So you want to be a Studying Parent?
I have a brave friend who had a place for university as a mature student with teenage and primary aged children. In the last year she has completed an access course, bagged herself an amazing part time job after years out of the work sector and all while being married and a mother. How awesome is she? As I’ve been speaking to her, I’ve been remembering the three times I went to university – as a newly married undergraduate then a newly pregnant PGCE student then a newly single parent attempting a Masters.
What on earth could I say to a parent looking at Freshers this week when I seem to have always timed studying with a major life transition? But here’s 5 thoughts I have now for any parents about to or in the midst of studying.
1. Be kind to yourself University is hard! And that’s okay. No matter how much you want to be there, sometimes life will throw you a curveball. Universities expect this, they should have a great pastoral team in response to this and tutors who care. For me, being kind to myself whilst doing my Masters in Play Therapy meant a lot of chocolate (hence now being almost 2 years off sugar to atone!) and a lot of what I’ll discuss in thought number 2. This is the shortest section as even though I started Blurt Foundation’s #365 Days of self-care challenge while studying, it took me 18 months to complete and only in the ending of it did I realise I needed to be kinder to myself!
2. Set realistic expectations
I got nothing below a B at GCSE and A Level. My undergrad was first class and my PGCE a distinction. But guess what? Starting and completing my Masters as an unexpectedly single parent (literally weeks before!) meant that I was alongside clever peers who maybe had older children who didn’t need them there in the way my grieving 3 year old did, who had a husband or partner at home to take some of the mental or housework load, and who were able to dedicate time and study to gain the distinctions they were aiming for. I quickly had to swallow pride and be grateful for our tutor’s advice that completion, not competition, was the goal. And we all had our burdens to bear, I’m not discounting that at all.
But remember, if you are married, parenting and/or working, your goal may be to read something, anything, by the end of the day, rather than colour code your timetable or go out and socialise to excess! I am a humanistic therapist; I fully believe that you know how you are designed, how you function best and what you need to do.
3. Schedule downtime and connection points
From my own experience, heed this. If you try and do it all, to the best of your ability, all at once, in the way you’ve been used to doing – you. will. burn. out. Spectacularly. I’m talking sobbing as soon as you’ve dropped your child off to playgroup, once they’ve been peeled off you crying and wailing. Or losing patience fast. Or having no money so you run out of petrol and realise as you’re walking back with a petrol can to your car that this symbolises you and so you have a choice to face – do you finish your course like a sprint and have nothing left when you need to start earning and practice or do you pace yourself and go for the marathon? What is the way you switch off? Running, bubble baths, staring at screens, reading? Schedule it in now, before you decide other things are more important than your sanity.
Same if you have children; let them see you for at least a day a month as parent again – not studying, not stressed, not wishing they were asleep so you would work but their own precious parent. Let them have yes days, do some love-bombing. When the course finishes, these precious children will be older and wiser, and as Rob Parsons from Care for the Family talks about, what you deposit into the emotional banks now, you will be able to withdraw in the future. I can’t comment on the husband but as a children’s therapist, please invest into time with your husband for the sake of your marriage and your children. It’s hard but so necessary.
4. Don’t compare
See point 2! Speak to friends, find colleague that are doing or have done the same course, follow people on social media but remember overall that your story is not their story and vice versa. You will get into a healthy rhythm.
Let’s repeat that again and say it out loud together. YOU WILL get into a HEALTHY rhythm. You are changing your family’s future and YOU WILL get into a HEALTHY rhythm.
5. Remember your why/your end goal
Lots of business and fitness speak talks about your why. The reason you got yourself on to this course, the purpose for the temporary pain. For me, I prefer thinking about my final destination (though I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to see me running a successful play therapy practice) and realising that the study was a stepping stone to this destination was invaluable.
How about you? Are you starting the student journey? Or wishing you had? Feel free to post some tips here, and share with those who may be starting an overwhelming and exciting leg of their journey. And if someone who you love is going to be; feed them, babysit their kids, remind them how awesome they are and that they will finish and finish well!