The Juggling Act: How to Balance Being a Parent and Going to School
Juggling is no easy task—whether it’s keeping three balls in the air or balancing parenthood, your career and getting an education. But just because it might be difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Parents just like you have learned the art of juggling work, school and raising a family. In all seriousness though, we get it. Adding something else to your plate, like going back to school, can be a big and scary step. Learning how to balance school, work and family comes with practice, but it never hurts to have a little advice from those who have been in your shoes.
Advice from the pros
There’s a few ways to learn the art of juggling. You can use trial by error until one magical moment finally clicks. Or you can learn from a pro, heed their advice and then start on your own with a confidence and wisdom you would not have had on your own. The same applies in this scenario—take a moment to learn from parents who have gone before you while juggling a life full of family, work and getting a degree.
Make a good night’s sleep a priority
If pulling all-nighters every week is something you intend to do to pull this off, then make a new plan. Sleep is more than just for improving your mood—it is essential for your mental capacity, memory, immunity and a bunch of other important things.
“Lack of sleep greatly affected how I could cope with it all.” says Katie Fokken, mother of three, who would notice anxiety encroaching if she wasn’t sleeping enough.
Do what you can to spread your coursework out during the week. This helps you avoid spikes of activity that result in late, sleep-deprived nights.
Make time to gather yourself
“My number one piece of advice would be to pray,” says Kourtney Leuthold, mother of two.
Even if you’re not a particularly religious person, there’s positive benefits to regular periods of calm reflection. Science backs this up—studies of people who engage in prayer and meditation-like activities have shown to increase levels of dopamine and decrease high blood pressure, with a host of other health benefits.
“Breathe,” says Fokken. “I would just take a few moments to focus on my breath and pray for peace and guidance during this busy time. I focused on being thankful for having the ability to handle it all.”
If you take time to write down your list of daily duties, things you want to accomplish and also add homework to the list, it’s going to seem impossible to do it all. This is because in a lot of cases, it probably is.
“Saying yes to something also means saying no to something else. It’s all about priorities.” says Leuthold.
It may take a bit of sacrifice. Leuthold says she had to be okay with compromising on her to-do list—having a spotless house and home-cooked meals every night would sometimes need to take a backseat to her top priorities.
Once you have your priorities set, it will take both intentionality and organization to keep everything going.
“On Sundays I would look ahead to see what assignments I had due and where I was at with them currently—done, in-progress, etc.” says Fokken. “I would look at the kids’ schedules to make sure I had that time blocked out on my calendar and, finally, I would look at my work schedule to see if I had any early or late days to plan around, too.”
Though this level of organization took time, for Fokken, the peace of mind it offered was worth it.
“Every morning when I got up, I knew what the plan was going to be for that day.”
You can prioritize and plan but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything will always fall neatly into place. Expecting curveballs along the way will help you take them in stride when they come, knowing that everyone swings and misses once in a while.
Murphy’s Law essentially states that anything that can go wrong, will. You drop your cup of coffee right before heading out the door; you leave your resume in the car and realize it during the interview; a ten car pileup makes you late to pick up your kids at school. These kinds of things can happen and are completely out of your control. What is in your control is how you handle them.
Give yourself grace
“Lastly, I learned to give myself some grace, too,” says Fokken. “In balancing it all there were definitely times that I didn’t feel like I was the best mom, or the best employee because I was maxed out. I had to learn to be ok with those moments. Let them roll off and not hold on to that feeling of disappointment in [yourself].”
Things aren’t always going to go perfectly—you don’t learn to “juggle” instantly—it takes practice and mistakes along the way. It’s great to have high expectations of yourself, but don’t let setbacks ruin your motivation.
Balancing family, work and school can be a tall order. Hopefully this tried-and-tested advice has you feeling confident and ready to take on the challenge. Your next step is to figure out which educational path is best for you. Check out our Career Aptitude Test for a tool to help match your strengths to career opportunities.