Surviving the Challenges of College and Colic as a Student and Parent
College can be challenging enough for dedicated students, but attending college as a new mom adds a whole new twist to this academic venture. I hadn’t finished college before my first child was born, but I knew I wanted to complete my degree as soon as possible. Knowing what I wanted to do and finding the resources to accomplish that goal were at times oceans apart from each other.
For close to the first two years of my daughter’s life I was a college student. She sometimes attended classes with me, had her own backpack with toys and books, and was my faithful companion during late-night study sessions. Being a mom and a college student is not an easy task, but if you are committed to both of them, you can be successful at both. I actually found that non-traditional students like myself tended to be more responsible, reliable, and focused at college – we had to be. If you are considering going to college or going back to college as a parent, consider the following ideas that helped me get the degree I wanted (and am still glad I have).
Pick a Program
Make sure that the program you select to pursue is your passion. This advice is for anyone – but parents who go to college most likely don’t have the time or funds for “do overs”. If you are certain you want a college degree, make sure it is something you love and think the job market will reward you for in the near future.
When I first began college I wanted to be a social worker. However, as a new mom I also quickly learned the emotional toll that would take on me, especially understanding my own personality. I also knew that I wanted a degree that would enable me to have job flexibility and utilize my skills and passions. I had also watched friends flounder and eventually leave school because they didn’t have a specific passion or goal they were pursuing. When I reassessed my college goals I asked myself the following questions.
- Will this degree enable me to have employment without further training?
- If something happens to my partner will I be able to use this degree to support my child?
- Will this degree compliment me as a person (and as a mom)?
- Can I afford to go to school full-time and still be an involved mom, both financially and emotionally?
- How will my life be better because of this degree?
- How will my life be more challenging because of college?
- How will my child’s life be different because I am attending college?
Create a College Time Budget
If you think about your time like you think about your finances, you can budget the hours in your day and be less likely to fall into time debt – when you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to be a parent and student.
Consider your class schedule so that you account for 4 basic factors:
- In-class time
- Childcare time
- Home time
- Homework time
Some semesters I took night-classes 4 evenings each week so that my husband was home with our daughter. I did homework during her naptime as much as I could. Other semesters when this was not possible, I arranged my class schedules so that there were as few hours as possible spent on campus, and the extra hours in between classes were my study breaks. Then when I came home my attention was back on my family.
Consider Online Options Carefully
Way back in the day when I was attending college online classes were not prevalent and not even yet offered in my field. Today they offer many options, but you still need to consider several points.
Make certain that the online classes are from an accredited and recognized university.
If you are looking to supplement with online classes make sure that the credits earned will go toward your on-campus credits.
Don’t assume that college at home as a parent will be infinitely easier than taking on-campus classes. You still need to devote time to classes and homework, and just like being a work-at-home mom, it isn’t always as easy to carve away that time when you don’t physically leave the house.
Make a Homework Plan
My first semester of college as a mom was so much more difficult because I didn’t have a doable plan (unless you consider just waiting until my daughter fell asleep on my shoulder and studying while she slumbered in my arms).
Use in-between hours for homework – those times when you have breaks between classes are valuable minutes that you are already away from home and mom duties.
Consider paying a babysitter for 5 hours each week for homework time. I know the finances can be an issue, but in the long-run you will save your sanity and your grades.
Get creative with what you can do as a mom and student. I would bring my daughter to the library and spend the first half-hour reading and exploring with her, then as she tired put her in a baby-pack and do my own searching.
Host study groups. Toward the end of my college career I had to work on several group projects that required hours of outside collaboration. I invited classmates over and provided an easy meal and we did the studying at my home – allowing me to still participate as a student and as a mom.
Find Flexible Childcare
No matter how creatively you arrange your class schedules, there will most likely be times when you have to find childcare for school responsibilities – either classes, meetings, or finals. Formal daycare settings are not only expensive, but they rarely have the flexibility you need. I was extremely blessed to find a neighbor and friend who could watch my daughter when I had classes.
- Find a neighbor with whom you and your child are already comfortable and ask if they are interested in babysitting occasionally.
- Ask a stay-at-home mom. It can provide her with extra income without being a full-time commitment.
- Check with your college. Many of them have childcare programs for students.
Look for Scholarships
Attending college as a non-trad (non-traditional student) puts you apart from the rest. Look for scholarships where the goal is to support non-trads. Search for organizations like these that are specifically focused on providing funding to moms and single parents.
Is attending college while being a new mom easy? No. Was it the right choice for me? Absolutely. I earned the degree (Technical Writing/Computer Science) that supports my passion and now my ability to be a work-at-home mom. Just make sure the decision is right for you and your family – no one else can make that call for you.