If you asked me to describe my graduate school journey and “life” a few weeks ago, I would say I was doing what anyone else would do: I work. I have two small children. My husband was active duty when I started grad school, and had three sets of deployment orders, then ended up going through a medical board and was granted honorable separation from the military. Did I mention I had our daughter during grad school, too?
I’ve held the titles of working professional, military spouse, mom, single parent, expecting mom, and graduate student. And for short periods of time during my three year pursuit to a Masters degree, I held all of those titles concurrently.
Parenting, work, and grad school is hard.
How did I do it?
First, rally the troops. By this I mean, let your work-life, family, and friends network know you are attending grad school (or whatever you’re pursuing). There will be days where you’ll need extra support and understanding after pulling an all-nighter with a fussy infant and finalizing a research report. You may appreciate the latte a co-worker picks up, or a freezer meal you stashed in your refrigerator for a gotta-feed-the-kids-but-I-can’t-keep-my-eyes-open-to-cook night.
Keep an eye out for child care. If you are working and going to school, you’ll need child care. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one child care option for your working hours and your school hours. I had multiple child care arrangements; I swapped play dates with friends when I had to have quiet, dedicated time to write and research without the distraction of kids; I utilized on-base resources, neighbors, local child care providers, my parents, and a series of teenage babysitters. Your college may even have child care resources available. Call a Military OneSource consultant, ask for child care resources through your college, and ask your nearest installation to help you access local child care resources. You may even quality for a fee assistance program.
Befriend an academic advisor. Set yourself up for success by exploring all of the resources your college provides. Even if you are attending school online, you should have a point of contact to help you navigate online and in-person resources, such as access to your library, career services, tutoring support, networking opportunities, and more. Instead of jumping into an academic program, explore the support services the college provides before you need them.
For example, I had a good relationship with my advisor and in my first semester realized full time graduate school with full time work and parenting wasn’t going to work for me. I was able to reduce my course load to a part-time schedule during times when my life was very busy. The flexibility to change my course load really helped me during those unpredictable life changes. It is important to understand the length of time you have to complete a degree program, the withdraw dates, and the downfalls for changing your academic plan or program completion pace. While I was able to keep up my course work and stay enrolled in school while I had our second child, I do know other classmates who decided to take a semester leave of absence. Life will happen while you are in school – plan for the unpredictable by befriending an academic advisor.
Be kind to yourself. As a military spouse, you are capable of juggling many competing priorities, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Be kind to yourself. There may be some activities you have to give up while pursuing your academic program. I had to reduce my volunteer hours and social activities. I often missed weekend events because I was working on school work. I had to learn to say “no” and prioritize what must get done, and what could wait.
Keep your eye on the prize. Imagine what it feels like to complete your degree program. How will your new degree enhance your skills set or propel you into a new career? When life gets busy you may have to remind yourself why you are going to school. It’s not an easy task to balance being a military spouse, mom, working professional, AND student – but I know you can do it!
Have you had multiple things to juggle in your military life to finish school? Share your story with us in the comments!