Having children is wonderful, but one thing’s for sure: they are not conducive to furthering your career. However much we hear about workplace gender equality, taking time-off for baby-making can set you back big time in the employment stakes. If you’ve lost your footing on your pre-baby career or it’s time for a change, you may be deliberating the prospect of studying as a single mum.
Whether the classroom beckons out of necessity, boredom or aspiration, the challenge will be more tricky this time round. That’s not say it can’t be done. Single mothers are extremely capable. They are masters of multi-tasking. Driven by the desire of a better life for their children, single mums make enthusiastic and hard-working students.
So what do you need to take into account when studying with children? Whether you’re already immersed in study, or you’re pondering your pupil within, these guidelines will get you top marks as a student .. and as a mum.
STUDYING AS A SINGLE MUM
ORGANISATION IS KEY
As a single mum you will know that the key to, well … everything, is organisation. As long as you are highly organised all is a-ok. Study is no different. According to Skills You Need ‘Getting yourself organised so that you can study effectively is an important first step in study skills’. So make sure you enjoy your study by preparing efficiently, both at home and within your new curriculum.
DON’T BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW
This is hugely important when it comes to studying with kids. The desire to get the study completed so you can embark on your shiny, new career is understandable. But slow and steady wins the race. Your children are your main commitment and your study must work around them. Think of it this way: Would you rather finish your study in two years with a low result and unhappy children? Or finish your study in four years with a great result and your mother/child bond intact and thriving?
CHOOSE STUDY THAT EXCITES YOU
This study/kids thing is going to be challenging. Hopefully in a good way, but challenging nevertheless. Make sure you study a subject/vocation you are genuinely interested in. Something that will engage you, even excite you. Your enthusiasm for your study will fuel you through the hard times. Make the right decision now to prevent changing and wasting time further down the line if you become bored with your topic.
DO IT FROM HOME
With a huge variety of online study options available it’s possible to do a degree from your dining room table. It’s a big plus when studying with kids, allowing the flexibility to work around single mum commitments, as well as saving time (and money) travelling. There’s still plenty of opportunity for communication with your teachers and other students by phone, email and online forums. Take a look at Open University which offers a myriad of courses in conjunction with leading universities.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH INSPIRATION
Working towards a goal isn’t always easy. Like any resolution you’ll be fired-up at the beginning and this will propel you through the first stages of your new study/mum life. Then as boredom, tiredness, and ‘why did I decide to do this’ kicks in, you may lose sight of your original agenda. Harness your enthusiasm at the beginning to make it easier in the later stages. Put pictures/visuals of your destined career in strategic places in your home. Do a mission statement. Save an inspirational phrase to your desktop. Choose a friend/family member to encourage you when the chips are down.
HEALTHY BODY, HEALTHY MIND
You’re going to need maximum brain power for your studies. And extra energy too. It can be all too easy to let your own health slip when time is of the essence. But you must look after yourself in order to successfully study with kids. Hello Brain suggests ‘Regular exercise like taking a brisk walk in the park or physical activities like gardening can nourish our brain and recharge batteries, galvanising brain power. Medical studies reveal that the fitter you are, the healthier your brain becomes’.
COMPARTMENTALISE YOUR STUDY TIME
You know when you have loads do that you try and do it all at once and achieve very little? It’s an easy trap to fall into. If you compartmentalise your study time away from other aspects of your life you will be more productive. Work out how many hours of study you need to do a week and allocate time for them. Choose times with no distractions. When the kids are in bed or at school. Or go to the library so you’re not tempted to turn on the TV or prepare dinner instead.
OUTSOURCE (IN OTHER WORDS, GET HELP!)
Studying with children is no mean feat, and no-one will think any less of you if you seek help. Whether it’s calling in favours from friends, leaning on family or paying for a cleaner, if it will make life easier … do it. Consider how busy your life is already and then imagine it with your new study commitment. There are only so many hours in a day, so treat yourself to some help. A cleaner for a few hours a week, or a childminder. It will be worth it in the long run.
SEEK SUBSIDIES, FIND FUNDING, GET IN WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Depending on the type of study and your home circumstances, there will be government assistance. This includes a number of Centrelink study allowances, a federal government loan scheme and training supplements. Check out online single mother groups for advice and suggestions. Make sure you do your homework to find out what’s applicable to you before you get started. You might find you don’t have the time later or it’s too late to claim. There is help out there. And you are entitled to it.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR CAREER ADVISOR
Usually when you start a study course, you’ll be assigned a career advisor. Take time to introduce yourself and make your circumstances known. It will be a comfort to have someone to turn to for advice and support. Their experience with other single mums studying will be invaluable to you. There’s also a number of websites that offer career advice, they are less personal but have heaps of information. Try My Future and Career Girls for starters.
REMEMBER THE BIGGER PICTURE
Studying with kids can cause feelings of guilt. It’s typical to feel your children may suffer from your long study hours and occasional short temper. At times like this you must remember the bigger picture (and remind your kids of it too). You are studying for a fulfilling and rewarding career from which everyone will benefit. It is important for our children to see us aspire and achieve. They will grow-up believing they can also reach their dreams if they put their minds to it.
Hopefully these tips have provided some valuable pointers for studying with children. All you need is organisation, determination and confidence. You will then have years to enjoy your chosen career path.
If you’re left thinking that you just can’t do it, you might like to consider the Beanstalk Ecourse. It’s a simple online course designed uniquely for single mums looking to aspire, but struggling to get off the starting block. Using a systematic approach it helps you get your life in order and reach your dreams. Think of it as the perfect pre-course to prepare you for entry back to academia!