Friday, December 31st, 2010

Studying vs Parenting: The Battle For a Mature Student’s Time

Studying vs Parenting

College and parenting are both full-time jobs.

Being a parent while being a college student is one of those things that sounds great in theory, but proves trickier in practice.

If you’re like me, you go into it envisioning peaceful afternoons doing homework alongside your children or heartfelt family discussions about learning for the sake of learning.

Then your first semester starts, and the fantasy of being a scholarly role model for your kiddos, while simultaneously expanding your own horizons and embarking on new career paths, gives way to the day-to-day reality. Your midterms coincide with your son’s school play. You sleep through your alarm for class because you were up at night with a sick toddler. Your daughter accuses you of never having time for her anymore because you say no to playing “Candyland” so you can write a paper on operant learning.

At that point, you do one of two things. You either abandon ship, or you get a clearer, more realistic picture of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how to stay the course.

When I had my youngest child, who is now three, I wasn’t planning to return to college. Having earned my Masters in Social Work in 1994, I had a degree and a career and was reasonably happy with my life. But in 2007, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I became seriously ill with the pregnancy-related condition preeclampsia and had my baby two months early. That lead to some soul-searching about what I wanted to do next.

After much thought, I decided to study creative writing, a lifelong interest that had taken a back burner to more “practical” pursuits for decades. And so I started investigating programs.

Ultimately, I decided on Pine Manor College’s Solstice MFA Program, a Low-Residency Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. It offered the combination of an intensive course of study in fiction writing, my primary interest, along with a schedule that allowed for both time with my professors and peers (during twice a year, 10-day residencies) and time for my family. I began the two-year Masters program in July, 2010, and will be blogging about the experience as I go.

If you are considering embarking on the parenting-during-college challenge, I recommend asking yourself the following questions:

Who is my support system for this venture?

Remember that old saying about how “It takes a village to raise a child?” Forget a village! College and parenting are both full-time jobs, so take it from me, if you’re going to succeed at it, it can take a whole continent!

What is the college doing for their students-who-are-also-parents population?

Do they offer on-site childcare? Support group(s)? You’ll want a program that is family-friendly, and it helps when there are others in the same boat to connect with.

How flexible is the program?

Nowadays, you can learn your course content without necessarily having to go to four or five on-campus classes five days a week. Options to look for include:

  • independent study
  • distance or hybrid courses, which use online learning partially or exclusively
  • low-residency programs
  • flexible attendance policy with opportunities for make-up, part-time, classes at different times of day

What are my bottom line parenting values, and can this college program co-exist with them?

My involvement with the Solstice MFA Program is an expression of some of my deepest values where my kids are concerned, including:

  • Kids should see that parents have their own lives/passions/interests and are not simply caregivers.
  • Kids benefit from spending time regularly with their parent(s)
  • Learning and the arts are an important part of life for anyone at any age.

What are your deepest parenting values, and will being a student reflect them or thwart them?

How will I know if it’s working? When/how will I re-evaluate?

Prior to deciding that a Masters in Creative Writing was my path, I briefly explored the possibility of pursuing a nursing degree at a nearby college, but for this single mom and her family, it did not work out as planned, and I ended up going back to the proverbial drawing board. But that’s a whole other blog post…

Susan Lemere
Author: Susan Lemere
Susan Lemere is mom to two children and lives in Massachusetts. She obtained three college degrees on her way to becoming a therapist in 1994, and is now in the midst of earning her Masters in Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
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