Life as a Student Mom
By: Bonnie Way
When I returned to university in September, my daughters were two and a half years and four months old. With both parents in school, it was a major challenge. Besides finding my classes and buying books, I also had to figure out childcare and get homework done while meeting the needs of two young children. Here’s how the school year went for me.
Balancing Class Time
I chose to take three classes each semester. It was less than the five courses of a full course load, but still enough to be considered a “full-time” student for scholarship and student loan purposes. I scheduled all of my classes two days a week (Mondays and Thursdays) so I only needed childcare on those days and had the other three days to focus on homework and housework.
Childcare was the most stressful part of going back to school. While we found creative solutions for childcare, we also had to change childcare providers several times. This meant my daughters had to adjust to new places and new people, which was especially hard for my youngest.
While there are many daycares available in our area, most don’t provide part-time childcare. During the first semester, my aunt was able to watch our girls for one day and we found two homeschoolers who watched the girls for the other day. The homeschoolers were available during school hours, but each could only commit to half a day once a week.
During the second semester, my schedule changed and we had to work out new childcare arrangements. For a couple months, a neighbour babysat for us. This arrangement worked the best, as she lived very close, had a two-year-old son for my daughter to play with, and my youngest (a hardcore mommy’s girl) was even comfortable with her. Unfortunately, due to unseen circumstances halfway through the semester, we again had to change childcare, and found a nearby dayhome for the last month of classes.
Finally, my husband and I also tried to balance childcare ourselves. I had one class at 4 pm, just after my husband finished his class at 3:50. If I put the girls in the stroller and walked over to his class to meet him, he could walk me to class and take the girls home. Everything worked if his class got out on time and it saved us a bit of money in childcare.
Getting homework done required creativity and flexibility. My oldest daughter had stopped having naps and my youngest thwarted all my efforts to establish a regular nap routine. I often sat on the floor reading my assignments while they crawled around me playing. Sometimes I took them to the park where my oldest could play while I read and watched and entertained my youngest. I could work at the computer for short chunks of 20-30 minutes before they needed my direct attention.
One afternoon early in the semester, I had a presentation due. We ended up in my bedroom, lying on the bed, while my toddler handed me pens (“yellow pen, please” when I had to highlight, “blue pen, please” when I had to write notes). I let her make notes in my agenda or on designated pages in my notebook; she enjoyed feeling like she was part of what I was doing.
There were days when I put them to bed at 8 pm and then picked up my books to read or had my husband watch them for an hour while I went down to Starbucks to work on a paper. I had to be organized and efficient so I could make the most of whatever study time I had. I used my agenda to keep track of what was due when and what I should be working on, so I could work ahead if I had a few spare minutes.
Talk to Your Professors
One of my professors was very strict about students being on time. Because I had to meet my husband before getting to class, I couldn’t always control what time I arrived at class. Early in the semester, I stopped to explain our circumstances to him and to say that while I would do my best to ensure that I was punctual, there might be days when I was late. He never docked marks for the few days that I was late.
Halfway through the semester, my husband had a commitment during one of the times he was supposed to watch our girls. I tried calling several babysitters, but none were available last minute. In the end, I emailed my professor to explain that I wouldn’t be able to make it to class. I offered to drop by with the assignment that was due that day. Because I let him know about this ahead of time, he was understanding and even said I could hand the assignment in before our next class with no late penalties.
The Advantages of Being a Student Mom
Towards the end of the semester, I finally found another woman who was as crazy as I was—trying to work towards a degree with two young children at home. It was refreshing to talk to her about how we both managed to balance schoolwork and children. She had chosen to hire a full-time nanny, which gave her more study time without the children.
In a newsletter for student families, she wrote, “As mothers we are the great multi-taskers. . . . We can successfully check the flyers, make a shopping list, nurse a baby, and pretend to be Vikings in the long house we made out of the kitchen table and an old sheet—all at once. Three presentations, two assignments, and a 20-page paper due on the same day? That’s nothing.”
While I appreciated the chance to learn and challenge myself once again, I also loved walking home to the enthusiastic welcome of my children. If I was stressed about school, a hug or a walk through the park made my day better. My fellow student mom agreed, “We have the luxury of escaping the mad world of academia by retreating into the wonderful world of chubby fingers and rosy, post-bath faces. . . It’s always easier to return to our work clear-headed once we’ve read Good Night Moon and had a goodnight hug involving little sausage arms.”
Returning to school with two young children has had its ups and downs. Being in class is a nice break from the routines of being Mommy. Coming home to big smiles and hugs is what makes my day. Some days, I think about going to school full-time; other days, I wonder if I’m focusing too much on school and neglecting my girls. Overall, life as a student mom is about flexibility and balance. And that is a work in progress.
Bonnie Way is a mom, wife and a freelance writer whose work has been published in GONOMAD.com, The Olds Albertan, and the Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine.