At Houston Baptist University, we have quite a few students who are also working parents. It can be daunting for a parent returning to school to enter a classroom of traditional college students. While they are living on campus, attending sporting events, joining clubs and organizations, and experiencing a taste of newfound freedom, you leave class to pick up your child from a school or sitter. You go home to make dinner and bathe children. You wake up early to cook breakfast and make lunches. You probably also go to a full day of work before you come to class. You already had a load of responsibility, and now in an effort to grow and reach a goal, you have added classes and homework to your full life. You are not alone. As Dr. Vickey Giles, a professor of education at HBU, said, “You can do this.”
You aren’t the first parent to pursue a graduate or undergraduate degree, and you won’t be the last. In fact, our first three children were born while Sue and I were in graduate school, and many of our HBU professors were parents while in school. We know the burdens you are carrying and have provided encouragement and advice, some of which I’ve listed in this blog.
Faculty and staff are your biggest cheerleaders; I hope this advice will aid you in your academic endeavors.
Know that you’re a hero.
Don’t worry about perfection! The fact that you’re parenting, working, and going back to school already makes you more of a hero than you will ever know in the eyes of your child(ren). – Dr. Katie Alaniz, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
Continue being a great example of strength to your family. Know that the sacrifices you are making now will pay off in the long run. Keep striving and pushing toward completion. Make adjustments along the way and ask for help when needed. – Mon’Sher Spencer, Student Life
Figure out the schedule that works best for your family, even if it’s strange.
Make an organizational/schedule chart that includes school, work, and family time. It sounds silly, but you really have to schedule your time! – Dr. Lesli Fridge, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
Figure out how you can take advantage of late nights after the kids go to bed or early mornings before they wake up. For me, when I am super busy during the school year, I will alternate between getting four hours of sleep one night and then eight hours the next night. I function much better using this pattern as opposed to getting six hours of sleep on consecutive nights. I am a morning person, so on nights when I get four hours of sleep, I will go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 2am to work. – Dr. Saul Trevino, College of Science and Mathematics
Remember it’s quality time that’s important. Make dates with your children (and your spouse) so they have special time with you and allow them to choose the place. – Dr. Angie Durand, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
Share your education with your children.
I can’t think of a better example than you and your children doing homework around the kitchen table together! – Dr. Doris Warren, College of Science and Mathematics
See if you can teach your kids what you are learning. The best way to learn something is to try to help others understand it. – Dr. Russell Hemati, School of Humanities
Do homework together! – Dr. Angie Durand
Prepare for the chaos that comes with having kids.
As someone who completed graduate school with two small daughters I would say: Always have a backup plan for childcare. Look for opportunities to do other people favors so you won’t feel uncomfortable asking for help when you need it. Always make sure that you have access to any materials you need to work productively from home in case one of your children gets sick. – Dr. Brenda Whaley, College of Science and Mathematics
Develop a dependable support system (spouse, neighbor, friend, etc.) who can be your back-up, as needed. You’ll need them occasionally for things like last-minute babysitting or encouragement. – Dr. Kaye Busiek, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
“Get to know your professors” is not only good advice for 18-year-old freshmen, but for other, possibly slightly older, students. You may be facing circumstances that more traditional students do not – sick children, unavoidable appointments, etc. The more your professors know, the more they can help you with potential difficulties. – Dr. Curtis Henderson, College of Science and Mathematics
Remember that the tortoise won the race.
Try to make consistent progress, even if it’s a few classes at a time. It’s very difficult to start back up if you decide to take a semester off. And remember, you will earn that degree even if it takes a little longer. If you drop out, eventually you’ll get to a point where you say, “If I had just stayed in, I would be done by now!” Slow and steady wins the race. – Dr. Chris Hammons, School of Humanities
You may have planned times to do your assignments, but don’t forget to also make time to read the assigned material, too! Try to read during the downtime that’s already part of your day: read during meal breaks, keep a book in the bathroom, if possible listen to audiobook versions during your commute. Even a little reading every day will keep your mind in the material. – Dr. David Grubbs, School of Humanities
Set your goals.
I find that many working parents are goal driven. Set a few goals for yourself every semester. – Dr. Dawn Wilson, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
As a new parent myself, I have great respect for students who are also raising children. Let your academic advisor know your goals, and don’t worry about the length of time it will take to get there… keep making progress, and get the most you can out of each class. You may be surprised how a course outside your major can affect you positively. – Dr. Emily Stelzer, School of Humanities
As C.S. Lewis wisely declared, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream.” Don’t minimize the days of small beginnings, and never stop believing that God has something wonderful in store! – Dr. Katie Alaniz
Prepare yourself for the emotional drain this balance may cause, and remember…
If you are a parent, don’t be afraid to put your children first—but you also matter and carving out time to do your school work is good for you and your children. – Dr. Matt Boyleston, School of Fine Arts
Remember your kids come first, but an educated parent may be the best gift you can give your child, so this provides blessings to both of you. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to improve your life, work, or social setting. – Dr. Dawn Wilson
Related Education Blogs:
- Basic tips for the graduate student
- Going back to school – Advice from college professors
- Tips for being a successful college freshman
Dr. Robert B. Sloan is president of Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas. He is the father of seven children, grandfather to more than 20 young grandchildren, and an author of young adult fantasy series about an orphan named Hamelin Stoop.