In the midst of the pandemic’s chaotic grip, when the world seemed to stand still, I found myself at a crossroads in my life. As a furloughed employee and a devoted mother, I sought solace in the power of the written word—my own words. With a newfound sense of purpose, I began sending my writing pitches to various publications, and to my surprise, experienced some success. Encouraged by this affirmation, I made the audacious decision to embark on a complete career change and pursue a degree in journalism. The moment I was accepted into the program filled me with elation… and extreme nervousness about going back to school as a mom.
I knew the journey ahead would demand so much of me. I’d be walking a tightrope between my responsibilities as a mother, maintaining our household, and excelling academically. From the daily juggle of tending to my daughter’s needs, her schoolwork, pick-ups, and gymnastics practice, along with our own inevitable sick days, I failed to anticipate just how many variables would come into play.
Nevertheless, I dove headfirst into being a college student again after 10 years. Now, after a year and a half of being a full-time student, I stand armed with invaluable lessons—lessons not only about myself but also about the art of managing motherhood, pursuing an education, and cherishing those precious hours in a day that often seem too few. Here’s what I’ve learned after going back to school as a mom.
Lessons Learned After Going Back to School as a Mom
1. Don’t Overextend Yourself
One of the most vital lessons I’ve learned going back to school is the importance of not overextending myself. As a somewhat perfectionist, wanting to achieve stellar grades while also balancing my family responsibilities, I took on way too much. I had a full course load, was freelance writing full-time for work, and writing for the school magazine. My first semester, I spread myself entirely too thin, and by the end of the semester although I had a 4.0, I was burnt out and felt like all areas of my life weren’t getting the best of me. Setting realistic boundaries and learning to say “no” when necessary and focusing on the tasks and commitments that truly matter has allowed me to maintain a healthier and more sustainable balance. I can’t do it all, and that’s ok!
2. Be Honest with Your Professors
Communicating openly about the challenges and responsibilities of being a mother in school can foster understanding and support. Professors are often willing to work with you to find solutions and accommodations that allow you to succeed academically without compromising your family obligations.
Also, look at your syllabus and see what their attendance policies are. Some professors have rules that your grade will lower after a certain amount of absences, so sometimes it might be best to switch sections if you are unable to realistically not miss classes.
Establishing a line of communication built on honesty and transparency, will create a foundation for mutual respect, collaboration, and relief. No one wants you to fail, but people aren’t mind readers, and no one will know if you don’t tell them. I remember I told my professor I had to miss class for my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, and she had no idea I was an older student, let alone a mother.
3. Be Realistic About Your Capacity
Understanding and acknowledging your capacity as a mother and student is key. It’s easy to underestimate the time and energy required to excel in both roles simultaneously. I was shocked by how much time I didn’t allocate for homework and studying outside of actually attending classes. Recognizing my limitations and setting realistic expectations earlier would have prevented a lot of the feelings of inadequacy I experienced. Setting achievable goals and managing your time, can maximize productivity, create a manageable routine, and save you from the feeling of drowning in the number of things on your plate. What also helped me was to look at my daughter’s school calendar and mine, to make sure my classes didn’t fall on days she’d be home from school.
4. Ask Your Support System for Help
You can’t get help if you don’t ask. Having reliable support and reaching out to family, friends, or fellow parents is crucial when you need help juggling it all. Whether it’s help with childcare, household tasks, or emotional support, leaning on your support network lightens the load and allows you to focus on your studies while ensuring your family’s needs are met.
I know it is an extreme privilege that I have such a big village, but even finding someone you can talk to, can help tremendously. Make some friends in your classes; if I missed class, or was struggling with an assignment, there were people I could text for notes or further discussion. It really made all the difference. Remember, you don’t have to do it all alone.
5. Give Yourself Grace
In the midst of the chaos that comes with being a mom and a student, it’s so important to give yourself grace. Perfection is not real. You will have off days, you’ll be tired, or sick, possibly hand in an assignment late, and it’s all okay! Go with the flow, embrace the imperfections of figuring it out, the moments of vulnerability, and the occasional setbacks, because it’s helping you grow. Remind yourself that you are not defined solely by academic accomplishments or your role as a mother, but by the love poured into both.
At the end of the day, I know I’m doing my best. I still make time for me, whatever self-care may look like on a given day. Maybe it’s grabbing Chipotle, watching my favorite show, sitting in the park with my AirPods for 20 minutes, or taking a drive. Finding little ways to recharge saved me when I felt like giving up.
Going back to school as a parent is hard, but not impossible. We truly do a million things in a day, and somehow manage it all; if you want to go back to school you should! You’ll be surprised how much you are capable of and how fulfilled it makes you feel.