This blog is about attending university, specifically a Masters level program, while being a full time mom.
I did my undergrad when I
was 25 years old. I then worked for many years at Brock University studying
human brain activity. After I had my children, I wanted a different challenge,
so when my daughter was 2 years, and my son was 4, I took the plunge. I went
back to school to do my MA in Applied Health Science. A few things that helped
me are outlined below.1.
This includes your supervisors, your colleagues,
your families, and your own. I knew my supervisor from my previous work and we
had volunteered together with a breastfeeding promotion organization. I knew I
wanted to work with her to do research on the transition to parenting and I
arranged a phone call with her to discuss thesis options. We decided it would
be a good fit, but I was also clear from the start that as important as the
thesis was, my family was my main priority. She had done some of her education
when her children were young, so she was understanding of this. I also learned during my time, to ask for what
I need. Originally we had recurring meetings, then they fell off, unfortunately
it was around the time that I was “losing momentum” so it was easy to
procrastinate writing my thesis. I should have asked to reinstate the meetings
to keep me on track.
I had to manage my colleagues expectations on
the dreaded group projects. I explained that I would work hard and get the work
done, but it would likely be at odd hours. What I found worked for me was doing
school work during the day while they were in daycare then coming home and
parenting for a while, then working after they went to bed. If I had a big
project, there were a few times that I would go out to work at a coffee shop.
I had to manage my families expectations when I
had to work through long deadlines, and would spend weeknights and weekends
away from them or working while they played. My husband spent many hours
driving kids around for their naps and parenting them while I worked.
I also had to manage my expectations. While I
was still a Type A student, I chose to spend less time on individual class
projects than I did in my undergrad. I also connected with my professors to ask
for extensions on projects if there were too many due at the same time. With
the MA, it was mostly assignments, so it allowed me to be able to space out the
work on them more than studying for exams would have. My daughter would also
wake through the night, and I would comfort her back to sleep. I would then
have a hard time falling back asleep, so I would get up and work. I would try
not to send emails at 3 am, but did lots of great writing!2.
Build your dream team
This can include babysitters, family, partner,
friends, other students and resources available from your school.
Being a student is a great time to get access to
free education opportunities outside of the classroom. I tell the story of when
I took an essay writing workshop in my undergrad, and the essay I wrote after
the workshop garnered an A+ average which was a large difference from my
previous grades (B to B+). That 2 hour work shop helped me to understand how to
better write essays, but many people don’t seek out resources like that. My
grades were fine before, but the workshop made it much easier to write all (ok
most) future essays.
When I started my MA, I was so lucky to be
starting with another student, who was also a mom to young children. We became
lab BFFs and could then have someone who fully understood what our days looked
like – from having to get kids up and dressed each morning then attending a day
Outside of the school, I had a few friends who
had done their continued education while they had kids. We would have regular
dinner meet ups to discuss and allow me to vent while getting mentorship from
them on strategies they used.
My husband, my parents and my husband’s parents
were great at stepping up and supervising children while I worked. Sometimes
this meant going away for the weekend, or us travelling to their places and
allowing me to work. I finished writing my thesis while on a cottage trip with
my in-laws - it was great to have
minimal wifi while writing, and knowing my kids were making amazing memories,
then I was able to connect with them during my writing breaks.3.
Push beyond the classroom
I chose to take an extra year to complete my
data collection and write my thesis. I also took an additional course that was
outside of my comfort zone. At the start of each class, the professor would ask
the 20 students in the class if we had done the reading – however – it was
asked without any judgement. If we didn’t, she just modified the way she taught
the content. It was brilliant, (as was she) and made us feel like “actual”
adults. This was amazing as it was part of my managing my expectations – that
undergrad me would have done all the readings. MA me couldn’t fit it all in
while prioritizing my family and my thesis.
As above, there are programs available within
your university or outside of the university to help you learn more. These can
include specific workshops on skills (including reference management, a prof
once quoted “Friends don’t let friends do their references manually, they teach
them Mendeley”). It also includes networking and netweaving opportunities that
will allow you to connect with likeminded people. Attend conferences using the
discounted fees, even better, present at the conference! Find as many
opportunities to discuss your research, and you, to help in your future career
Expand your technology horizons. When I did my
undergrad, I printed the slides the professors provided and handwrote my notes.
While some students still do that, it was not ideal. Use free software like
Mendeley or Zotero to create your in text citations and reference section. Use
text to speech software. Reading is not my preferred method of learning, and
where I did find a better method for me was videos created by other students as
projects, and available on the public domain! While I still had to do some text
book reading, these videos really helped to corroborate the knowledge.#@#_WA_-_CURSOR_-_POINT_#@#Overall, if you are thinking about going
back to school, it is manageable with children! You just need to work to find
the resources and tricks that work for you!
For full disclosure, that I work at Brock University in the
Faculty of Graduate Studies. I also work part time as the Foundation Manage for with Life With A Baby.