One question that keeps popping up on my Instagram page is “How do you study while having three children?!” I get asked so many questions around this topic so I thought I would create a blog post that covered most of your questions and gave you a better idea of whether or not this is something you can do too- *SPOILER ALERT*- It totally is!
So, for a bit of background, here’s my story. I had my first child towards the end of 2012 at the ripe age of 21. I enrolled in University about mid-2013 with the plan to start studying at the start of 2014. I was super nervous at the time. I didn’t want to leave my 1 year old baby, I didn’t know how we would afford it or how we would afford childcare or how I would even juggle full time study with a baby. But I just went for it and hoped the universe would have my back. A week into semester I found out I was pregnant with baby number 2. As much as this was a blessing, it also threw a huge spanner in the works. How would we now afford two sets of childcare fees on one income and also juggle a full time study load with two children? I continued studying throughout my pregnancy, which was really hard. I was sick a lot, I was sore, I was tired but I knew that it would be easier studying while pregnant than with a newborn and a toddler so I pushed through. I gave birth in second semester 2014, and therefore took that semester off to spend time with my baby. I started again in semester 1 2015 and studied the whole year with a full time load. My children went to daycare two days a week while I was at uni and I was making it work pretty well. I found out I was pregnant at the end of 2015 which was another hurdle for us. But I had made it work in the past so I knew I could do it again. I studied again all through my pregnancy. I gave birth in second semester 2016 so I ended up taking that semester off. Then we moved to QLD at the end of 2016 with a newborn, a 2 year old and a 4 year old. I transferred uni to one on the sunshine coast and started semester 1 of 2017 and Ive been studying there ever since. So, thats my back story.
Now I’ll answer all my top questions that I get from you guys, so they’ll all be here for you to access.
What are you studying and why?
I am enrolled in a double degree at the moment- a Bachelor of Nursing and a Bachelor of Midwifery. I’m not sure whether I will continue with the midwifery at the moment or if I will drop that degree and graduate with the Nursing degree and start working sooner. I actually wrote a blog post previously on why I want to become a nurse. I had a near death experience during birth in 2012 and the level of love and support showed to me by the nurses and midwives was a real turning point in my life and I decided then and there that nursing was my life calling.
How did you start studying and when did you know it was the right time?
Well, I enrolled thinking that I only had one child, but I do think that the best time (usually) is now. There is never going to be a perfect time to start, so just go for it. With university there is a thing called the ‘Census date’ which is a set date about 4-6 weeks into each semester where you can basically try before you buy. If you turn up for a few weeks and decide now isn’t the right time for you then you can discontinue your units or defer for 6 months to a year without paying for those units you were enrolled in. It is a really good option if you aren’t sure if you can commit. Personally, I think it’s easiest to study when you’re pregnant, then it still stays relatively easy until your baby is about 5-6 months old. Then you’ve got it hard until they’re about 3-4 years old and then it becomes easier again. So stop putting it off and just get started!
How many days do your kids go to daycare?
So, up until this year I’ve had no school aged kids. So it was daycare for everyone. Now I have one child in school which has its benefits and also its negatives. But basically my school child goes to school 5 days a week and my younger two go to daycare two days a week. One of those days is my ‘home study day’ because most of my work is online (all my lectures) and the other day is my ‘uni day’ where I go for my face-to-face classes.
How do you afford it financially?
We are on one income. It’s probably larger than most incomes but it’s not huge. We still struggle at times but there are ways for everyone to make it work. Firstly, there is a payment through centrelink called JET, which is income tested, for mothers who study. It decreases your childcare fees substantially. We are not eligible but it is a great option if you are. Find out more at JET childcare assistance. We are eligible for the Child Care Rebate (CCR) and the Child Care Benefit (CCB) however, these can be really confusing if you’re new to the game. There is some awesome information as well as a pretty spot on estimator on this website childcare out of pocket cost estimator. If you scroll all the way to the bottom they have links in red for excel spreadsheets that will let you input figures to get a really good estimate for your out of pocket costs each week. I just did it for our situation and it was $6 off. So pretty spot on if you need an idea of affordability. I have also created a sinking fund for my family and it has changed our finances dramatically. Click here for Clear info on sinking funds. So, I budget $500 a year for miscellaneous uni costs- uniforms, parking, the odd uni text book-Hint, buy secondhand textbooks-they’re almost always exactly the same as the current edition. Anyway, my $500 a year is divided into 52 weekly payments, which means I put aside about $10 a week into our sinking fund so at the start of each year I’ve got $500 ready to go. Seriously look into sinking funds if you need a hand with budgeting.
Do you have family that help you out?
No, it’s just me and my husband (who is crazy supportive). My husband is very encouraging and helps me out whenever I need time in the evenings or on the weekends.
How do you juggle a small baby and studying at home? I think this photo sums that up quite well. This was me trying to study with a 2 year old and a baby. It was hard. I spent a lot of time looking like an exhausted mess. It’s really dependant on the baby, but I found that baby wearing was a god send while they were under about 8 months old. I would try to forget about the house work and concentrate on getting my baby to sleep so I could sit down at study for an hour or two. I would even lay my baby on the bed next to me and breastfeed him to sleep and have my laptop ready to slide over as soon as he was out, so I could listen to a lecture or two while he napped. As he got older I would put him in the highchair and feed him while I listened to lectures and made notes. You just have to do whatever it takes, which might mean downloading your lectures to your phone and listening to them while you push the pram around the block. You just have to learn to prioritise your studying over everything else and fit it in wherever you can. House work really can wait. Your future can’t.
How do you find the motivation?
I think this is such an individual thing. I find motivation in knowing that every lecture, every class, every week, every assessment, every semester is one step closer to graduating. I visualise myself at the end of my degree with my three boys standing next to me and how proud I will feel knowing I did it despite all of the hurdles. Short term though, I’ve just learnt not to procrastinate. I used to be the biggest procrastinators. But I’ve just trained myself to get things done as soon as I have a spare minute. I think when you’re a parent as well, you know how precious time is, and you become a master and multitasking and time management.
Now here are my tips on how you can make studying with children a possibility, because I know that if I can do it then you can too.
- Set small, achievable goals. You need to start ticking off those goals so your brain associates studying with something positive. If your goals are too long term or unachievable then your brain will see studying as a negative thing. Goals such as: Call student support and organise a meeting to discuss studying pathways; buy a study diary and write down important dates and assessment dates; finish my first assessment a week before the due date. These small achievable goals will reinforce that you can achieve your bigger goals and all that positive feedback into your brain will keep you on track for bigger success.
- Be organised-You need to know exactly when you assessment are due and stay on top of all of your work. Fall behind and you will struggle so much harder than your peers without children. This doesn’t mean going out and spending hundreds on fancy binders and highlighters. It means doing your work before class and coming prepared. It also means knowing where to ask for help-Student support is a great place to start.
- Speak to your institution. Book a meeting with their student support and see if there are other pathways to completing your degree. That might mean you do all of your theory/online subjects now if you have a newborn or childcare is an issue, and you save your practical/face-to-face/more intense subjects for a later date when your child is older or childcare is sorted. I made the mistake way too many times to fall into a sobbing mess and threaten to throw in the towel when there was a hurdle in front of me. There hasn’t been a single issue that I haven’t resolved with the help of student support. That’s what they’re there for.
- Always, always ALWAYS be ahead of the class. I know it’s not ‘cool’ to be the nerd of the class or to hand in your assignment day one of semester. But being ‘cool’ isn’t going to get you a degree-being smart is. As soon as your course work is available-that might be 4 weeks before semester starts or 1 week, get onto it. Start planning out your assessments even if they’re not due for another two months. You’ll be thanking yourself when a fortnight before your assessment is due the family comes down with gastro that knocks you for six, and you remember you’ve already finished it ready for submission. Because, trust me that shit happens all the time (pun intended).
- Communicate with your teachers that you have a child/children and that the juggle might be tough for you. I always do this because there have been classes when I’ve had to leave 20 minutes early to do the school run and I have never had a bad experience. They’re more often than not, parents themselves so they understand that it can be tough, and they’ll probably be a bit more understand if you miss a few days here or there.
- Have faith in yourself. Prove all those doubters than you’ve got this. Be a role model for your children. Show them that hard work pays off and that nothing comes in the way of your dreams. You only need one person who believes in you, and thats YOU. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks as long as you know you can do it (and you can!). Believe in yourself and thats half the battle.