject when you are trying to get onto a career path that will provide security for your family. That said, there is a great saying I like to remind myself of from time to time, ‘In academics, we’re all smart, so distinguish yourself by being kind’.

Be kind to yourself and be kind to other parents and students. I see a lot of unhealthy and unhelpful comparisons of people’s ability to ‘have it all’ or to ‘do it all’. So, Ashley is studying, working, and has six kids, and is a single parent, and still gets 85 per cent on every assignment, while you struggle with one child, a partner and no job? So, what? Do you want Ashley’s life? I bet you don’t!

Good on you for studying! Be clear about why you have chosen to do this and let that clarity help you prioritise your needs!

Do you have any more tips to share?

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