Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
The idea of going back to uni to become a teacher had been brewing away inside me for at least three years before I finally stopped being a chicken and enrolled into my course, which is a 4 year, full-time undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Arts with Diploma in Education). In 2011, I started my first semester and there was no turning back. The decision to go back to school was certainly not taken lightly; I was approaching my thirties and having recently married, we wanted to start our family soon. It was scary for so many reasons. I had a good job, one which paid well; working for and with really great people. It had been ten years since I finished uni and the idea of studying for god-knows-how-long was daunting. However, I also knew that there was no way I was going to keep being an insurance broker for the next 40 years; nor did I ever want to regret that I didn’t take this opportunity when I had a chance. It was time for a change.
During the second half of 2011, I enrolled into university full-time. In the first week of that semester, I found out that I was pregnant with our (now toddler) daughter. I remember that my morning sickness was so bad that a few times I had to run out of the classroom to throw up (one time, I didn’t make it to the bathroom and had to deposit into a bin nearby – classy, I know!). I had to defer one semester to give birth, but returned to uni when my baby was 4 months old, doing just one subject. Back then, when I told friends that I was combining study with a baby, some of my friends who were already mothers and those who worked with children frankly thought I was a little crazy, if not a tad naive. Some tried to talk me out of it, or suggested that perhaps I study when the children are older, and at school. It makes me laugh a little now because I can see exactly where they are coming from, and appreciate their often good (and wise) intentions. Especially in the early days when I was breastfeeding on demand and my baby was still not sleeping through the night. However, thanks to study, I now have fond memories of running to the breastfeeding room at the Human Sciences faculty building just to express milk in between classes. Since then, it’s been a great experience.
Despite this, the study/baby juggle was a shock to the system for me, especially initially. Having worked throughout university (full-time study, full-time work), and then for the past decade or so, I thought I knew what hard work and ‘juggling’ was. A few years on, I have to say that I have found that caring for young children while studying to be even harder than holding down a paid job. It’s certainly harder than any paid job I’ve ever undertaken. Studying with kids is hard-core and requires loads of self-discipline. Especially when, sometimes you’d rather poke yourself in the eye and sleep for a year than do that assignment!
I take care of my daughter full-time; she doesn’t go to day care. It means that most of my study time happens when my toddler is asleep, mostly at night, because I’m often too tired or too busy to do any real study during the day. This often means that after a 10-12 hour day of toddler wrangling; I somehow have to find the energy and willpower to face another 2-3 hours of study at night when she’s gone to bed. I have no idea what I’m going to do when the baby arrives, for I am now pregnant again, with another baby due in September!
However, it can be done, and can even be done well. Studying as a mature age student can often be a great experience, particularly as one is much more engaged, motivated and committed. I have become much more organised and enjoy better grades (my GPA is 4.0) because I know that because my time is limited, procrastination isn’t going to cut it anymore.
So far I have found that study is a great balance to dealing with a baby, particularly as a stay at home mum. It has certainly made me feel more balanced. I have found euphoria and a sense of pride and accomplishment after the completion of each subject, knowing that I did it despite all the challenges of parenthood. Eventually, (well, hopefully) I will get a job that allows me to have school holidays. What also keeps me going is the image of me on graduation day. I hope it makes my family proud, especially the kids.
While it definitely has its moments, in my view, the two most important ingredients for being a successful student mum are 1) supportive spouse, and 2) good old fashioned determination. Passion for what you’re studying helps a lot too, along with copious amounts of coffee and chocolate, particularly when big assignments and exams are due.
Other than that, I don’t think too much about it, I just DO IT.