Balancing your work-study life is hard on any given day, yet add kids into the equation and it is even tougher. On the one hand, you’re studying to improve your circumstances and offer your family a better life. Yet, this doesn’t eliminate the guilt you feel when essays and exams cut into your family time.
And that is the problem...
When your children are safely tucked away at nursery or school, you can give your studies your complete focus. But when the holidays arrive, it is not so easy. Suddenly, you’ve got additional duties to contend with which make it even more difficult.
From shopping, wrapping and getting presents ready, to cleaning, going to family gatherings, keeping your kids entertained (we all know how tricky this can be), making sure they get all of their homework done and attending Christmas events/activities; all of this can add to an immense amount of struggling and stress.
So what can you do? How can you balance giving your children the attention they deserve, getting through the holidays AND completing all of your studies on time?
To be honest it is going to take guts, perseverance, an ability to adjust and great management skills. But as you’re a parent already you’ve already perfected a lot of these skills.
However, to help you on your way we have come up with a list of tips which will enable you to achieve the best of all worlds – plenty of time to study and spend time with your kids during the Christmas holidays.
Tip one: create a schedule and share it with your family
By being upfront and honest with your family about your schedule, you can escape the guilt of trying to please everyone. Instead, everyone will be able to see where you’re free and when you need to be left undisturbed.
We suggest using your knowledge of when the holidays are happening to plan out – in advance – what you want to achieve during this period. Do you need to finish a certain amount of reading or assignments? You need to consider what you need to complete to keep yourself on track, and how long you realistically need to finish it.
1. Be realistic – the reality is, you won’t be able to get as much done as you normally would when the kids are at school. Your productivity and free time will be less, so you need to be realistic about what you can get done and not be over ambitious.
2. Spread out your studies – don’t go allocating it all for the day before your deadline, or try studying when you’re at a family gathering. Instead, spread them out at convenient times across the entire holiday so you don’t feel overwhelmed but can chip away at it steadily.
3. Plan study time in a calendar – a good tactic is to use a calendar, planner or scheduler to help outline your day-to-day plans. This will highlight your best times to study, as well as act as a reminder so you don’t forget. They will also help you to get into a regular routine, so you’re mentally prepared to study when the time arrives.
4. Plan around your kids – try to look for times when you know they’ll be occupied. Whether that is waiting until they have gone to bed, before they get up in the morning or when you know they’ll be out of the house; save these times to stay in and study.
5. Do lots of short study bursts – aiming to do 20-30 minutes of study at a time will be easier than trying to study for solid blocks of a few hours at a time, especially as it is likely that these sessions will get interrupted.
6. Create a schedule for the whole family – don’t just put your own plans into this calendar, but the entire family’s plan, too. This will make it easier for you to identify good times to study and where you can enlist your families help to help occupy/entertain the kids.
Tip two: look for ways to save time with your day-to-day duties
Now, we aren’t suggesting that you skip out on your chores as that will just leave you with a bigger job later down the line. What we are suggesting is that you look for ways to save time so you are free to do other things.
Take the following.
1. Meal prep – prepping food in advance will reduce the amount of time you spend cooking. So if for instance, you can prepare a meal capable of feeding you for more than one session, make it and then freeze the rest ready for another day. Similarly, you can cook large batches of vegetables and meats, and separate them into smaller portions which you can use the following day.
Taking a further step back and creating a meal plan before you go shopping can also help you save time in the long run. Once you know exactly what you need to buy – and what will freeze well – you can go shopping. Better yet, you can order your food online and have it delivered to your house, saving you time and the stress of having to venture to the supermarket.
2. Get your family to help out – if your family aren’t already helping you with the chores, then ask them if they’d be willing to help out so you’ll have less to do. You can even offer rewards to inspire your kids into helping, eg an outing if they hoover three times a week, etc.
3. How clean does the house really need to be? – this is a serious question, especially over Christmas. With all the present unwrapping, family dinners/buffets and time you’ll spend visiting others; you need to ask yourself – how clean does your house have to be? If you’re going to be out for days on end or no one is visiting, then you can give yourself a small cleaning break.
Tip three: create a home study space
If you haven’t already got one of these, we recommend making one as this will soon become a place where you can retreat, study and get all of your work done. More importantly, once you’ve created a study space there will be no need to keep setting it up. Instead, it will already be arranged exactly how you want it to be, saving you time in the long run.
1. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room, we suggest nabbing it. Otherwise, pick a room that the rest of your family doesn’t need or won’t use regularly, ie your front room or dining room. NOTE: it is important that your kids are aware that this room is off-limits when you’re studying, so they won’t be tempted to pop in or disturb you (unless it is an emergency). Instead, let them know when you’ll be free again, so they’ll be more willing to wait.
2. Choose somewhere secluded, quiet and free from distractions – in other words, don’t pick somewhere with a loud ticking clock or anything on the walls that will disturb you. It is vital that you find this space peaceful, quiet and relaxing, so you can easily immerse yourself into your work. Ideally, this space will be situated away from the most used rooms in your house so you won’t be tempted to join your family.
3. Keep away from distractions – these can come in many forms. Even a radio or a TV could prove distracting, as you could find yourself spending ages selecting some ‘music’ to listen to.
4. Create storage – this technique is important if you haven’t already got a designated space in your house where you can consistently study. By having somewhere where you can safely put all of your study materials, ie a box, a drawer or a cabinet, you can easily collect them when you’re next ready to study. Plus, you’ll know that there is no chance of your family messing with your work/notes.
Tip four: integrate studying with your other commitments
Harnessing technology is one easy way of doing this. For instance, instead of listening to the radio whilst you’re driving or commuting, you could listen to webinars or recorded study notes. Alternatively, you can caste recorded lectures to your TV whilst playing with your kids.
Similarly, you can do the following.
1. Make use of your kid’s clubs/activities – whilst you’re ferrying and waiting for your kids to finish a club, why not read notes or flash cards on your phone? Using your phone in this way will make it easier for you to study whenever you have got a free moment, as your phone is easy to carry around.
You can even try using apps such as PDF Expert which allow you to make notes on your tablet (using a stylus) straight on top of PowerPoint.
2. Study whilst cooking food – as your meals are on the hob or in the oven, you can quiz yourself on a topic you’ve recently read. This repetition will help to fix this information into your head and make it easier to recall.
3. Set reminders on your phone – these mini alarms will help you to stay on track and remember important events.
Tip five: keep your kids busy...
Easier said than done we know; however, occupying them with fun activities will enable you to study without the guilt of worrying that they are bored.
Try these tactics.
1. Get them to do chores or a fun activity at home – in terms of chores, give them an incentive to get them done. From picking a film at the cinema, a game or your next outing...the more appealing you make the award, the more effort they will put into completing the chore. This is especially helpful if you’re delegating some of your usual chores, as they’ll be saving you even more time which you can use to study.
Similarly, giving them something fun to do at home will keep them occupied and less likely to come pestering you. Just make sure it is something fun that they’ll all enjoy and will keep them busy for a fair while ie making something.
2. Study when your kids are out at an activity – if you can get your partner to take them so you can stay at home, great. If you’re the only one who can take them, try to find ways to bring your studies with you.
From reading/listening to your notes on your phone, to watching a webinar, to typing notes on your laptop, to browsing through flashcards – use whatever is easy to cart around to keep up your studies. Usually places offer quiet spaces for parents to relax. Otherwise, if they are being supervised by a teacher, do your work in your car.
Tip six: ...or get them involved
Your kids will naturally be curious about what you’re doing, so try to make a game of it. If they’ve got homework, why not suggest that you all do your work at the same time?
This will kill two birds with one stone. Not only will this ensure that they aren’t doing any reading, projects or worksheets at the last minute – adding to your stress – they will feel included in what you’re doing as you will all be doing it together. This will also prevent them from distracting you, as they’ll be too focused with getting their own work done.
NOTE: this tip works best if you know that they’ll sit quietly and get on with it, and won’t mess around or keep distracting you.
If you know that they won’t stay quiet, get them involved in a different way. For instance, you could ask them to quiz you. Again, by letting them feel involved and aware that they are helping you; they’ll take this role of quizzing you more seriously.
In fact, you might find this technique helps you to better absorb the information, as you’ll be making a conscious effort to answer them clearly, concisely and in a way that your kids will understand.
Tip seven: create a support network
Surrounding yourself with a strong and positive support network will help to strengthen your study sessions – and keep the stress at bay – as you’ll know that you have always got someone there to listen and help.
The key is finding the right support network for you. Here are some options.
1. Family/ partner – the simple act of asking them to look after the kids or take charge of certain responsibilities will instantly lift some of the weight from off your shoulders as you’ll know that your kids are being well cared for. No longer will you feel stressed about neglecting them, as someone else is happily occupying and giving them something fun to do.
2. Peers – establishing a support network of your peers is another fantastic way to alleviate the stress as you’ll never be alone. Instead, you’ll know that you can reach out to this group and will be able to speak to others who know exactly what you’re going through.
For instance, you’ll be able to bounce off ideas, vent and support one another, whilst saving time as you can speak to them from the comfort of your own home.
MOL offer a dedicated Learner Support Network where you can chat to others on your course and exchange your thoughts, feelings and queries, without having to wait ages for a response
Tip eight: remember to enjoy yourself
With the pressure to complete assignments or prepare for exams, it can be easy to fall into the trap of letting them dominate and spoil your holidays. At the back of your mind is the constant awareness that you need to get it done.
To combat this, we ask that you remember that
1. It is the school holidays –This is a time to do fun things with your family. Your teachers/lecturers won’t expect you to spend the entire time studying, so instead of feeling guilty, we suggest creating a schedule for both. Carefree time to have fun with your loved ones, and allocated times to get all of your work/studying done.
2. Relax and do things for yourself – it is essential that you make time to look after yourself (mentally) and relax. This means, alongside finding time for your family, you should also make time to do things for yourself. Whether this is watching your favourite film, taking a relaxing bath, going shopping or visiting a spa – make sure you do something just for you.
3. Look after yourself physically – there is a common misconception that exercise will wear you out and make you feel tired. Now, whilst there is no denying that it will help you to sleep, eating well and doing a little exercise can actually help to invigorate and elevate your energy levels. This is because it will jumpstart your body – including your metabolism and heart rate.
To start off with, incorporate a little stretching into your wake-up routine and take opportunities to get outside and breathe some fresh air, eg running around the park with the kids will help you to feel more energised. Likewise, make sure you start your day with a healthy breakfast.
REMEMBER: If you’re emotionally and physically drained, you won’t be able to study as effectively – nor can you be there for your family. For this reason, make sure that you take time for yourself, get enough sleep, see friends and indulge in a relaxing hobby each week.
The truth is studying and being a parent is hard work. In the beginning, there will be a lot of trial and error. But once you find the right balance, you’ll be able to sail through them both – yes even during the holidays!
So don’t give up, and don’t let competing commitments sway you from not studying. Embrace all of the tips listed above and your kids won’t even realise what you’re up to.
Remember – you’ve got this!