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Must-read tips on being a parent and a student

Text on image: How to balance parenting with life as a college student

A mom — and Oregon State Ecampus graduate — gives advice on what it takes to juggle classwork and family responsibilities

By Monique Lanier

Before any talk of balancing school and family, just take a second and pat yourself on the back. Seriously. C’mon, no one’s watching. You deserve a big high-five, some presents, a pop of confetti and a cupcake — or just 20 minutes of alone time.

Being a parent and student is impressive. It takes strength, grit and smarts. You must be hard-working and remarkable to do what you’re doing.

Our children are usually one of the main reasons we return to school as adults. We want to give them better lives and show them that they, too, can create a better future for themselves. We want them to see the value of pursuing their goals and the power of a good education.

And we want them to be proud of us.

Choosing to learn online with Oregon State University Ecampus shows how seriously we take our commitment to improving our lives and the lives of our families.

Even with all our dedication and long hours, we can often feel like our days consist of putting out fires, when all we really want is to give our full attention to each and everything we love.

Since we can’t stop time or add more hours to each day, I’d like to share some basic practices that can help ease pressures unique to online adult learners with children. Here are some must-read tips on being a parent and a student.

Create a schedule — and stick to it the best you can

Get an academic calendar: It can be on your computer or an old-fashioned one where you use a pen or pencil. Either way, just get a planner.

Fill it out: At the beginning of every quarter, go through the syllabus of every class and find out when everything is due — everything — and write that down in your calendar. Write down weekly assignments, reading assignments, lab assignments, etc.

Put all of it in your calendar so you’re not wasting time trying to find out what you’re supposed to do every time you sit down to study.

Add family events to the calendar: Do your kids have a weekly sports practice, a school event or time with another family member? Put it on the calendar so you know what to expect. This will help you schedule study time. You may have a paper due or a midterm coming up that coincides with your child’s needs. If you can look ahead at the calendar, you won’t be caught off guard juggling the demands of school and the demands of your family.

Check the calendar every day and keep it current: Look at your planner. What’s due this week? What’s due next week? Do you have more than one major assignment coming up? Did the instructor change, add or remove an assignment? If so, make sure you update your calendar. When you’ve finished an assignment, cross it off. I love that part!

Schedule your study time: Scheduling time to study is extremely helpful. If you’re like me, schoolwork is constantly hovering over me unless I know exactly what I need to get done. I schedule three-, four- or five-hour blocks to study. I map out my study time in advance so I know I can do my assignments and do them well.

These study blocks can be arranged around other responsibilities and vice versa. I commit to them because completing them relieves me of worry.

Schedule family and personal time: This will look different for everyone. You may want to schedule a smaller block of time every day or a larger one once or twice a week. You know what is best for you and your family. I’m not referring to the basic needs such as food, clean-up, errands, etc. I’m thinking of the time we all need to be human and connect with ourselves and our families. This is equally important as eating and studying.

Take a break from guilt

Let’s be honest: Most of us will never be completely free of the guilt that comes with being a parent and a student. It’s just part of the territory. But our work is also valuable and important, and it has benefits for everyone in the family.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, people with bachelor’s degrees make on average 84% more over their lifetimes than people with a high school diploma. This means that your dedication as an adult online learner with Oregon State Ecampus will set you and your family up for a more secure future.

Even knowing this, we can still feel guilty. Conscientiously choosing to take breaks from that guilt — even 2-3 minutes — can open enough breathing room to remind us why we are in school. It can ease stress, which will make all our efforts more successful.

Maybe you know a friend who needs a break from feeling guilty. Buddy up with them and challenge each other to go two minutes every day without guilt. Check in and encourage each other. Mutual support can strengthen your friendship and improve your perspective. Go for a hike, shoot some pool or just send a text reminding each other it’s all worth it.

As my mentor said to me, “Keep going — just keep going!”

Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. She is now pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry at Oregon State.

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