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People I know personally and online have been asking what we're actually "doing" right now, so I thought I'd share a bit of a life lately update! As many of y'all know, we moved from Hawaii in May. My husband left active duty service with the Navy, but is still in the Navy Reserves. Luckily for us, he is non-deployable for two years since he just came off Active Duty, which means we can plan on some time together as a family. Other than one weekend a month, he currently is not working while he finishes up his Masters in Engineering Management. This means that my income is more important to us than ever before and makes me extra grateful for my wonderful followers. Thank you so much! Even though my husband isn't working, he quickly realized that it can be difficult to find enough time for studying and classwork with a baby at home. To help y'all out, I wanted to share some tips for continuing your education while parenting young kids! I really hope these suggestions help some folks out and I'd love to hear if you have any other advice!
I see education as being so much more than formal education. Education and learning should, in my opinion, be seen as a lifelong endeavor that leads you to develop new skills and become a more knowledgable, capable person each year. I love regularly continuing my, shall we call it "informal," education online with fantastic resources like YouTube, Craftsy, Skillshare, CreativeLive, and courses by favorite artists. (Not sure what Craftsy and Skillshare are? You can check out this post for more info!) Unfortunately, YouTube doesn't have a credentialed degree program (yet!). When you're a parent to young kids, it can seem like a degree in YouTube is all you have the opportunity for, but that doesn't have to be the case! Here are some of my top tips for continuing your education with littles at home. (They're all applicable if you're a busy, working adult without kids, too!)
Pursue Online Courses
The obvious choice for continuing education as a parent is looking into online courses. I feel like online degrees used to be looked down on, but are becoming increasingly accepted and mainstream. Many top schools are offering online/correspondence courses now, and in-person students frequently opt to take a few online classes to make their course load more manageable. The overwhelming majority of colleges and universities with residential degree programs are offering at least some classes online and many are offering entire online degrees.
When I was in graduate school, I was able to handle a double load of courses while working full time because I took half my classes in person and half online with classes offered by my school and a partnering local college. My husband's classes are a special distance learning program designed by Old Dominion University for submariners that use a combination of a textbook, lecture notes, and filmed presentations. Online classes, or classes that are mostly online with only occasional in-person meet ups, are a fantastic choice for parents with little ones at home because they allow you to "attend" class when it works best for you. Picking an online program can also give you a greater range of choices, especially if you don't live near a large university. For example, if staying home with your littles sparks an interest in guiding and helping children, you might want to consider always talking about) no matter where they lived during the school year.
Regardless of your degree program, school, or whether you're taking in person or online classes, the trick to succeeding in classes as a parent is actually finding the time to study! Here are a few of the things we've found that work:
Take advantage of all those small, free moments during the day
I think of my day kind of like being a puzzle with various pieces that need to fit in place. According to the book “168 Hours”, many of the most productive members of society — parents included — attribute their success specifically to the fact that they are adept at using every spare moment, whether that means reading a book in the 10 minutes spent waiting for the kids to come out of school, to listening to audiobooks while driving or doing household chores. In Hawaii, my husband loved listening to informative books during his commute and even worked on studying for the PMP exam with audiobooks! Now he listens to audiobooks while doing the dishes and mowing the lawn. He also frequently pulls out his Kindle to read during any nighttime nursing sessions.
Plan your time wisely
My husband and I work to find blocks of time for his schoolwork throughout the day. Although she's eating complementary solids, our daughter's main nutrition still comes from breastmilk. She has always refused to drink pumped milk from a bottle, which means that I have chunks of time that I absolutely have to devote to her. While my husband does some of the pre-bedtime things, like brushing LG's teeth, actually getting her to bed falls to me. This means that he can count on about an hour each evening of uninterrupted time for school work. He also takes advantage of other longer feeds throughout the day because they're time when he knows he can sit down and concentrate.
On days when we get off schedule or don't consciously plan ahead, it's all too easy for my husband's class needs to fall by the wayside. After all, a textbook can just sit there and wait but a hungry, tired, or wet baby can't! That's why it's so important to specifically plan out your time and coordinate with any other caregivers to make sure that your young children are taken care of and you have enough time for school.
Have a clear goal
When you have to find the time and energy for school in your already busy schedule you have to stay on track to avoid wasting precious time. You need to know what you want to achieve and what it will take to achieve it. Your goals for the future need to be concrete and you need to be organized enough to stay on a clearly defined path for a fairly significant amount of time in order to finish a degree. Do your research before starting a degree program to make sure it's the right fit for you and your vision for the future. Don't just take classes so you can tell people you're back in school without a definitive end goal in mind!
While you don't want to change your major every semester, you also need to be honest and realistic with yourself if things aren't working out. My husband bought the materials for a course last month and started reading the book before officially signing up for the class. About 100 pages in, he really wasn't feeling it. He had the option to take a different course, instead, so ultimately opted to enroll in the other class. It's annoying that we'd already paid for the materials (and can't return them because of the digital component) and that he lost the time already put into reading, but it's better to take a small hit and avoid a big one. Don't be afraid to take advantage of a drop/add period if you're absolutely certain that a class isn't going to work out.
Remember that you are worth it
Getting a degree always takes time, and the process can feel even longer when you really have to work to find each spare minute. Be kind to yourself, take study breaks when you need them to recharge, and always remember that you are worth it. Even if it takes you a bit longer to complete your degree than a 'traditional' student without a job or family obligations might take, keep your eye on the prize and know that you'll get there if you keep working. My great-grandmother was widowed at a very young age with only an eighth grade education. As a single parent, she worked to complete her high school education, then her bachelor's degree. It took her longer and she was older when she graduated, but I found a quote from her in my grandmother's scrapbook saying "I have my daughter and I have my diploma, so now I feel like I have everything." In today's information economy, furthering your education is absolutely worth it.
I really hope that my tips for continuing your education while parenting young kids help some other parents and busy working adults out! Have you pursued additional education either as a parent or full time employee? Do you have any more tips for getting a degree as a non-traditional student?