Written by Katherine Donges
I often get asked “How do you do it? How do you find time to study with kids?” Well, I’m never too sure how to answer that question. I’m not a super organised person, rather I just approach it one week at a time, one session at a time.
I started my degree (Bachelor of Nursing) in 2017, when my 5th child was 6 months old. Just before the session started, I was really unwell for a week and talked myself out of university as I felt very overwhelmed and thought it would be unmanageable. I deferred my studies by one year and at the end of that deferred year, term 4 for school had just started, 3 kids were at school and I was at the pool with a baby and toddler. I had a moment while sitting on the edge of the pool where I thought, if I was at university, I would have finished session two now and there is still a lot of time till the end of the year. So, with that motivation I headed into the unknown of university study, which was a new experience for me.
Returning to study
I chose part time, online study. Having the online option was the only way I was able to combine life with study. My husband works full time, so apart from him, there is no other support with kids/ housework. Online study was a great option, I could watch lectures on my laptop in the lounge room while supervising the two young ones. This is great, as I could pause when needed, or rewind if I missed something. I am very thankful for the mute button while in an online tutorial. This made me feel like I could still be apart of the class without the kids being disruptive. Although my classmates would sometimes get a little face pop up in my screen as the kids were curious to look at my lecturer/ classmates, haha!
I soon learnt that it was more effective for me (as a night person) to study and write assignments at night when everyone else was sleeping. This way I could concentrate knowing that no-one was going to disturb me. This was an effective way for me achieve my studies, however going through session on little sleep was hard, and I always seemed to crash at the end of session. Not recommended for long term!
A few of my Anatomy and Physiology subjects had a heavy work load. I wanted to do these subjects on campus, so as to not fall behind. I put my younger two boys into day-care two days a week on the days that I had on campus classes on. These two days became beneficial as I dedicated them to study days on campus where I would not be distracted from the never-ending list of jobs to do at home.
Studying with teenagers vs toddlers
I was once told that it is harder to study with teenagers then toddlers. When I started, I found this quote unusual, but after five years of study and now with two teenagers I can see how it changes. Younger children need supervised time, but are sometimes happy to be playing next to you while you work, however I have found that teenagers don’t like me being distracted by the computer and need my full attention when I am present with them. However, having my 6th child in the 2nd week of my last session was a challenge, so I think that each age has their own challenges, and I tried to be attentive to what they needed from me.
I vowed to myself at the start of my studies that I would try to not let my studies interfere too much with family life. Now at the end of five years, I feel happy that I’ve been able to juggle between family and study. I have learnt that setting aside time to study away from family time has allowed me to still be present. Do my children like me studying? Probably not! We all know how stressful it is trying to write assignments worthy of our time and this obviously makes us a bit of a grumpy person to be around. My laundry always manages to pile up more then I like during session, but I know that at the end of session I can get back on top of jobs that I have put off, I’ve just had to be open and honest about the fact that during assessment time I am busy and asked for some grace and understanding from the family.
Tips on juggling study and parenting
From listening to other parents who juggle study and parenting, here are some tips that I have collected over the years:
- Work out what time you study best, are you a morning or night person? Can you get up early, or go to bed late to do some study while the family sleeps?
- Have a special box of play things/ toys that the kids can only use during online classes so as to keep them entertained and not getting into mischief!
- When the little kids have a day nap, use this as uninterrupted study time.
- Give yourself a deadline, such as no study after the kids get home from school so that they get the time they need with you to unwind and you’re not distracted/ stressed trying to study.
- Laptop on the lounge, so children are supervised.
- Harder when older, so don’t delay start.
- Book in day-care a couple of days a week if you can and dedicate that time to specific tasks.
- Split your day. Set aside time that the kids get to play with you, hopefully allowing them to choose more independent play time while you study.
- If you have a partner, negotiate with him/her to take kids out on weekends so that you can get some uninterrupted study done.
- Sometimes it’s good to remember ‘quality over quantity’ time with family.
- Every age has different needs of attention, tune into what’s appropriate to your kids with what they need from you. Negotiate and talk with them. Simply explaining to them about what you need to do, and for how long. Letting kids know when assignments are due helps them to understand why you are busy and that you will be a happier person post submission!
- If you are able to, utilise the university’s libraries or public libraries near you so that you are away from all the distractions of home.