How to Balance Going to School with Being a Parent of Small Children
Going back to school when you have small children to care for can be a monumental challenge—but it will also be a rewarding experience that you and your children can look back on with amazement and gratitude. We’re all capable of doing incredible things, and many people have walked in these footsteps before you. But it won’t always be easy. Here are some tips to help you succeed as a college student and a parent.
Hone your time management skills—you’re going to need them
Perhaps the biggest challenge of attending college as a parent is that there simply feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that you need to do. However, you can try navigating your crazy schedule by improving your time management skills. Here are a few pointers:
Studies show that multitasking kills productivity. It’s better to choose one task at a time, maintain focus for a good 25 minutes (give or take), and do your best to eliminate all distractions during that time. However, as a parent, it can sometimes be impossible to avoid multitasking—when this is the case, limit yourself to just two tasks at once. When you only have two tasks to focus on, your brain can divide and conquer. But when you add a third task, your ability to do any of those tasks effectively plummets.
Chart your course
Each mod, mark your calendar with sticky notes of all important dates, including midterms, when papers are due, and all other notable dates. Hang this calendar in a prominent place in your home.
Use time management apps
There are many resources that can help you make the most of your limited time, including:
Focus Booster: helps you divide your tasks into 25-minute increments, so you can focus on one thing, then move on to another.
Evernote: a great note-taking app that also can help you manage your time.
Remember the Milk: can send you notifications so you don’t forget to write that research paper, or pick up the milk on the way home from school.
Rescue Time: shows you how you really spend your time (and how you might be wasting it), so you can optimize your day to get more done.
Give your kids, and yourself, a routine
Kids thrive on routine, and it just so happens that you’ll thrive as a college student with a routine as well. The challenge is aligning the two. Here are some ways you can give your schedule structure, for you and your kids.
Study every day
Even if it’s for 20 minutes, it will be much more effective than pulling an all-night cramming session right before an exam. So, even if a school project isn’t due for weeks, force yourself to work at it a little at a time well in advance.
Give your kids "homework"
You can study (even if their homework is a coloring book), side by side.
Finding time to relax can be difficult, so write it in on your calendar. You can even take a nap with your kids.
Ask for help
You don’t have to go this alone. You may be surprised at the number of people in your life who will gladly help out—all you have to do is ask. Talk to your instructors. Let them know about your situation, and collaborate with them on ways to accommodate your crazy schedule. Ask family and friends to lend a hand with day care and other needs. Learn to say no. You don’t have to do everything, and by turning down unnecessary obligations you can free up more time for your studies and for being a parent.
Be kind to yourself and don’t forget to play
Remember, you’re setting a positive example for your children that education is important and that you can go after your dreams. When you’re feeling discouraged, remember to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you’re capable of doing hard things. And one of the best ways to get out of this kind of funk is to play—play with your kids. Whether it’s make-believe or running around at the playground, these moments can help you reconnect with what is most important: your relationship with your children. After all, this is why you’re going back to school in the first place—to help give them a better life.
For more resources and inspiration, check back with the Better Life Blog regularly.