How to Win at Life as a Student-Parent

I have a history of being an adult who attends college (online) while being a parent, but, as might or might not surprise you, that isn’t a bad thing. It also is not, as you also might know, altogether unusual. In fact, it is quite common. According to the stats, one in four undergraduate students is raising at least one dependent child.

So if you’re reading this and you are an undergraduate or graduate student without a child… YOU’RE the weird one! Or, perhaps, just a different form of weird than I am.

The thing is that children are amazing. They are pretty incredible at things like furthering the human race (somewhat important), making us all laugh (quite important), and eating anything and everything they touch (incredibly important). Let alone all the important things they teach us about life and love.

Come to think of it, kids are basically tenured professors at the University of Life, and we parents are their clueless students.

As amazing as children are, there are certain elements that come along with raising one’s incredibly cool offspring that can sometimes feel inconvenient for the studious parent. Elements of this nature include, but are not limited to, a lack of sleep (true for parents of children of all ages), time-sensitive distractions in time-sensitive situations, and the deterioration of one’s nerves.

When we got married, I told my wife that I would consider thinking about starting our family when I was in my last year of undergraduate studies. It turned out that last year I live-streamed my graduation ceremony shortly after changing the soiled diaper of my three-week-old son and putting his older brother and sister to bed.

With that in mind, here are three tips that will help make your time juggling parenting doodies and school duties less stress-inducing. Because we can — and, say it with me, WILL — all win at life as student-parents.

Step 1) Be alive. (Also, always make time to enjoy your kids.)
This crucial, but oft-ignored, part of success in life is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. It is increasingly difficult to do much of anything — let alone school — if you are either A) dead or B) non-existent.

Call me sentimental, but I believe that no matter how well you do in school, or in your career, your family should be a priority one. Furthering your education is an awesome thing, especially when you have the opportunity to do it for your own family. That was my story. Yes, of course, I liked the prospect of bolstering my future career prospects, but I liked it because of what it meant for my own family’s prospects. And I never wanted my pursuit of that goal to dwarf the real moments I had with them along the way.

The best way to win at life as a student-parent is to be supported by a family who loves you. A family whose back you always have. The same family who always has your back. No matter the age of your children, always make some time for them.

For me, this meant that my homework waited until a little bit later in the evening to be finished so that I could spend time with my children. For you, maybe it’s doing it earlier in the day. There are many different ways to make this a reality, and it won’t look the same for everyone. But the value-added is always worth it.

Online classes make this effort even easier since (usually) you don’t have to be “in class” at specific times.

Step 2) Be a parent while attending a university that provides classes of an educational and accredited nature. (Also, involve your kids with your studies when you can.)
The second most important part of successful student-parenting is two-fold: Be a student while, at the same time, parenting your children. It’s hard to overstate just how vital both components are to this effort.

Do what you can to get your kids involved with what you are studying. Some of the fondest memories I have of doing homework as a parent were when my oldest son (who was approximately eighteen months old at the time) would help me with my physics experiments. (Intro to Physics, that is. I’m a Bachelor of Arts guy all the way.) You can get dizzy and have some laughs while learning all about centripetal force.

Sure, it took me a little longer to get things done, but it also gave me extra time with my son. Not all subjects are conducive to this (he disappeared when I was writing up business cases in my Workplace Communication class) but look for the ones that are. Like when you need good B-roll and/or outtake footage for your Online Journalism course.

Learning is a good thing. Laughing is a good thing. Family is a great thing. Combining them all together is even better.

Step 3) Continue being alive. (Also, use the hurdles as naturally occurring life lessons).
Not only must you be alive (see Step 1) in order to qualify for either part of parenting or studenthood (see Step 2), you must continue to be alive in order to be a finalist for winning at life as a student-parent, and in order to actually graduate. Step 3 is a very important one and should not be overlooked or taken for granted.

Children learn many things in many different ways. But the biggest and most important influences on their life, character, and being are the actions of their parents.

One only needs to know how to use Google to search “how children learn” to see that people have a lot to say on the topic, and one needs only to read almost anyone of the results to hear what amounts to this: Children absorb, in massive quantities, the who/what/why/how of their parents’ daily lives.

Just like all of life, your journey as a student-parent — whether you are in the middle of it or are on the brink of it — is going to be filled with obstacles and challenges. There will be some you are already familiar with, and others that are unique to this particular journey. But regardless of what you face and when you face it, it’s the “how” of your response that matters most.

Don’t miss an assignment. But, if one is missed, show your kids what it means to take ownership and to get back on the horse with a good attitude. Never fail an assignment but, if you get a lower grade than you expected, show them what it means to respond with grace and tenacity. When you pass a semester with flying colors, show them what it means to commemorate life’s triumph in healthy, meaningful, and affirming ways.

So take all the obstacles and all the challenges and choose to turn them into moments. Moments of pain. Moments of failure. Moments of fear. Moments of change. Moments of reflection. Moments of joy. Moments of triumph. Then take those moments and choose to use them to strengthen not only yourself but also your children.

Because the best, longest-lasting lessons in life are the ones we learn with our loved ones.

The crux of How to Win at Life as a Student-Parent really isn’t too far off its own Reader’s Digest version:

  1. Be alive.
  2. Be a parent while attending a university that provides classes of an educational and accredited nature.
  3. Continue being alive.

Not because it is simple or easy as all that, but because its simplicity speaks to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that you and your kids matter a whole lot, that education should be a means to an end, and that the end is being equipped to be an even greater asset to your children and the world around you.

Not because you are perfect. Not because you figure everything out. Not because diplomas fix everything.

But because you continue to learn how to balance the important things well, and how to balance them well while working to make them even better.

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