Balancing work, school and family can be a challenge. Some days might feel like more of a struggle than a juggle, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have it all. In fact, one in four of the 17 million Americans enrolled as an undergraduate in a higher education institution is caring for a child, according to the National Center for Education. Many people in this position turn to online education to help make it possible to manage work, life, family and earning their degree.
Learning how to successfully integrate coursework into an already-packed schedule comes with practice (and patience!). It never hurts to receive advice from those who’ve been in similar shoes. Here are three tips from juggling connoisseurs who have experience completing their degrees online while raising a family:
1) Have patience and think about the big picture
Brian Hood juggled earning a bachelor’s degree in software engineering online with Arizona State University (ASU) while parenting young triplets. His road to graduation wasn’t without its fair share of challenges.
“My desk is in the middle of my house and opens to a room that doubles as my kids’ playroom. To say that I had challenges while trying to listen to lectures is an understatement,” Hood said.
Several times throughout his academic journey, he hit roadblocks trying to balance it all. “It was so frustrating, and at times, deflating. But then you take a step back, look at the situation, and ask yourself, ‘How do I do this?’ When you tell yourself that failure isn't an option, it becomes much easier to focus on finding a solution, rather than being consumed by the problem,” Hood said.
Hood’s expert tip: With young kids around, invest in a good pair of headphones, and be flexible, patient and willing to pause and re-watch your lectures.
2) Communication is key
For Cherise Shockley, the key to finding balance was opening a dialogue with her family and ensuring everyone was on the same page about her online degree program. “If you are married or have kids, you have to tell your family what’s going on. Explain to them that this will require a time commitment but, in the end, it will be worth it,” Shockley said.
Openness and honesty go a long way, according to Shockley, who earned her mass communication and media studies degree online with ASU. “You have to be organized and know that there are no shortcuts. If a problem comes up, make sure to speak up and ask when you need help.”
Shockley’s expert tip: When challenges arise — as they inevitably do — remind yourself and your family that anything is possible with sacrifice, hard work, faith and determination.
3) Make your family a priority
Robert Rutledge, an online student with ASU, earned a bachelor's degree in business with a concentration in global leadership while juggling a full-time job and parenthood.
Often, while he worked on his studies, his two younger children would come into his office and ask, “Daddy, are you done yet?” In these instances, Rutledge would take time to explain to his children what he was doing and why he was doing it.
His biggest piece of advice? Make your kids a priority. “It’s difficult for [children] to grasp the importance of the time you're spending on your education instead of with them — especially with younger children.”
Rutledge’s expert tip: Use study breaks as bonding time with your loved ones. Go for a walk or play a game with your children and come back to your studies refreshed and ready!
Managing everything can be overwhelming at times, but remember: completing your education can open doors to so many new possibilities for you and your family, such as the opportunity to advance your career, increase your overall earning potential and even pursue a personal passion.
With nearly 4.8 million parents pursuing degrees, remember that you're in good company and are now armed with some expert advice on how to successfully juggle life, learning and family. With the right support and resources, earning your degree is possible and there is no better time than now to get started on pursuing your educational dreams.