By Nellie Pollard-Wharton
We’re a few weeks into semester one of 2018 and the pressure is well and truly building. Whether you’re in your first semester ever, your final year or you may just be coming back from a bit of a break from study, UNI is stressful, exhausting, exhilarating, fun, inspiring and pretty much a fulltime job with no paid overtime! Factor into that parenting or carer responsibilities and life commitments and it can all feel a little overwhelming at times.
Now this article is a little shout out and a big “you can do it” to those of us that are parents or carers of little ones in our lives. Not to exclude any of you that aren’t in the same boat, because this is for you too, if it wasn’t for my support networks and childfree friends it would have been hard to get this far in my degree! This is more for those of you that are maybe starting out and thinking how one earth do I fit a degree into my already ridiculously busy life? And the answer is… there is no answer. Well, there’s no one answer, and what works for me may be the last thing that could work for you, but I’d like to share with you a few of the things that have helped me raise my son, get through it all and finally into my fourth and final year of my degree.
Whether you’re a mum, a dad or you look after your nieces, nephews or grannies it’s is a full-time job! We know that, society knows that, universities know it, workplaces know it and yet it still remains incredibly difficult to find a balance without maybe feeling like you’ve let everyone down or worst of all that you’ve let yourself down. For me personally there is a constant struggle between “student me”, “mum me”, “professional me”, “hanging with my friends me”, “super-fit (never going to happen) me” and then there’s the “what about time for myself me”. Striking a balance between all of these different parts of me often feels impossible, or the path to getting the balance right is such a mammoth task that I relegate many of these parts of me to the ‘not as important basket’. Unsurprisingly I am sure you can guess that it’s the parts of me that focus inward, i.e. University and self-care that tend to be pushed to the bottom of the pile.
Throughout my six long years at University I have deferred, had semesters where I have taken one subject at a time, sometimes two and sometimes three or four. All the while I’ve worked and tried to commit as much time to parenting and study and tried not to lose myself as an independent woman. During these years I have also made mistakes, got to experience things I would never have dreamed and simultaneously have seen my son take his first steps, speak his first words, start primary school and tell me he loves me. I have made incredible lifelong friends and changed my area of interest more times than I can count, but hey it’s all part of the journey.
Reflecting on my University experiences I have learnt from those mistakes and now realise there were a few key things that I could have done to make it all a little more bearable and less stressful. So here is a list of ten things I wish someone had told me when I started, and I hope some of them might help you to make the most of your University journey and make it a little better and a little less overwhelming!
1. Communication is SO important.
Speak with your lecturers, course conveners and tutors at the beginning of semester to explain your carer commitments. This doesn’t mean opening up and telling them everything that’s going on in your life (if you don’t want to), but it can be helpful for them to put a face to a name, and at the end of the day they are human and will help where they can.
I found it useful to do this, because when I would then apply for special consideration or an extension (because children are always unwell at the most inconvenient times) the lecturer or tutor would already know who I am and have some idea of my situation.
2. Talk to your Indigenous Unit, student support centre and academic advisors. They are there to help you!
Talk, talk, talk…. Communication is key!!!!! ASK FOR HELP!!!!!!
3. It is OK to ask for extensions and special consideration!
Juggling University assessments and life is hard! It is ok to ask/request extensions. This does not reflect poorly on you at all. Whatever helps you produce the work and have a healthy life balance is all that matters.
4. Do you have a special consideration support centre at your University?
These can help to provide long term special consideration in order to limit the amount of time you may have to spend speaking with individual tutors or lectures to request extensions or special consideration for assessments should your carer/parenting responsibilities get in the way.
This can reduce stress
5. ASK FOR HELP!!!
Asking for help is the greatest thing I ever did during my degree… It took me until my second attempt at my first year to really get over being embarrassed to ask for help.
Utilise the services that are on campuses. University is stressful and combined with parenting and various other life responsibilities it can be overwhelming at times. There are free psychologists and counselling services on most campuses… utilise these, I know I did when it would all hit the fan!
We are paying good money for our degrees, we should access all the resources we can! There is no shame in that!
6. Lean on your support networks!!
If you’ve got them, really utilise them. As much as we may be super mum or dad or nan it is OK to accept help, it doesn’t mean we can’t cope or aren’t capable. It’s us showing our kids that it is ok to lean on people at times, and get help.
Happy calm parents/carers equals happy kids!
7. Take time for yourself!
Where you can really take time for yourself. Whether is exercise, a nice cup of tea, an early night or binging on a couple of episodes of bad TV, do it because you deserve it!
8. Your Degree is your Journey!
Take the time to think about how you want to go about studying. Part time, Full time or all over the shop like I did. This is another one of those times where I am going to tell you strongly suggest you communicate, talk, ask for help! Be involved with your degree, stay across your learning, again, it is yours, we’re paying good money for them, so utilise your resources!
If you don’t ask, you won’t know!
9. Strive to be the best you, and produce your best work! We’re honestly all amazing!
But really…. If you are still working on the same paragraph at midnight that you were working on at 8pm… it is time to quit it and get some sleep!!!! Those kids are going to waking you up way too soon, and you know you’ve got a full day of stuff to do before you even begin to think about study and readings and assessments!
10. Apply for Scholarships
Apply, apply, apply, apply, apply…… Seriously though, apply for scholarships! For some reason, I thought I didn’t need it… I always thought there’s someone more deserving. Look there might be, but hey, you are raising children and doing a degree, you need all the financial help you can get!
So whilst I’ve given you some great pointers on what to do, and how to approach University and juggle everything and completely win at life… realistically we know it doesn’t all fall into place that easily. I know that being a parent often means that everything changes at the drop of a hat, and as a Mum I’m often left carrying everything.
We tend to our sick children when no one else can, we miss classes when they’re sick, or when childcare has fallen through for the 100th time. And whilst we communicate and plan and organise and refer back to “Nellie’s 10 points for success”, they do not always work, and what good is another list anyway when it’s like you’re sinking!
Life doesn’t stop because we choose to study and strive to succeed and build a solid future for our families and communities. It goes on with a vengeance, and yet we rally and hold it all together and we do succeed even when it feels like it is too much.
So what is my answer? Well again, there isn’t one. Studying with children is so hard but it is also so incredibly rewarding and such an amazing experience. So whilst I’ve given you all a list of ‘what do do’s’, the best piece of advice I could give you all is simply be kind to yourself. You can absolutely do this and get that degree! It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or whether that person over there is getting HD’s and you’re getting P’s or C’s. You’re raising up our next generations and this student life is just one part of your existence.
We provide strength for so many in our lives. We nurture, we support, we listen, we encourage and then with the little that is left we build ourselves.