Balancing Home and School
You’ve made the decision to go back to school, knowing it will further your education and career. Though you probably anticipate some challenges inside the classroom, balancing home and school can be an even bigger challenge for parents. However, if you make some plans and adjustments now, before your first day of class, balancing home and school will be so much easier.
Plan school time
The first step is to clear your schedule so you’ll have time for classes, homework and studying. Remember, each class might last two hours a week with approximately three hours of homework and/or study time per class, says Robert Wiltenburg, PhD. and Dean of evening and summer programs at University College of Washington University in St. Louis. So you’ll need to decide what you’ll give up to fit the classes and additional homework into your schedule.
Will you be able to take classes during the day or will that be impossible because of your day job? Do you have flex time at work so you could manage an early morning class before you head into the office? If evening classes are your only option, take a look at the family’s schedule. Do you have any available nights free from familial commitments?
Next, list all of your daily activities. Look closely for any blocks of downtime you might spend watching television, talking on the telephone or playing solitaire on the computer. Make a note of these blocks of 15, 30 or 45 minutes that can be earmarked for school work.
Have a family meeting with everyone in the household, says Barbara Stone, PhD., LISW, DCEP and author of Invisible Roots. Stone says it’s important for parents to let their children know the value of obtaining an education and how it will help improve everyone’s long-term situation. Children need to realize the parent’s education must be a priority for the future security of the family.
If you can, include close relatives in your meeting or have a separate discussion with them. Possibly your parents or siblings could watch the children when you have class or need library time for research? Any extra help you can get will come in handy as you progress in your academic career.
Another area that needs to be covered is the sometimes overwhelming amount of commitments and responsibilities, such as laundry, food shopping and car pools, which can eat up much of your time. Trying to do it all will add stress to your life. So taking some of the responsibilities off of the shoulders of the parent returning to school is crucial.
Make a list of all the commitments that are considered your responsibility. During your family meeting discuss the list of tasks you have to do. Have everyone pick out something he or she could help with to support the parent, says Stone. For example, a small child could put away his own toys after playing, an older child could clean up the table after supper and a teenager could mow the lawn, suggests Stone.
And don’t stop there. Kids can fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, feed the dog and so on. Extended family members could take over one of your carpools or take the kids to their evening activities. Tawnya Senchur’s mother loved hockey so it was a natural fit for Grandma to take her grandson to hockey practice. Each task that someone else does is one less commitment your must shoulder.
After that, think about the evening dinner meal. On an average day “what’s for dinner” can be a busy family’s dilemma. So tackle meal preparation at the start of the school year to eliminate a routine of stopping by fast food restaurants or calling for take out. Split cooking duties with your spouse. Get the kids in the kitchen. Little ones can tear lettuce for salad, toss empty cans into the recycling bin and pull ingredients from the pantry. Older children can learn how to make simple meals like nachos, wraps or pasta. There are many great cookbooks, such as Kids Fun and Healthy Cookbook, Mom and Me Cookbook and The Everything Kids’ Cookbook, for young chefs.
Pull out the slow cooker if it’s sitting in a cabinet and start using it on a regular basis. If the cooker has a removable crock, you can toss in your ingredients (except meat for food safety) at night so all you have to do is plug it in come morning.
Don’t forget to reward everyone with a small treat for taking on these new tasks that will help you balance home and school. The treats don’t have to be costly. Something fun like concocting a fruit smoothie or build your own sundae bar will work.
Keep in mind you’ll want to make your new journey a family affair. Set up a homework station where everyone can study together as a family. Do this by designating a specific time each night for parent and children to work side by side on their homework.
Include the family in your education experience, too. Ask your spouse and children for their feedback when you’re working on a particular project. Keep them abreast of important deadlines for school projects or upcoming exams. You might want to create a monthly “school” calendar of crucial dates and post it on the refrigerator for everyone’s convenience. Mark the kids’ tests and projects on the calendar, too.
As you settle into your academic life, make it a point to set aside quality family time. Some students plan “date” nights with their family to make sure they give special attention to their loved ones, says Jenkins. Date nights could be as simple and inexpensive as playing board games, going to the community recreation center or attending a free concert or movie in the park. You want to keep your family bond strong as you’re working toward your new goal.
Of course, once you reach your goal, you’ll want to celebrate graduation day. As a family, plan something special to celebrate this wonderful occasion that couldn’t have been accomplished without the help of the entire family.
Mary Jo Rulnick is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh.