Returning to studies after a gap of many years (13 for me) is always challenging. And if you throw in juggling parenthood while you are at it, it is mayhem, to say the least!
When I got my Henley acceptance letter for an MSc in Marketing, I was elated to be accepted and was thrilled to be finally doing a Masters degree. But soon that excitement was replaced with anxiety and as September approached closer, I grew more and more worried about balancing my life as a mother to a 5-year-old (very mischievous, may I add) daughter and that of a student. The task seemed daunting, and I was uncertain of what would proceed.
But with uncertainties, come opportunities! And I wasn’t about to let this go. With a few conscious changes and making informed decisions, I have been able to work, study, volunteer, and parent. Whether or not with aplomb is for others to decide, but I sure feel accomplished.
Here are a few things that have helped me in my endeavours:
1. Location is key
When deciding where to stay, choose a place that is either close to the university or to your child’s school. It will make your commute much easier. Fortunately, the Whiteknights campus is centrally located and is literally a 10 min walk to several primary and secondary schools. There were times when I’d complete a lecture at 3pm and be at my daughter’s school for home time at 3.15!
2. Establish a routine
Both for yourself and your child. Though the programme would be well structured, it won’t exactly be a walk in the park; remember you’re completing a master’s degree from a highly ranked University. There will be assignment deadlines, group meetings, tutorials, seminars, and more. The sooner you can establish a plan around your schedule and your child’s, the easier would the transition be for both of you. Divide days with your partner for parenting duties such as school pick-ups and drops, help with homework, making lunch etc.
3. Study with and without each other
Yes, you read that right. Study with your child. When you sit down to browse through your notes or do some research, bring out your child’s homework and get them to work on it while you work on yours. Not only is this a good bonding exercise, but it’ll also help both of you complete your work.
Having said that, study on your own as well (of course!) but don’t necessarily restrict yourself to your house. The university has a multitude of study spaces, both individual and group, and I would often use them to get my focus back. Being present there, with access to resources and that peer engagement, really puts you back in the study mode.
4. Journey together
Your decision to complete your Masters is going to have an impact (a positive one) not only on your life but also on your family. Speak to your child about your day and let them be a part of your learning journey, just as you would want to be a part of theirs. It’s amazing to see how receptive they are of everything and may also, at times, give you the soundest advice! Explore the sprawling campus with them. Take your child to feed the ducks at the lake or for a picnic at the gorgeous Harris Gardens or even just a quick bite to eat at any of the eateries. By being familiar with the space where mum or dad studies, your child will be more accepting and more supportive of it all.
5. Have a little fun
All work and no play makes everything dull and grey… And so, it is for both of you. Plan something for your child at least twice a month. There are many places to explore around the Whiteknights campus. Our favourites are the town centre (host to several eateries, carousel rides, gaming arcades, cinemas etc.) Cintra Park (it’s gorgeous in spring) Forbury Gardens and Museum of English Rural Art. There are many extracurricular activities that you can put your child in right from ballet to football and tennis to swimming to everything in between!
I am not saying it will be easy. You will be up at nights completing your assignment or at times taking care of a sick child when you may have an in-class test the very next morning. There will be times when you would find it difficult to juggle the two; there’d be times when you’d feel completely burnt out. But that feeling of accomplishment, when you’ve beaten all odds to submit that presentation before the deadline or when you’re able to tick off everything on your to-do list, that is unparalleled.
You will be tired; but to be able to pursue a lifelong dream or tread on a new path full of opportunities with your child and family in tow, is an enriching experience like none other.
by Roohul Fatima Syed Razi Husain