The non-traditional college student: Going to college while raising kids

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My kids drive me crazy.

Okay, so it's not my kids. I mean, I gotta be crazy in the first place to be going to college full-time while raising two kids by myself and working in a restaurant every single weekend! But one of the major challenges to deal with in all of this is the time I spend with the kids.

Every mom (and no doubt a lot of dads) knows how kids always seem to need our attention at the most inconvenient times. Just try having a phone conversation with a 3-year-old in the house! And don't even attempt it with two kids at home - they will start fighting every time. There is some kind of telepathic signal that alerts kids when Mom is on the phone. They could have been watching TV or playing outside for an hour and a half, but you get on the phone for three minutes and suddenly they must have your attention. Somebody gets hurt or they have to fight over a toy or they just want to tell you something.

What I'm going crazy over now is the way my kids interrupt my study time. They are so used to having me available all the time that when I try to sneak off to my room to get online or just to study, they don't know how to act. They need 17 things from me the minute I sit down. I have to make a big announcement: "I'm going to my room now. Do not interrupt me for half an hour." Even then, they "forget." Even my 13-year-old does it.

So I'm wracking my brain to come up with ideas for ways to get my study time in while still getting the kids' needs met. Obviously I want to be with my kids; I like them a lot. But at the present time, my number two focus is finishing school, and I have a heavy semester load. So I have to balance the time I spend with them and the time I spend studying in ways that satisfy everybody most of the time.

One way is to send them somewhere else. Sometimes a weekend at their dad's house is a lifesaver. Then I can do nothing but study between my shifts at the restaurant. A fellow student who is the mom of an infant and a 3-year-old uses daycare to help her cope. This gives her time to get schoolwork done while letting someone else handle the little ones. Having them somewhere else while we study cuts the time it takes to get the schoolwork done because there are no interruptions.

Another possible solution and one that works about half the time at my house is to schedule study time and let the kids know when it will be. We have our daily calendar on the fridge, and when I have a test coming up or just need to keep up with my schoolwork, I write it down in their presence. Then I remind them in the morning and again when I get home: "I'm studying from 8 to 9:30 tonight," and suggest they watch a movie. Of course this only works if I remember to put it on the calendar and remind them frequently. It also only works if the kids are the appropriate age to entertain themselves safely.

I would say that waiting until your own kids are in college before starting yourself would be a good way to avoid stress, but I have an adult child too, and she still needs me pretty often. Now, it's just telephone calls, but those too can distract from the task at hand. So waiting until your kids are grown is certainly a way to reduce the stress of parenting while schooling, but it's not fool-proof.

Going to college while raising kids is like having two full-time jobs. It's full of challenges and rewards. I think it offers us the opportunity to set an example for our children of perseverance and determination, and it offers them the opportunity to learn delayed gratification and independence. It challenges us to use our creative juices to come up with solutions to the study time/family time problem. All of these challenges prepare us and our children for the future and among the rewards of these lessons are respect for each other and pride in our accomplishments.