Tuesday 8 January 2019

The Parent-Student Balance

By Lisa Smalley

The children have been fed and changed for bed so I take the chance to get in a bit of reading. Five minutes in and something is different - for one thing, it's not as noisy. I look up and there's my four-year-old standing watching me:

'What you doin'?'

'Mummy's just catching up on some reading, boo.'

'What you readin'?'

'Erm, some poetry ... rhymes.'

'Oh, can you read it to me?'

'I don't think you'd like it, boo Why don't you finish your game?  Look, your sister's waiting for you.'

'Ohhhhh!' *insert tantrum here*

When I started my BA in English, I was a parent of a three and a four year old. The eldest started school just before I started university, and the youngest attended the University nursery. At night I would slog through the mountains of work until the wee hours, and then drag myself and my little people out of bed in the morning, feeding, changing and problem solving the way to our respective locations. It can all be extremely challenging, so here are some tips to help with the parent/student balance:

1. Plan for the unexpected.  
It's simplistic I know, but when those deadlines loom and a child is ill or has a homework project, the stress and anxiety of trying to balance everything can be overwhelming. Think about your priorities should the unexpected happen and book everything into your calendar. Consider having reminders and alarms on your phone to switch tasks and keep you on track.  

2. Utilise all available resources.   
Scheduling in time for your study with no distractions can be a life-saver for your heavy workload. If that means waking up in the wee hours, calling on family support or investing in a babysitter, it's well worth it to maximise uninterrupted time for your work.

3. Think about when and where you are most productive.
During my BA I practically lived in the library on campus, it was one of my favourite places: silent study areas, information at my fingertips and a comfy sofa or two to 'rest my eyes' when it all became a bit too much. When and where do you do your best work? Whether it is in your bedroom with your books spread out, or at 10pm at the dining table with a nice cup of tea, use these places to produce your work, and don't feel bad about spreading out and taking them over.  

4. Book in some 'me' time. 
Missing those cat videos on Facebook? Want to watch the latest film, or just have a soak in a relaxing bubble bath? Do it. 'Me' time isn't a luxury. It's a necessity. You are investing in yourself after all, and taking care of your own well-being is just as important as reading the lists of secondary information for your next seminar.

5. Forgive yourself the little things.
However hard we try, we will miss the occasional school assembly or forget to sign a permission slip or two. If you've not managed to finish the novel in time for the seminar, be honest about it and don't feel bad. Being a student and a parent is a massive undertaking, and you're only one person. For me, the journey was hard, but when I walked across the stage to graduate with the sound of my children's whoops filling the auditorium it was so worth it. When you're posing for your graduation pictures in your cap and gown, clutching your hard-earned degree in one hand and the sticky mitt of your child in the other, you'll be happy you made the commitment. Best of luck.

About the author
Lisa Smalley is an MA English student, and an aspiring copywriter.