I Went Back to School While Working {and Parenting} Full Time

I Went Back to School While Working {and Parenting} Full Time

2020 has meant a lot of different things to people, but I will always remember it as the culmination of years of baby steps, the year that I realized my goal of graduating college.

I’ve always loved learning, but I look back on my reckless high school years and stamp myself as the cliché “too cool for school”. I had better things to do, experiences to savor, art to create, a life that wasn’t going to live itself! I complained about the workload, but I low-key thrived on the challenge. Somehow, though I was distracted and all over the place, I was a shoo-in for college. I was in AP classes, had a 4.52 GPA as a graduating senior, and I knew college was not a matter of “if” but “where?”. But I decided I was in no hurry. I would take my time at a community college, work, and enjoy life outside of the confines of my mother’s house.

In a divine turn of events, my grand plans of life and leisure were humbled by the birth of my sunshine, my daughter. As the sun rose on this new chapter of my life, motherhood cast a shadow on who I knew myself to be. What now? School now seemed a little more urgent and a little less accessible. But I continued taking one class at a time. Every little step counted. It didn’t matter how slow I went as long as I didn’t stop, right?

Enter baby number 2. My son. A joyous little ball of cheeks and giggles who kept his father and I on opposite work schedules to avoid the weight and cost of childcare. With every night shift and late night pumping session the will I had to pursue higher learning was, quite literally, sucked out of me.

And then I quit.

I had too much on my plate.

My kids needed me.

I needed my job more than I needed school.

And every thought I had about going back was met with an argument against it.

That was in 2009.

It was 2015 when I decided to go back. This summer I submitted my final paper with a banshee wail of celebration. When I received notice that my degree had been awarded with highest honors, I cried tears of joy, a way of emoting that I usually reserve for the successes of my children. My diploma will hang on my wall under a foundation of sleepless nights, an ungodly amount of caffeine, shoulders I cried on, hands that picked me up and pushed me onward, and little eyes that watched and rooted for me.

If you have been thinking about picking up a long-lost dream or passion, let me share with you some things I learned along the way.

There isn’t a right time.

 I kept telling myself I would wait for a certain set of circumstances to go back to school. Wait for the baby to sleep through the night, wait for the kids to get older, wait for work to slow down, wait until I had more money saved. The circumstances kept shifting, and the situation never got easier. In 2012 I was officially under 25 with three kids under 5. I hustled. I worked three jobs because kids need to eat with the lights on. Over the next three years I went through a divorce. I got remarried. The kids brought home homework that required my help! {gasp!} I started a full-time job that required more mental and emotional energy than I had ever committed to a position. Life will maintain its level of crazy. Start now. You will adapt.

Good things require sacrifice.

I never went back with the thought that it was going to be easy. I just told myself I would have to make a way. The thing is, making a decision to go for it didn’t mean that I got to stop being a mom, a wife, or an employee. The work was done in the week hours of the morning or into long stretches of nights. I sacrificed some sleeping in and Netflix binges. I had to say no to outings with friends. We cut down on luxuries to cover expenses. Did I give them up altogether? Absolutely not! But in any position of growth, there is some discomfort. Embrace the suck and press on. You’ll be happy you did.

It’s OK to do things for YOU

I held off on school because I had other things that required so much of me. I didn’t want to add something else to my plate that took away time and energy from those commitments. I knew that going back would be something that would ultimately benefit my family, but that wasn’t enough to kick start me. What I finally had to accept was that this was something I had always wanted. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted it until I felt like it was out of my reach. In the process of becoming the mom/wife/employee that wanted to give everything to those roles, I had to let go of a significant something that brought me joy and purpose.

It was hard to accept that something outside of these roles was ok to do for me. And through this, my kids have seen something in my hard work and dedication, my career will be positively impacted, my husband and I grew closer as he supported me in the process. Here’s the good news:: chances are, if you are doing something for your own health and happiness, it will positively impact the relationships that you value most.

You are stronger than you believe.

When I first went back, I was looking for some positive juju to keep me going, a hype mantra I could turn to on days when I felt like quitting. I found one that sat on a post-it in my planner for a long time until I committed it to my heart. Read this and let it seep in: “As women, we often undervalue our capabilities and don’t realize the strength, power, and perseverance that calmly lies within. The day we tap into that, we realize that nothing is beyond our creation and control. Stand tall and be the woman you are made of.” – Samara Mahindra, CARER Program

All that stuff you keep saying to talk yourself out of something significant and maybe a little scary:: Stop it. You can do hard things. Will you make it? Yes. You may not run the whole way, but don’t discount the value of a walk or crawl. One step at a time, mama. I’m rooting for you.

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