Everything starts with a family schedule
Sarah Sczembora wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to return to school almost two decades after dropping out in Grade 10.
With a partner at home and nine-year-old son to raise, taking on a full course load was a mere fraction of her challenge. There’s supper to make, driving to and from her son’s taekwondo classes, homework to oversee and bedtime routines. That’s after a full day of classes – and before she sits down to study herself.
“It’s tough when you have kids," says Sczembora. "I’m constantly going.”
“My son is my everything. I just want him to have a better future.”
Now 35, she spent the better part of two decades working in food service and construction until she tired of the regular layoffs, which made it difficult to provide for her son. She’s now enrolled in NAIT’s academic upgrading program and plans to study Medical Laboratory Assisting in fall 2019.
“Coming from a poor family, I’m doing this for him. My son is my everything,” she says. “I just want him to have a better future and school is the best way to go.”
A full-time course load is a major commitment for anyone, especially a parent. Sczembora turned to Lisa Cole, a strategist with NAIT learning services, for help. Here are her tips for balancing studies and a hectic home life.
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1. Make a schedule
When you feel pulled in several directions, set priorities, advises Cole.
“For any student, I suggest they make weekly schedules, but for parents I suggest they do that with their kids,” she says.
Cole recommends first blocking off time for school and classroom commitments. From there, you can plot other commitments, such as your child’s after-school activities or parent-teacher nights.
Don’t forget time for wellness, studying and sleep.
“Keep to a regular sleep schedule. Rest is very important.”
2. Keep the kids busy (and quiet)
When you’re a parent and need to focus on studies, finding quiet study time can be tough. Cole recommends giving your child an activity that he or she will enjoy, one you know will keep them occupied – and quiet – for an hour or two: a puzzle, game, craft, TV or their own homework.
“Make sure they have everything they need for those activities so they’re working on something while you are studying, so it’s more uninterrupted time,” Cole says. “It’s fun for them, and quieter for you.”
If you’re child is busy at soccer or ballet, bring your homework with you if possible, she adds.
“If your kids are younger, study when they sleep.”
3. Ask for help
Keeping your kids occupied is a great idea, but sometimes you need to tag out. When Sczembora needs extra quiet, she’ll let her partner know so she can head for campus to study.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for support.”
Cole advises tapping your network whenever possible, asking partners, parents, friends or other family to help with childcare or household duties. That could mean planning a playdate at another parent’s house for when you need to study.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for support.”
4. Make the weekends count
When the school week is jammed with activities, it’s important to find time for your family. Cole recommends making at least one day of the weekend family time where the kids come first. That could mean a family outing or spending time together making meals for the week.
“I love going to taekwondo class and watching my son,” says Sczembora. “In summer, I go to his soccer games, we go to the parks or swimming.”
5. Tap all available resources and take care of yourself
Like asking family for help, it’s important for parents to leverage all available resources at your disposal. At NAIT, that includes the services of Cole and the staff in Learning Services, but also Counselling Services, the library, fitness centre and classes for working off stress, and more. (Check out all student services.)
“I think I would have given up a long time ago if I didn’t get the help that I've had,” Sczembora says.
6. Don’t feel guilty. You’ve got this!
It’s easy to feel guilty as as parent if you’re not able to spend as much time with your child as you or they prefer. Give yourself a break.
Sczembora says she often experiences emotional moments, especially when she feels like she’s paying more attention to schoolwork than to her son. Making time on the weekends helps, but so do open lines of communication and talking and listening to your child so they understand school is in everyone’s best interest.
“I tell my son never give up and he tells me never to give up.”