It has been a month since I started the PACE Program, and the intensity is starting to pick up. This is a far cry from my previous employed life when, at the end of the day, all I had to worry about was giving my child a bath, preparing dinner and reading her a bedtime story. Just thinking about my deadlines makes my stomach churn, and I know it is bound to get worse as the months go by.
Don’t get me wrong, PACE is wonderful in the sense that it gives Gen-Xers like me a new lease on life when it comes to career advancement. It provides a big window of opportunity for me to develop new knowledge and skills to take on a more promising career in a shorter period compared to other post-graduate programs. However, a shorter period means a more intensive program that can be very difficult especially for parents of young children like me.
So, is it possible to be a parent and a PACE student at the same time? Of course! I dare not say I have all the answers, but my family of three is trying to make it work with these strategies. It’s working so far, and they might work for you, too.
- Communicate to your spouse/partner. There will be times you need to stay up late to study and you will need a lot of support. Lay out your deadlines for the week or month and request that they pick up your child at daycare/grab some groceries/prepare supper/clean up on those days at least. Make them realize that you enrolled in this program not just for yourself, but to make the family’s situation better. They must know that they have some accountability in your success. Unless they don’t want a better life for themselves and your child/ren, the little guilt trip will likely work.
- Let your child “work” beside you. Does your young child insist on sitting on your lap while you are in the middle of writing an assignment? If it is impossible to peel them off from your side, just give in. Over the last 10 years as a teacher, I learned that children like to imitate what their parents do, and you should let them because they are trying to make sense of their environment and it’s the basis for language and literacy development. Provide some materials such as blank paper to draw or scribble on, puzzles they can complete on their own, a toy computer or calculator that they can “type” with just like you.
- Prepare some activities beforehand. My child loves to play with slime, playdough, kinetic sand and other sensory materials, and she gives me around an hour of peace every time I bring some out. That’s a good amount of time for a mom with a full load at school. There are lots of safe (and sometimes edible) recipes online for sensory activities and perhaps the most simple would be a good mix of cornstarch and water to make goop. They are very cool but can be very messy, so I would recommend you cover the floor with newspapers, let them wear an old shirt or apron, and let them use a big basin instead.
- Highlight parent-child “dates”. When your partner realizes how important their role is in your success as a student, they would be more than happy to get out of your hair. Convince them that taking your child out for fun stuff (like getting ice cream, playing at the park, etc.) is healthy bonding time that may never come around again if they let it pass them by. Two or three hours is a pretty good leeway to get a lot of those assignments done, but it could also be sad that you’re missing out on the fun (it’s only temporary, though).
- Find time to reconnect, uninterrupted. Put down your phone and close your laptop. Actively listen to you child talk about what happened at daycare, or your partner about their day. Even if it’s just for an hour, make sure you give them 100% of your attention. Play with your child, cuddle or watch an episode on Netflix with your partner. These are the moments that could energize you after a long day, as they reinforce the reason why you are in school to begin with. Make your family feel that you are always thinking about them and wishing you could spend more time with them, but you are in the middle of something important too, and that all your hard work will be for everyone’s benefit.
Nobody’s life is perfect, and we just have to make do with the cards we are dealt with. As PACE students, we need to be aware that it is an uphill battle, and we will need help most, if not, all the time. I wish you luck on striking that balance between student life and parenthood, and I would love to hear other strategies from fellow parents, too!
Human Resources Management
University of Winnipeg, PACE