I registered for my first postgraduate classes and did a silent cheer for myself. I was ready to finally move forward with my professional development and advance my career. Score!
“Mommy, can you play tea party with me?”
“Honey, have you seen that boot band I left on the coffee table on Friday night? Oh, don’t forget the Change of Command on Tuesday!”
Except, this wasn’t all about me any more.
Trying to balance your career with grad school and parenting can be challenging, even for the brave.
It’s what I did for the last year, and I learned a lot along the way. Even how to take time to recharge my own batteries! Here are my 8 tips for reducing the stress of going back to school.
8 Tips to Reduce the Stress of Going to College
1. Take Advantage of Online Classes
Online classes are a lifesaver! It meant that almost all of my classwork could be done around the “gaps” in my parenting schedule. That meant: naptime, after bedtime and weekends.
Usually, online classes meet “virtually” on a rolling basis. This means that at any point in the semester or quarter, you can log in and upload your work or engage in discussion. Just watch out for homework deadlines! Even online, they still exist.
2. Create Your Work Zone
I created “zones” for work and work things in my house.
The front door is the drop zone for all things that go in and out a lot. That means purses, backpacks, keys and shoes. Everything gets left there.
A bookshelf was my school zone. All my books and notebooks were there, and were off-limits.
I made a desk/coffee table my work zone. I work better when the TV is on in the background, so I set up camp on the couch near the coffee table. When my work was done, the computer went back to the desk and the books went back to their shelves.
3. Invest in Sticky Notes
Buy stock in them.
I put sticky notes on everything. One pack was just for school, marking places in books or for lists of what was due when. Another was just for family: doctor’s appointments and playdates. And one pack was for military stuff, like weekends he had off or important dates for his unit.
4. Pawn Your Children Off on Other People
I was upfront with my husband about the need for me to get my master’s degree. After all, my career has essentially been shelved to favor his. This is MY chance to get ahead.
So on weekends or at nights when I had to get stuff done, he would take our little one on daddy-daughter dates to parks, playgrounds or even the grocery store to pick up dinner.
No spouse around at the moment? Use your friends to swap for free child care. Or find a really great sitter to take over while you need to do your school things.
5. Master Your Calendar
Whether you use shared digital calendars or one paper master calendar, just make sure that you are consistent. Write down everything for you, your spouse and your kids. From soccer tryouts to TAD, it needs to be recorded somewhere. I am the queen of forgetting unless it is written down.
Even better? Designate a color for each person and block off the time window (this tip works well in digital or daily planners). It will help you and your spouse spot overlaps between kid activities, work demands and school deadlines.
6. Be Ready to Say “No”
Before you commit to anything, think about it first.
I know that in our community, saying yes is prized and encouraged. Sometimes, saying yes can hurt more than help.
Like if you committed to supervise the Family Day food buffet and you have a research paper due that afternoon. Or someone needs an ongoing Bible study leader on the one night your spouse is usually home during the week.
- Will I be able to care for my kids if I do this?
- Will I meet my deadlines?
- Will it cause me stress?
If your answer to any of those questions is “Yes,” then you should gracefully say “No.”
7. Put Yourself in Time Out
Between kids, school and spouse, you can get stretched thin quickly. While it may seem luxurious to even have the chance to focus on your career or passion, step away from it for a little while and recharge with something else.
I joined a running group and set weekly dinner and playdates with friends. I got to meet new people and de-stress with other moms and my child got to play.
Most importantly, I was able to return to my have-to-do’s list refreshed and happier after I took a short break.
8. Be OK with Being OK
It’s OK to not have a Pinterest perfect home-cooked meal on the table daily.
It’s OK to not have a perfectly clean house all the time.
It’s OK to wear yoga pants when you aren’t going to yoga.
You have a lot on your plate. So use that slow cooker, order out or do a DIY sandwich night regularly. Teach your toddler to wipe up their own spills. And pull on those cozy clothes with pride.
You are taking time to help yourself, and that is worth more than any meal, any level of household perfection and definitely more than looking picture perfect all the time.