It’s approaching quickly and boy am I excited. My favorite time of the year… Back to School season! I am not exaggerating when I state loud and clear how much I love the fall season. For starters, the air gets a little crisper, a little cooler. The hues of summer begin to turn as shades of autumn slowly begin to emerge… Yes it’s fall! A new beginning, a fresh start, a clean state!
Fall has always been my “spring”, my new beginning, my fresh start, and simply put my favorite time of the year. This stems from the fact that for the past ten years after graduating High School I had been a student parent. Fall meant a new class load for me, learning and discovering new aspects of any particular genre of available and undiscovered information as well as being a part of a larger community. I believe in the educational system. I believe education can transform an individual and in course open doors of opportunity that can change a life. I also believe in how the system works, you give your all and in return you are rewarded, whether it is with a letter grade, a merit award or recognition. I love it all!
When I finally graduated from my Bachelor’s degree program there was a sense of accomplishment, an ever exasperating “I did it!!” screaming from within. I mean lets be real here, I had been a teen mom, I lived on my own, paid my own bills, had a little girl to raise, classes to take, homework and assignments to tend to and a paying job to attend. It wasn’t easy and though it took me ten years of attending school part-time and working fulltime or sometimes the other way around I had finally accomplished my goal of completing my undergraduate studies. Not only did I graduate, but I also graduated with honors and a 3.8 GPA.
My success came only after much due sacrifice. Below I want to share some tips on how you too can succeed as a parent student. I do want to clearly state that how I managed to reach my goal is not for everyone and not everyone will agree with me. Feel free to apply what will help you in achieving your goal and discard what will not work for you.
1. Number One….first things first
I will be clear as day on this one. If you want something you will go after it. You will seek out ways to make it happen. Your drive and determination will surpass obstacles that will come your way. If you don’t really want it then you will make excuses. You will convince yourself that those obstacles in the way are there because “it’s not meant” for you.
We all have obstacles that will come our way, its inevitable in life, there’s no way around it. Things will fall apart; personal, family and employment will have their demands and there will be a time that you will feel like giving up….DON’T!
When I attended classes I had a multitude of obstacles surface. Sometimes it was my car, sometimes it was traffic making me late, other times it was the demand of the workload that I was carrying that made me physically sick to my stomach. Now I am not saying you should ignore your health but you know best. If you want to make it you will put first things first.
I started my last semester of college so sick to my stomach. I got into my car and as I was getting ready to get onto the highway I vomited all over myself, all over my car, all over my bag. You would think I would go home and rest, but I couldn’t. My university had a strict three-absence policy and since I had a child I couldn’t forsee what would happen in the upcoming 4 months that I might need to miss time for. So I turned around, I went home, showered, cleaned my car, grabbed a new bag and drove right back to the university. I had missed my first class but I wasn’t about to miss an entire day. You need to pick and choose… first things first.
2. Everything has it’s price.
College is expensive, yes. School is expensive, books are expensive, supplies are expensive but can you put a price on success? Sometimes it’s not the dollar amount that is as expensive as the other price we pay. What I mean is your time is valuable. As a parent, every investment you make costs it’s price. It’ll cost you in money, time, lessons and experience. My price was sacrifice.
My university was an hour and a half away from my house with the normal slow pace of morning traffic. If there was an accident then it was even longer. I took classes three days a week, which meant I had to learn patience for my 9 hours of commuting to school each week. I also had to take into consideration that the price of gas did not compare to the time that I was losing out of being with my child while I was commuting and while I attended my classes. The price I paid was sacrificing time with my daughter so that I could attend classes but I kept it all in perspective, as guilt ridden as I was, that I needed to be a little selfish and make the investment in my education because in the long run having a degree would pay off for both of us. Recognize the price that you will pay and come to terms with it, understand and accept that this is TEMPORARY and everything has its price.
3. Organization is key.
I am a person with a plan. I am extremely goal oriented and I have to have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C and D if necessary. Lack of control sends me into panic. I know this is not good but I recognize it. Being a single mother and a student taught me at an early stage that organization is key in obtaining my goals.
I organized my binders at the start of the semester by course and then with tabs for different component of that class, be it “the notes” section or “graded quizzes and tests” section. I also kept a separate notebook to write down all my assignments on a daily basis so I could easily access what I needed to do and cross off what I had already done. Being a parent requires having MANY organizational skills. Things that helped me along the way were:
• keeping a calendar with all my appointments, test dates and assignments due
• on the same calendar I would write down the bills that needed to be paid that month and cross them off as they were paid
• keeping a file with all important information such as birth certificates, medical records and receipts for easy access
• setting specific times that I would solely devout to studying and making sure my daughter had something to occupy her with for that timeframe
• packing lunches and bags the night before and checking the weather for the week so I could pick out the week’s worth of outfits for myself and my daughter (this especially helpful when you oversleep or are having a rough morning)
By keeping my apartment organized I always knew where to find what I needed but I also always knew how to stay on top of things. Organization is the small detail that can make a HUGE impact.
Your child is going to be sick. Your car may break down. You may have an emergency. Life happens. The key is to stay focused, organized and not panic. Most professors will be understanding as long as you communicate your circumstances.
There were times that my daughter was not feeling good enough to attend school but okay enough to sit in a classroom and color while I attended my classes. In my ten years of attending classes never did I encounter a professor that was not okay with this. Professors want to teach and see you succeed. As long as you keep an open dialogue and open communication you will be okay.
You are a mom; you are a student, maybe even an employee. We play many roles that ultimately define who we are in life. As a mother and student it is important to prioritize. Dedicate time to your studies and dedicate time to the things you love. There is no such thing as a balanced life; there is only a prioritized life. It’s important to give to each area of your life but how much time and effort you put into each depends on your priorities.
During midterms and finals my priority was researching and writing and studying. I knew this was what I needed to do to finish strong, It didn’t mean that I pushed my child aside but it did mean I found ways to keep her occupied or people to step in and help watch her for those extra long hours in the library. It also meant that there were times that I used my earned time from work because I knew it was better focused on researching. I did what I had to do to put first things first. I kept communication with my daughter about what I was doing and why I was doing it and did not allow the guilt of devoting so much time to my studies get in the way of my goal. Remember there is no such thing as a balanced life. Your priorities will change from day to day. Adjust and adapt and take one day at a time.
6. Don’t compare.
You are not going to be able to play all the games and read all the books and make puppet shows like the parents that solely stay home.
You are not going to go to every board meeting and have all the answers and all the solutions and invest your all into your job like the people who do not have children and are not studying.
Simply put you can’t compare yourself to others capabilities. Your life is unique to your own.
As taught in kindergarten… “Do your best in all aspects and you will succeed”. You can only do YOUR PERSONAL BEST, don’t compare yourself.
7.Develop a vision.
School may take a long time. As a parent, an employee and student it took me more than twice as long as it would the average student to obtain my bachelor’s degree. Yes I was frustrated. I had a plan and I wanted to cross it off my “to do list”. There were times that I thought “My time could be better spent making money for my family and the things I wanted”. There were other times I never thought it would end. I would start the semester with a countdown of how many days until the next semester.
My good friend Mike Guayo would joke about this because whenever anyone needed to know how many days until finals I was the “go to girl”.
The point is that you need to envision yourself succeeding and break down the big goal (graduating) into smaller attainable goals (finishing a class, finishing an assignment, completing a semester). By doing this and surrounding yourself with likeminded people you set yourself up to think positively and have a vision for getting there. It is important to be realistic in what your ACTUAL timeframe will be.
Also keep in mind just how truly amazing you are. There are people out there that never even thought to go to school (even without kids) and here you are taking the steps to realizing your dream. You deserve credit for your effort alone but remember that alone will not merit success.
There are resources out there. The school faculty wants you to be a success story. Your community wants you to succeed. Your child wants to see you cross the stage.
It’s exhilarating. You are setting your child up for success merely by your child watching you studying and reading. He/She will see literacy as important and enjoyable. Can you imagine how much more the impact when your child sees you in your cap and gown?
There’s nothing better than knowing that your success will benefit others in their success, especially your own family.
Commit yourself, reach out to professors, advisors, career center and any community resources that can help you in your journey.
College is also about building up a new community for yourself. Make sure to get involved at least in one activity per semester. Whether it’s a social change project, fundraiser, mentorship program, and social event. Getting involved ensures that you are tapping into different areas of the college experience.
This doesn’t mean you “NEED” to join clubs and teams and stretch yourself thin but if there is something of interest to you then you shouldn’t talk yourself out of it because you have a child(ren).
I helped with theatre productions at my university. There were times that it was even required lab hours out of my regular schedule. Sometimes it was a requirement for me to be there on weekends. I communicated with my professors that because it was mandatory that I would be there but that I would not have adequate childcare and therefore my daughter would be there as well.
They wanted me to succeed. I packed a bag of toys and snacks for my daughter and did my lab hours; put in some community service and even better my daughter played with the other students and enjoyed helping me.
Don’t talk yourself out of anything positive until you have put forth all effort.
What do you think? Is there anything that you would add to this list? Are you/ were you a parent student? I’d love to know your insights.
I hope that my experiences and thoughts shed some insight for going back to school as a parent student.