You are registered for your courses, you have your books, you have your workspace organized; now all you need to do is start your courses – right? Maybe. Do you have children or other household members like a spouse, roommate, and/or pets? If you do, you will want to prepare them for your return to school as well. Of course they are all supportive and eager for you to grow and move forward, but do they – and do you – know what that means to them?
Let me give you some food for thought from a “been there, done that” perspective. I had three elementary-middle-school-aged children, a spouse, and a dog when I returned to earn my master’s – oh, and I was working full-time as well. Through that experience and talking to many adults who are returning to learning, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
- Prepare the household.There is more to it than just informing your family of your plans. Remind them that there will be times when you are not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency (be sure to define “emergency”).
- Designate a space, even if it is on the dining room table, that is your workspace.While you may work in different places from time to time, a designated space is a clear message for your housemates and to your psyche.
- Set a schedule that is reasonable, and follow it.If the dog is use to taking a walk at 5:00 each evening but that happens to be when your instructor has virtual office hours, ease your dog into another time.
- Start early to find child care.If you have pre-school-aged children, start early to find the child care center or person that will care for them while you study. July and August are big months for open houses and “new enrollment” deals. Make sure the child is well-acquainted with the new caregiver before you start studying. Too many changes at one time may be too much for a child to accept.
- Study out of sight and out of earshot.If your child is too young to understand that you aren’t available and someone else will be caring for them, it may be best for all if you plan to study out of sight and out of earshot. As a parent, it is very difficult to block your child’s cries even when you have complete confidence in the caregiver. Leaving the house or taking the child out of the house for a couple of set hours of study time may be your best choice.
Sometimes another caregiver is not an option, what then?
- Of course this depends on the age of your child, but some parents are able to work either after the child is asleep, before they are awake, or during naptime.
- If your child is school-age, have study time when you are all doing your homework together.
- A child who is “in-between,” (too old for naps, but too young for homework) may work on tasks you design for him/her to complete. Make sure the task will take your child some time to complete, and is something they can do independently. Be sure these tasks are something the child won’t dread – cleaning their room may not be the best task, but carefully drawing three pictures of things they’ve seen today may be.
Remember, you are going back to school for them as well as for yourself. You are setting a good example as a lifelong learner while you are increasing your employability and lifetime earning potential. While it may seem like you are being selfish with your time, and believe me at some point your housemates will point this out in one way or another, you are actually being very generous taking on this exciting journey for a better future for all of you.