In today’s challenging economy, many parents are taking on further studies, often in an effort to better provide for their families after graduating. But studying while having to balance work and family responsibilities is not for the faint of heart, and could have a detrimental effect not only on the existing family budget, but also the general wellbeing of a family, if not approached with a clear strategy.
“In the past, people studied in a particular discipline and were largely committed to that for life,” says Tammy Oppenheim, Head of Programme: Faculty of Humanities at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.
“But in 2016, the landscape has altered completely. People are exposed to a great deal more information and experiences, and many choose to alter their career path, which may require further study later in life. Even for those who stay in their selected field, study is vital to ensure they remain relevant and up-to-date on the requirements of your field,” she says.
“If approached correctly, further study can fast-track a career and give access to promotions or financial rewards that would have been otherwise unachievable.”
In addition to financial reward, a change of career path and upwards mobility can also contribute beneficially to self-esteem and self-actualisation, helping parents to be the best role-models they can be for their children, says Oppenheim.
“Modelling life-long learning and good study habits can help your children on their own study path and also provide valuable common ground and conversation opportunities, particularly in the teenage years. But to successfully handle the increased pressure and demands study brings to the family dynamic, everyone needs to be on the same page.”
So what can parents do to make a success of further study while keeping up with their parental responsibilities?
Oppenheim says there are 5 important facets to making it work:
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
Choose an academic institution that caters to your needs as a parent, such as those offering part-time and distance studies. Attending lectures on the weekend or from the comfort of your own home gives greater flexibility, especially for parents who work full-time. Smaller academic institutions also tend to offer greater individual support and flexibility, both of which are invaluable to a busy parent.
2. HAVE A PLAN B IN PLACE FOR EVERY EVENTUALITY
Arrange for back-up childcare for those times when you are absolutely unavailable, for instance when you have an exam or presentation scheduled, just in case your original plans fall through.
3. BE HONEST WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Explain what you are studying and why, and show your children the value of a life-long-learning philosophy. School-age children often take great pleasure in having learning as a common interest with parents. Sitting together for study-time is both good bonding-time and a great way to model good study habits for your children.
4. MENTALLY COMPARTMENTALISE
People are complex. An individual may be a mother, a worker, a student, a spouse and a friend all at the same time. However, it can be daunting to have your head-space filled up with all of your roles at the same time. Careful scheduling can help avoid this. Carve out blocks of time for each of your responsibilities, and don’t allow guilt or distraction from one area to intrude when you are focusing on another area.
5. GET SUPPORT
Taking on tertiary studies as a parent will be challenging and time-consuming and can feel isolating and overwhelming. Speak to fellow students with children, join an online parenting forum and seek out others who are going through the same experience. Simply verbalising your challenges can be helpful, but chances are there may also be some useful advice in response.
“When you are in the middle of an exam period and your little one has a cold and wants to be held all night, and your boss is drowning you in work, it can feel overwhelming and never-ending. But it is important to remind yourself that your studies have an end-date,” says Oppenheim.
“Visualise your journey: In one week I will have finished my first set of exams; in 6 months I will have finished my research proposal; in two years I will be walking across the stage at my graduation. Studying is not going to be easy; but it is most definitely going to be worth it.”