Graduation season is looming, and I am fortunate to be able to call myself a graduate once again this May.
Having previously completed a bachelor’s degree and a dental degree, I’m no stranger to school. But this time was different. So different. This time, I was a mom.
Going back to school when you’re a mom isn’t easy. In fact, there were several times that I thought about quitting. In the end, I powered through and am so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Not only will I complete a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) this May, I’ll graduate with honors (something I didn’t do when I earned degrees without kids.)
Sometimes, moms lament the end or the stagnation of their professional lives after they have children. And I understand that many of the struggles are real and insurmountable. Financial circumstances and lack of support can make going back to school or ramping up your professional career virtually impossible. But other times, the barriers that we face are in our own minds. All we have to do is push past them.
With only a single project separating me from the end of a two-year program, I’d like to share some of the insights that I picked up along the way. The things I wish someone had shared with me before I started. And during the rough times when I was contemplating quitting altogether.
Shift your mindset. If you do only one thing as you embark upon an educational journey as a mom, do this. Instead of viewing your children as a hindrance, use them as your motivation. Honestly, I think that doing this gave me an advantage as a student. I felt like there was more on the line than just my personal success. My ability to do well impacted my whole family.
Make it count. If you’re going to spend time away from your family, make it count for something. When I sit down to study or go to class, I do my very best to be as productive as possible. I think this is the major difference between being a student as a mom and studying when you don’t have children. I couldn’t afford to dawdle, and it made me a better student than I’ve ever been before.
Prioritize. Going to school full-time with one-year-old triplets put a lot on my plate. Throughout the MBA program, I tried really hard not to say, “I don’t have time for that.” Instead I prefer to say, “I’m not going to make time for that.” This simple shift in words helps me to realize that I’m making intentional choices with my time.
Early in the MBA program, I sat down and made a list of all of the things that I wanted to do. Next, I put them in priority order. As I’m sure you can imagine, there were more want-to-dos than hours in the day. Something had to go. Actually, several somethings had to go.
I didn’t join a yoga studio. (Sad.) I didn’t participate in a book club. (Really sad.) I didn’t sign my kids up for soccer or ballet. (Caused a little mom guilt.) I even quit watching almost all television. (One of the best decisions I ever made.) In order to say yes to an education, I had to say no to these things. At least temporarily.
Find the time. After I got my priorities in order, I knew how I was going to spend my time. I just had to figure out when I was going to do all of the things that I needed to do.
When I was in school before, I was the type of person that would set aside an entire day to study for a big test. In fact, I still prefer to do things in big chunks rather than little bits at a time. Unfortunately, when you’re a mom to young children you don’t get that luxury. Their needs are constant and often unpredictable.
I work best in the morning, so I found that the easiest way to get a lot accomplished was to wake up 1-2 hours before my kids. That meant getting them on a consistent sleeping schedule. It also meant going to bed early for me. As a parent, it’s so easy to stay up late after the kids go to bed in order to squeeze out just a little bit more grown-up time. I had to resist that urge to be successful.
In addition to the morning, I found pockets of time throughout the day when I could work. Lunch hour when I was at work. Naptime when I was home with the kids. Long breaks during evening classes. My brain doesn’t process things as well after dark and it is the only time I get to spend with my husband, so I only studied at night as a last resort. It took a little trial and error, but I eventually got into a groove.
Don’t procrastinate. This was the hardest one for me. I got up early most mornings even if I felt like I was “caught up” on my classwork. There was always something that I could be working on. On occasion, I would get a little bit ahead and that made it possible for me to relax a little if one of my children got sick or I was called into work unexpectedly.
I won’t say that I was perfect. Sometimes I would get behind. But getting behind when you have a family comes with bigger consequences than coffee-fueled all-nighters. It meant that I lost time with my husband. It also meant that I felt more stressed and was not able to be the mom my children deserved. Whether I was distracted or short-tempered, my family suffered my procrastination more than I did.
Whether you’re in school now or just considering it, you should know that going back to school is possible. It’s also possible to do it well. You just have to figure out what works for you and your family.
Hello there! I’m Krysta. If you’re new to The Thoughtful Mom, welcome! And thank you for stopping by.
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**Photograph provided by Melissa Marciszko Photography.