Do you know who hangs out at your local Starbucks at 5am on Saturday and Sunday mornings? Friendly retirees reading their papers, an overworked professional catching up on emails, a couple of nurses chatting after their night shift, and me…the working mom and student cramming a week’s worth of homework into a few precious early morning hours.
Around 6:30am, solo parents start coming in the door with their children still clad in pajamas. They leave with a couple of coffees and pastries, maybe apple juice for the kiddo, and head home to wake the other parent who likely got to sleep in that day. That is when the guilt hits. I could be that parent. Or I could be the parent sleeping in. My husband would love to be the parent to sleep in.
How do you make it work when it’s mom who is going back to school? Here is what I have learned three years in:
1. Follow your passion: I didn’t need to return to school. Some people have to. Maybe they need to finish a degree or they need to make a career change. I have a great and stable job. I returned to school because I felt unfulfilled and wanted to fill that void. A void that motherhood and being a wife, friend, daughter, and employee were not filling. I know I am doing the right thing because I really love everything I am learning.
2. Find the time and space that works for you: I need to get away from the house otherwise I am tempted to procrastinate with any random thing that I normally avoid at home like dusting the windowsills. I also found that I am not really great at leaving once everyone is awake so I need to go before they are up.
3. Treat yourself (and your family): I come home with a coffee for my husband and donuts for the family to ease the guilt of being away. To ease the guilt of being a mother who works full time and goes to school part time. And donuts are yummy.
4. Remember you are a role model: We’re taught that moms are selfless. Moms put their kids and families first. We’re also told that happy moms mean happy kids. Kids need role models who show strength and perseverance. Role models who chase their dreams. I believe it is far better for my daughter to see her mother chasing her dreams than it is for me to spend every waking moment with her. In the end, I want her to be the kind of woman who follows her heart to find fulfillment. That she follows her dreams. Hopefully she sees it is possible, and even with sacrifices, it’s totally worth it.
5. Care for your support system: Whether it is your spouse, friends or parents – there are people who are supporting your dream. Give them some thought and some care. Coffee and donuts are nice but they need a break and appreciation. I know that my husband really enjoys it when I tell him how much I appreciate him helping me chase my dreams. I show him my appreciation by helping him find time to get away and pursue his passions too.
6. Realize you don’t need to do everything: I’m a perfectionist at heart and I can tell you that a 4.0 GPA is never far from my thoughts as I cram in writing a paper or taking a test. The reality is that I work in the real world and, for the most part, grades don’t matter. As they say, “C’s get degrees.” Find what you need to do. Some classes don’t require opening the textbook. Others allow you flexibility with due dates. Make it work for you.
7. Share your life: I’ve found that there are people from all walks of life in my classes. From 20-something single people to people close to retirement age with grandchildren. In every class I’ve taken, we’ve been allowed and encouraged to introduce ourselves and share our lives. Don’t shy away from that. Tell them about your children and the pressures you face to be in school. When something comes up and requires accommodation, and it will, they are way more likely to be understanding when they know who you are.
8. Get over the guilt: I hear the tone in other mothers’ voices when they say, “I just don’t think I could do that.” It’s not that they don’t think they would succeed. It’s that they don’t think they could put themselves first in that way. Pedicures, girl’s nights and massages are okay for me-time, but a four-year commitment to an education isn’t. Shove that guilt and judgment out of the way. You’ve got a dream to fulfill.
9. Remember it’s not forever: I’m passionate about what I’m learning and dedicated to what I want to achieve, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to give up from time to time. The reality is that it’s not forever. As I sign up for my final classes, I am in awe of how fast it has all gone. Keep hustling, mama.
10. Celebrate: Celebrate the end of semesters. Celebrate midterms and finals. Celebrate until the cows come home. And when it is all done and you’ve walked that stage in cap and gown, celebrate big time.
Good luck to all the mama’s going back to school this fall. You’ve got this!