School is officially back in session now. Even though it’s been a few weeks, I still have not gotten used to virtual learning for this school year. This isn’t how I imagined first grade would be for my son, who was just finding his stride as a kindergarten student when Covid struck. Virtual learning has been stressful beyond belief, with lots of tears, meltdowns, and temper tantrums–my son and I have a silent competition to see who can have the most by the end of the day. Oh yeah, there’s one more layer that adds to my stress: I’m also a student. I’m in grad school, which is a whole different ball game and Covid has complicated that.
On the one hand, I have no advice for being a parenting student during coronavirus. As soon as I seem to get some kind of routine going, something switches up and I’m right back at square one. Echoing my therapist, I’m trying my hardest to adapt to this new normal. Things that worked in the past may not work now. So let’s keep this at the forefront of our minds every day of this pandemic.
With that being said, being a parenting student is difficult but not impossible. I started grad school when my son was four months old. I’m now in my final year of a PhD program and just had my daughter a few months ago. My parenting and grad school journey go hand in hand. The flexibility of grad school has been key in helping to manage my parenting student roles. I’ve been a full-time student in both of my grad programs, and I’ve also worked various jobs as a grad assistant and adjunct professor. Most of these positions did not require me to clock in at a specific time, which meant that I could work at my own pace–between naps, feedings, playdates, 6AM wakeups, etc. If you continue to work while being a student, this flexibility is going to be crucial.
A good support system has been very important for me.
I did not make it this far in grad school on my own. For a long time, we did not have family nearby. We were able to develop a network of chosen family that helped with babysitting, keeping my kids entertained and offering moral support. My parents have flown in at various times to help when my husband and I have had to travel for work or conferences. My professors have allowed me to bring my son to meetings or stay home with him if he got sick. I don’t say it lightly that it truly takes a village.
My planner and Google Calendar have been our lifeline.
Another interesting fact is that my husband and I started grad school at the same time, so we’ve been juggling homework, exams, and parenting for years. Our Google Calendar is synced, and we add all important events to it. It helps so that we don’t overbook, and it also helps us know when we’ll have a particularly heavy week. I still like to write things down, so I always have my physical planner nearby to keep track of assignments, deadlines, and upcoming events. With so much going on, it can be very easy to let things slip or fall through the cracks.
Being a parent significantly limits the amount of time I have to get things done. I have to be very strategic about getting my work finished. Having kids has forced me to have a cutoff time. When my son was very young, he would close my laptop to signal that he wanted to play. I’ve become very efficient at working in very small pockets of time. Yes, I am still the queen of procrastination but there’s nothing like having kids that helps whip me in shape. I’ve heard other parents say the same. We just don’t have the luxury to waste time.
I didn’t learn this until several years into my PhD program, but it is so important to have things outside of school (and outside of parenting) to occupy your time. Quarantine has helped me discover hobbies––this was a foreign concept to me before March. I’ve been so focused on teaching, writing, and finishing my program that I would always say, “I don’t have the time.” I just focused on working. I still don’t have time, but I’m choosing to focus on hobbies, anyway. The work will get done, and taking a step away reminds me of why I enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty for having a full life. The work will be there, and you won’t be less of a serious student for choosing to do other things that make you happy.
Feelings of guilt can be unbearable, but do everything you can to shake it off.
It comes from unrealistic expectations and an unfair distribution of labor. You do not need to have it all. You can’t. Some things will just have to be “meh.” It’ll get done, it won’t be the best, but it’ll get done. Once I adopted this mindset, it made things so much easier. Resist the urge to compare yourself to other moms or other students. You are doing the best you can. Put the laptop down to play, and then get back to work. But don’t hesitate to let your family know when you are working. It’s okay to protect that time, too. You got this, Mama. Have a great school year!