I knew before even registering for my first semester of classes at ISU that going back to school would result in a jam-packed weekly schedule and total chaos at my house. Making the transition from a stay at home mom of four kids to a commuting college student was going to change our daily lives. I decided right away that I would be very strategic in my planning. Since I was pursuing MY dream, I would try to inconvenience my family and support system as little as possible. If anyone was going to feel the pinch from this big life-changing decision, it was going to me, the selfless, benevolent, gracious, caring, supermom martyr.
I had it all planned out. I would spend my days at home, caring for my preschool aged daughter while my boys were at school and my husband was at work. During the days I would keep up the house, do laundry, run errands, complete all of my homework, and spend quality time with my little girl. Piece of cake. Then, when my husband came home, I would have the table set and dinner would be waiting in the oven, ready for him to serve to the family. I would then kiss them all goodbye, and go to my evening classes. I would return home and find the dishes done, the kids’ homework finished, and the kids bathed and tucked into bed. It was the perfect plan. I even arranged it so that I only had to be gone 3 evenings a week. We could totally do this.
I quickly realized that my plan was very, very flawed. I did not have enough time in the day to take care of everything that I needed to do. My husband is GREAT, but not superhuman. My papers were being written at 3 AM, I was tired all of the time, the kids didn’t get baths every night, supper was a bag of McDoubles from McDonalds, the kids’ homework and grades suffered, the house was a wreck, my husband spent his evenings dragging the kids to sports practices and games, and we ran out of clean socks. It was a disaster. My self-sacrificing plan didn’t work out so well for any of us. We were all suffering.
Semester two meant that it was time for Plan B. Plan B was a bit more expensive because we had to find a daycare provider, but worked out much better. I went to classes Tuesday and Thursday, from 8 AM to 3:15, with a couple of significant breaks during the day during which I worked on my homework. I was taking three on campus courses and one online course, which freed up my daily schedule a bit. I left with my daughter as the other kids were getting up in the morning (around 6:45), dropped her off at daycare, and then went to class all day. We all arrived home around 4:30-5:00 and had dinner together before doing the homework, bath, bed routine. I felt slightly guilty about taking my daughter to daycare, but she loved it! I was still home with her three days of the week, and I still had free time to conduct my other official supermom business.
When semester three rolled around, I tried to replicate the plan B schedule, but it failed terribly. My classes went from 9:35 to 3:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I now had four on campus classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with only two ten minute breaks and one twenty minute break each day. I spent those breaks zig-zagging across campus, and constantly walking into classes at the very last minute. I quickly found out that I did not have time to eat, unless I did it while walking, and I didn’t dare fill my water bottle more than once during the day because I didn’t even have time to visit the restroom between some of my classes. It was insane. I was able to be home to get the boys on the school bus in the mornings, but besides that, the schedule was really hard on me. Homework was done after everyone else went to bed, and I was once again exhausted. Something had to give!
We are now beginning our fourth semester, and I am hopeful that things will work out better. I have to take a class that is only offered on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, so we are now on the four day school schedule. I have to take my daughter to see her speech therapist on Monday and Wednesday mornings, and then it is off to campus for two afternoon classes. For the first time ever, my husband will have to pick up the kids at daycare and get dinner on the table since I won’t get home until after 6:00 on these days. I only have two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I managed to spread them out so that I have a good chunk of time between classes to work on homework. I’m hoping that this schedule will work better for my family and provide them with a less grumpy matriarch, but only time will tell.
In the end, regardless of the specific schedule, I feel like trying to balance a family and/or a full time job while going to school is like trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans that are a size too small. The schedule may never be completely comfortable, but it will work. You may, however, have to shimmy, shake, and suck in your gut to get it to fit. And don’t plan on taking too many deep breaths until the end of the semester.
Fellow nontraditional students, I want to know what your strategies are for balancing your home, family, work, and school schedules. What takes priority? (The number of days on campus? The time of day of your classes? The amount of free time between classes? ) Comment or tweet me at @thamra. I’d love to hear your ideas and share them in a future blog!