The Art of Being a Student and a Full-Time Parent

By: Dr. Daniel Leu

Traditionally, high school students apply for college in their junior year and attend college upon completion. Many college students will complete their degrees within six years and begin their careers before starting a family. Some people may choose to pursue additional degrees before starting their families. However, times have changed. Today, more adults are choosing to restart their college education to better their opportunities and with more on their plates.

Being a parent, professional, and student requires extreme discipline, dedication, and time management. This goes without saying. There will be moments when your priorities must be adjusted and responsibilities shifted. Then, there will be times when you simply need to forfeit a task or responsibility to retain your sanity. You will learn what’s in your textbooks and lectures and about your patience, abilities, and limits.

I am a father of three and recently completed my Doctorate of Education; however, I was a father, professional, and student for my last three degrees. So I want to share some advice based on my experiences, and I hope to help you avoid some of my mistakes.

The first and most important aspect is to fully understand what you are getting yourself into. You know your responsibilities as a parent, and you know your responsibilities working; however, do you know what you’re adding going back to school? What classes do I need to take? Is this an online or in-person program? If in-person, how long is the commute, and how many hours are the classes? If online, are the classes synchronous or asynchronous, and do I need to take time to go on campus? How familiar am I with these subjects? How many hours of studying will it involve? Does the program require a particular project or practicum to graduate? Naturally, some questions cannot be answered because classes and professors will have different expectations; however, the more answers you have, the better prepared you’ll be. The answers to these questions are crucial to your success because they help establish internal and external expectations.

The second aspect is communication. Once you understand what to expect going back to school, you’ll need to communicate this to your significant other, kids, employer or employees, and yourself. Your significant other must support your ambitions because they must make the biggest sacrifice. You may spend late nights studying and finishing assignments, but your partner is picking up the responsibilities you’ve reprioritized. Therefore, if you do not clearly communicate what they should expect, it’ll lead to many disagreements, fights, and frustrations, which you don’t need.

You also need to let your kid or kids know. Depending on their age, you need them to understand that your time and attention will be spread thinner for a while. Your work should also know that you are going to school. You don’t need to share the exact details as you did with your partner; however, they must understand you are trying to better yourself, and you may request some time off for projects and other activities.

Lastly, you’ll need to be honest with yourself. If you enroll, you may have to sacrifice watching sports, hanging out with friends and family, going on vacation, or taking your kids out as often. You may ask yourself, “I’m making this decision. Why would I need to communicate with myself?” Trust me, it won’t really hit you until the first time you need to stay home to finish an assignment while everyone goes out.

The fun begins after you’ve decided and officially enrolled in school. You will need to be a master of time management and prioritization. Everyone has the same 24 hours daily, but you’ll need to squeeze more into your waking hours than most. Sleeping less is an option, but I don’t recommend it because your body will break down. Remember, your choices need to be sustainable. If you need to sleep less, I suggest waking up early instead of sleeping late. Depending on the academic rigors, you may need to study or complete an assignment at lunchtime. You can listen to your textbooks during your commute. However, be careful not to allow your schoolwork to interfere with work. The more difficult prioritization occurs when managing time with family, especially children, because they may not fully understand. You may need to skip basketball games or postpone trips to an amusement park to complete assignments. You may need to delay finishing your studies to help your children with homework and projects. Allocating the appropriate amount of time to each task and responsibility will require practice, and it may initially feel overwhelming. However, don’t feel discouraged because we have all gone through this process. It may take some time, but it’ll feel like second nature once you find your rhythm.

The academic portion should be relatively more manageable because you decided to return to school and study the subject. With professional and personal experiences, the topics you study in the classrooms should resonate with you and not feel theoretical. Moreover, you’ll better understand which courses you want to focus on and which to do the bare minimum. Being a more efficient student is essential because you have more on your plate. You’ll need to assess which type of learner you are and study based on your strengths. For example, if you’re an audio learner, you should utilize audiobooks when assigned reading. Next, identify the tools and resources at your disposal. Unlike attending school in the 90s or early 2000s, technology has given us more access to information, but many of us use it to waste time or not sleep. For example, if you’re a visual learner, use YouTube to your advantage and watch multiple lectures with animations and other visual aids. Podcasts are a great way to stay up to date with a subject. You should consider using apps such as Grammarly and Brainscape or tools to help you quickly transcribe, dictate, or create artistic presentations. We have significantly more tools at our disposal today; therefore, it’d be stupid not to use them.

Being a parent is difficult, but adding being a student creates a recipe for chaos. However, as President Theodore Roosevelt said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Starting or going back to school as a parent is a brave endeavor, and although it may be your personal goal, you don’t realize the impact your actions will have on your children. There will be moments you’ll want to throw your laptop across the room, scream, or cry in the bathroom; however, remember your purpose and goal. You are not the first nor will you be the last person to deal with these struggles, but in the end, you will be the person who will reap the rewards and feel pride in your persistence, dedication, and accomplishment.