I handle stress pretty well. I’ve pulled all-nighters for finals without suffering any major meltdowns. I’ve faced a full day of work on two hours of sleep because my eleven-month-old had teeth coming in. But the idea of going back to college while raising a child — I could barely imagine it to be possible.
Yet, like most everything else, it is possible. And many higher-reaching moms and dads do return to college while raising children. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research states nearly 4.8 million college students in the United States are raising children of their own. If you don’t know how these student-parents do it all — here’s how:
1. Time management
With so many tasks that need to be done “right now,” it can seem like you’re racing against a clock. Assessing your workload and blocking off time for schoolwork is the only way to get it all done. Kaela Raebel, a 26-year-old single mother attending University of Phoenix and working toward a Bachelor’s degree in English, said time management was her greatest challenge. To overcome the obstacle, she blocked off the evenings after her two-year-old son went to bed. “Bedtime [is] around 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” said Raebel. “Then I sit down to do any homework or reading I’d have.”
2. Establish a support system
Colleges and universities are slow to accommodate the growing number of student-parents with onsite resources, such as daycare facilities, to help relieve what is said to be these students’ top concerns. A 2011 IWPR publication shows that a mere 49 to 57 percent of colleges and universities provide childcare options. Jeannie Moore is a mother of three working towards her PhD in Physical Therapy at the University of St. Augustine. “There are no resources at school to assist me,” she said. “There are a handful of students with children and it helps to hear their struggles and how they overcome.” Student-parents should remember alternative resources: family, friends, “mommy- (or daddy-) and-me” groups or other student-parents who may be able to help watch the little ones when schoolwork beckons.
3. Utilize the resources your school offers
Daycare facilities may not be readily available at most schools, however, student-parents should always take advantage of the resources that are available. Nearly all schools offer online courses, which help reduce the need for childcare during class time. Creative course schedules (night or weekend classes) and classes that meet only once a week are other options that may help alleviate the need for childcare.
4. Set short-term goals
It’s easy to get lost in the big picture when a student-parent is staring down the barrel of a new semester or trimester, but taking it one step at a time not only reduces stress but also boosts confidence. “[I’m most proud of] every trimester that I pass all my classes,” says Christine Marie Tacotaco – mother of one and physical therapy doctorate student at University of St. Augustine. “I always feel like I’m drowning, but my family and classmates always pull me back above the water.”
5. Never say ‘I can’t’
“Anything is possible,” Tacotaco says. “I relocated my family here to be able to give my family a chance at a more successful life. If you put your mind to it you can do anything and in the end your family will be even prouder of you. You go to school for your family and for yourself. If you can become friends with classmates that understand your situation and are willing to support you, then you can make it through.”
GhanaInternships.com compiled a 2014 list of time management skills, with prioritizing slated at number one. “Make a list of all activities you need to do or possibly delegate,” the article stated. “Mark what should be considered high priority versus low priority.” This will help the red flag items rise to the surface while the yellow or green flags can simmer on the back-burner for a while.
7. Take care of yourself
With all the attention focused on work, school and family, one’s health can fall to the wayside and be forgotten. Sacrificing a few hours of sleep for extra studying or over-committing yourself to an ambitious workload can lead a student-parent down a dangerous and detrimental path. According to The American College Health Association’s Spring 2013 National College Health Assessment, “Stress, anxiety and sleep difficulties are the biggest life issues that American college students say affects their studies.” So always take a step back and breathe. Remember: More apples, less lattes!
8. Set a daily routine
Setting a routine helps turn tasks into habits and reduces the build-up of anxiety when faced with the never-ending “to do” list of a student-parent’s life. “My 14 year old helps with daily dishes, recycle, trash and then helps to vacuum at least once a week,” said Moore. “During long days at school, my husband does bulk of cooking and laundry.”
9. Keep your eye on the prize
Beyond all the papers, the exams and the readings…the finish line is out there. When the stress gets the better of Raebel, she employs her go-to stress reliever: “Take a step back. Look at my son. Breathe. Realize it’s all for him.”
10. Don’t forget about FUN!
Fun is a vital tool to help relieve stress and refocus on what is truly important in the life of a student-parent: Their children. “I also force myself to make time for the park for my four-year-old,” says Moore. “Those times will fly by and I don’t want to miss it all.”