Amanda, best friend since the day she came into the world 3 months after I did, is going back to college after almost a decade away. She always wanted to be a teacher, and dreams of having her own classroom of elementary school kids. Amanda is the kind of person who makes you believe in pure hearts. In our 28 years together, never have I ever seen her be mean or hurtful. Like, EVER. She should be canonized as the matron saint of kindness and patience, especially because she is surrounded by demanding people.
And her husband (Hi Clint :).
And her 4 kids.
Ages five and under.
Yeah, you read that right. Amanda is going back to college with a one year old, a two year old, a four year old and a five year old. I hope you are swelling with admiration like I am, because isn’t she incredible? She truly has every reason to wait, to put off school a little longer or maybe even forever, but she’s doing it. She and Clint are making this happen, she’s going back and she’s finishing her degree and she’s going to be the kind of teacher who kids thank in their high school graduation speeches with grateful tears in their eyes.
So! In honor of Amanda!
To all of the moms and dads who are taking that brave risk to follow their dreams and march back into the classroom after many years away, whether to finish or to start, for undergrad or post grad, I wanted to make a list of hard-earned tips. I was only a mother the last year of my college education, but I was taking full time classes, lugging a breast pump around campus, and working at the same time, so I understand the madness that is living a million lives at once.
Here are the 10 things I think you should know about going back to school as a parent.
1. Don’t procrastinate.
DON’T PROCRASTINATE. DON’T PROCRASTINATE. Because as soon as you decide to finish your paper the night before it’s due, YOUR KIDS WILL GET SICK. Or your baby sitter will cancel, or your basement will flood, or your son’s soccer game will move times or your daughter will “remember” that her play auditions are actually tonight or your baby will decide to get 4 teeth in one night from hell. The world will inevitably rise up against you and your best intentions.
Cut your stress by half; do your work the very first moment you have time to do it. Trust me.
2. Always be ready the night before.
Pack lunches (including yours!), pack bags, set your coffee timer, lay out clothes, and print your paper. Don’t go to bed until every single thing is ready for the morning dash. Every single thing.
3. Keep back up babysitters.
Ask 2-3 people who can’t necessarily help every week, if they would be willing to stay on your emergency call list. Believe me, you’ll use them.
4. Use your crock pot.
And your spouse. And Costco pizzas. While you might need to dissect a Dostoevsky novel or memorize the stages of mitosis, your kids will just need to eat. And so do you. Plan ahead. Use your crock pot so dinner is ready as soon as you walk in the door. Make your spouse cook if they get home first. Do you have older kids? They can feed themselves. Or help feed everyone. A parent in school means everyone is in school, and it’s an absolute team effort to get to that cap and gown.
5. You have Parent Powers.
You might feel old, or out of place, or overwhelmed, but I have a secret for you. You’re probably the wisest person sitting in that lecture hall. Sure, it’s nice to be a selfish 20 year old without a spouse or children, doing whatever the hell you want all the time. But as a parent, you have more life and wisdom on your side than any of those idiot kids checking their Facebook during class. Carry that with confidence, and know that what you bring to the discussion or the classroom is invaluable.
6. Get drinks after class.
Yes, YES of course you have little people waiting at home for you. But don’t waste an opportunity to make new friends or make connections with other students or professors. Go get a drink if you have a minute. I’m not saying you need to ask your baby sitter to come pick you up after a bender at the freshman dorms (please don’t do that) but yeah, man. Go get a drink with your post modern Lit study group. This is college, not a convent.
7. LEARN TO SAY NO.
No one knows your schedule but you. I remember feeling so torn when Sam wanted to go to dinner or stay up late hanging out, but I had an assignment due the next morning. The thing is, you have to advocate for your own time. You have to be willing to say no, because no one else knows what you have written in your planner or hanging over your head. Be your own time keeper; get it done, you hustler you.
8. TV is not your friend.
Neither is Facebook or Pinterest or the novel you want to read. You have two big jobs right now: raising your kids and going to school. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. But it’s just a season! You will have free time again, and barely remember being so consumed with this academic work. But for now? Take it from me, time-waster heavy weight champion of the world: your time is a precious commodity. Use it wisely.
9. That being said, remember that it’s just school.
Part of the gift of parenthood as a student is the perspective it allows you. Getting an 85 on a paper after you’ve been up every night this week with puking kids? That’s AMAZING. It’s just school. Do your best. And give yourself grace. And give yourself a break when you can get one. Go for a run, take a hot shower, buy a new sweater, or just lay face down on your bed moaning until you feel better. Release the stress and then keep on going!
10. Enjoy your time at school! And also? Don’t be a martyr.
I had a hard time with this one. Clara was my first baby and it killed me every single time I had to leave her with other people. I felt guilty, I felt stressed, and I felt like no one in the whole world had as much on their plate as I did. This was not/will never be true. Clara survived, and so did I. Look, it’s hard going to school with kids- especially young kids. This juncture in your life will be complicated, with no free time and lots going on. But listen,
you are sitting in one of the most privileged spots in the world.
A COLLEGE CLASSROOM.
You are getting an education that many people can only dream about. This education is a gift. To you. To your family.And most of all, to those kids who are watching you slug it out over homework that’s making you cry. So, ok,
You might not make every game or recital for a while.
You might not be able to give them all your attention.
But someday, when they want to quit something because it’s just too hard; when they wonder why they should keep trying when the sky seems to be falling;they will remember the hard stuff you did. And they’ll keep going. Because that perseverance you’re showing right now?
It’s in their blood and it’s in their memories and it is becoming a proud line in your family’s story.
You can do this.
I believe in you. So much!
You got this, moms and dads.
You got this.