Should you go back to school?

When mom goes back to school, the whole family has to make the grade

Returning to the classroom after you’ve had kids isn’t exactly child’s play — just ask university graduate (2007) and mother of two Karen-Anne O’Halloran. Fifteen years after she graduated from high school, the PEI mother decided to get her degree, much to her children’s chagrin. “The kids did not like my going to school. It wasn’t what they were used to.”

If, like O’Halloran, you’ve got a yearning for learning and want to make the leap from parent to pupil, there are a few subjects you need to brush up on before you hit the road to academia.

Parental Psychology 101
Whether you want to improve your job prospects, finish your degree or explore a new interest, going to school is stressful, says Windsor, Ont., mother of two Rachelle O’Keefe. “If you don’t have the support at home, there’s no point.” O’Keefe has been working toward two degrees since before she had kids, and she’s now one credit shy of her Bachelor of Science. Every day she battles fatigue, financial worries and juggling school and family.

The lesson Before you decide to hit the books, talk openly with your family about what changes are coming. For example, you might not always be home when your children get back from school, and they may have to do more around the house so you can get in some study time. Tell them why you’re going back to school and what you’re hoping to achieve — but don’t be surprised if not everyone’s thrilled. Older kids will probably sense this change will affect them in ways they won’t always like.

Geriatrics 201
Many adults worry that they will have nothing in common with their new, younger classmates, but if you’re thinking of going back to school, you’re not alone. Statistics Canada reports that the number of adults aged 25 to 64 who were attending school tripled between 1976 and 1996, and recent census data shows that the number continues to grow. In many ways, you will be different from the young students around you. “I had more on my plate,” says O’Halloran. “I avoided courses that required group work so I wouldn’t have to worry about working with other people’s schedules.” On the other hand, you might learn a thing or two from your younger classmates, such as how to participate in an online study group.

The lesson Most schools offer support and resources specifically for mature students; be sure to connect with them. If you’re afraid you’re too old to go back to school, remember — you won’t be any younger next year. Think about all the things you have going for you now: maturity, the wisdom that comes from experience, and the flexibility and creativity inherent in parenting. “If I’d waited, I’d just be 35 instead of 30,” says O’Keefe. “So I just kept going.”

Time Management 230
“It’s a time juggle between parenting, housework, children’s activities and meal preparation to do the at-home studying and research required in your program,” says Terry Jorden, spokesperson for Alberta Employment and Immigration. O’Halloran says she managed by working with her kids’ schedules and waking up before the kids to do her homework.

The lesson Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to your studies. Write down everything you do, then figure out how many hours you can set aside for classes and study. What activities are you willing to give up to make the grade? Sure, a quiet place for school work is helpful, but isolation isn’t always an option when toddlers are involved, says O’Keefe. “Madelynn would ‘study’ while I studied. She’d paint or colour while I recited out loud from my textbooks. It became a ‘mom and me’ time.”

Human Behaviour 302
Doing well in school and feeling good about how you’re doing will mean letting some things go. “I really learned the difference between things that ‘should’ be done and things that needed to be done,” says O’Keefe. Learn to delegate housework, cooking and taking care of the kids, and accept help when it’s offered.

The lesson Your first assignment? Go easy on yourself — at school and at home. If you get a B instead of an A on that pop quiz, relax. And even if the house isn’t spotless, force yourself to sit down and unwind. Taking care of yourself will help you stay balanced. “I hated the time school took me away from Madelynn,” says O’Keefe, “but she’s learned to love learning, right alongside me.”
Human Resources 202

School is more than just in-class time; you’re going to need someone to watch the kids while you meet with study groups and work on assignments too. “I had a long list of potential baby- sitters, starting with family,” says O’Keefe. “If someone wasn’t available, I just kept going down the list.”

The lesson It’s impossible to be in two places at once, and everyone has a limit to how many things they can focus on at one time. It goes without saying that child care is going to be a huge requirement, whatever you’re studying. If cost is an issue, taking evening classes and relying on your partner or family members to watch the kids may be the way to go.

Economics 150
School costs money. As well as the tuition, there are books, transportation and child care to pay for. There are hidden costs too, like takeout on the days you have to decide between homework and a home-cooked meal. School costs may be easier to manage if your course load is limited to what you can afford, but that might mean spreading your education out over a longer time.

The lesson All provinces have loan and grant programs, and there are often child care subsidies available, but not all families qualify. Remember, though, these sacrifices aren’t permanent — furthering your education will likely put you on better footing in the long term. And, hey, stay positive: This is for you and your family!
 

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