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How to survive the chaos of studying with children

By Heidi 03 Oct 2019
Young boy cuddles his dog on the wood floor.

Studying with kids is tough, tear-inducing, guilt-inspiring stuff. Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to jump on Seek to find alternative employment because you’re so darn tired and brain-fried. Or perhaps that’s just me? Truthfully, there’s no secret formula to studying with kids – coming out the other side with that piece of paper in your hands is going to take guts, perseverance and adjustment. In making those adjustments, you’ll be upping the ante on your already impressive juggling life skills (it’s a parent’s boasting right) by building strong time management skills.

GIF: Tired child crashing on bed.

Together, we’ll survive the chaos. Becoming parents proved we could overcome perplexing and unbeknown new worlds. One test at a time, we figured it out … just like we will with university. We may miss out on the cliché student sleep-ins, but our advantages include our evolved patience levels and strengthened resilience (fortified by our toddlers), and of course being motivated by our kids watching us succeed.


GIF: Happy squeal.

Thus, without further ado, I share with you my 13 time (and sanity)-saving strategies for studying parents, which I hope you find useful:

1 . Plan carefully which courses you take in which term.

Primarily, this prevents mistakes like not taking a prerequisite course in the right semester. But secondly, and perhaps more rewardingly, you’ll have a clear focus and plan of attack for your degree, so you can cross off one task on your what-do-I-need-to-worry-about list. With your end goal broken down into years, semesters, and then courses, you’ll be able to refer back to your plan whenever you need that gust of motivation. When you’ve completed the course, grab that marker or glittery fairy sticker from your kid’s collection and feel that glorious satisfaction as you cross the course off. It’s like a reward chart for adults.

2. Make it hard to miss your assessment due dates.

Spend an hour mapping out all of the important due dates for every course you’re studying in a semester on one page of paper, use colours to make it visually attractive and then put it somewhere where it will be in your face. (You can find some wicked templates here to get you started). Like step one above, cross off each task as you go. As long as you’re making progress, you’ll make it through to the end of term. Again, it’ll help you worry less and provide you with focus.

3. Be realistic.

You’ve got a month to withdraw from a course before incurring a financial penalty*; if you’ve given it your best shot and the timing’s just not right, and you’ve discussed your options with your Student Relationship Officer, consider dropping it. If extending your degree by a semester or two means you are likely to better manage your time and avoid stress affecting the time you spend with your kids, it might be worth doing. (I’ve been there, done that). We may be parents, but we need to look after ourselves as well.

4. Prioritise your assignments!

Yes, that exam might be worth a 40% chunk of your marks, so understandably making it your study priority might seem like the wise path … but let’s be honest: Murphy’s Law will rear its ugly head, the kids becoming sick right-smack-bang-in-the-middle of vital revision time. (Again, been there). Snotty children are a) gross, and b) clingy. Doing well in your assignments throughout the semester will take pressure off you when it comes to your exams. Which leads to …

GIF: Looking disgruntled while young girls take over office and give you a makeover.

5. Have back-up people in place to mind your children for exams.

Even if your kids go to daycare, line up your partner/friend/family member in case plans go awry. Take me for example – I lost my student ID card the day of my exam (yay for my kids going through my wallet) but, thankfully, my husband had taken the day off work. This meant I was able to head to university early and replace it before my exam. Contingency plan for the win!

GIF: Sighing with relief

6. Find or make your own support network of your peers.

Other students are invaluable to bounce ideas off of, vent to and support one another through university. They’re also potential time savers when you’re stuck on a question or section of your assignment. The old saying rings true: there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re perplexed over it, chances are so is another student just waiting for someone else to ask! If you’re an online student, engage with the forums. As a side bonus, the intelligent adult conversation after speaking to kids all the time is great!

GIF: Emphatic 'thank you'!

7. Use technology to squeeze in more studying time.

I’ve watched recorded lectures on television while playing with my children, listened to lectures in the car, read study materials on my phone while breastfeeding, and have taken notes on my tablet with a stylus straight on top of the PowerPoint using apps such as PDF Expert (see my example below).

Screenshot of making notes on digital version of course materials.
Example of how you can use PDF expert to enhance study notes.

Make the time you have available for study work for you, and don’t feel bad for doing it. Who knows, maybe your kids will learn something while listening to your lecture recording?

8. Use technology to help keep you organised and keep your head on straight.

Calendars are cool, but not if you don’t actually look at them. Schedule in important events and activities that you mustn’t forget (with reminders as necessary) into your phone and then allow them to leave your mind.

9. Encourage your children to read on their own as well as reading to them.

This gives you some breathing space to read your textbooks. Much to my delight, my daughter was quite enthusiastic to read her own books after seeing her mummy reading.

GIF: Matilda reading a book and smiling.

10. Reach out for help.

Most of my family lives over 1000 kilometres away, so while I’d like to offload my children to get valuable study time, I can’t. If you have someone who can take your kids for a few hours, or need daycare, DO NOT feel guilty. Heck, my kids find others more novel than me, and that’s cool with me.

GIF: You kids are driving me crazy!

11. I’d dare say you’ve all heard the advice ‘sleep well, eat well and exercise’ ...

… I’m working on this one too.

GIF: Lady on treadmill saying 'can't I just do nothing?!'

12. Plan meals in advance.

Okay, disclaimer: this one I don’t do (mainly because I haven’t reached this level of awesome yet), BUT a mum friend I made at university swears by meal planning. This involves sitting down, finding some semi-nutritious meals the children won’t spit out and then planning the groceries and cooking accordingly. Every parent knows that dinnertime (and its aftermath) can be arduous, so this is where you can save some serious stress and time. Plus, it helps with tip 11 above. But hey, don’t beat yourself up if toast sometimes makes it on the menu for dinner. Secretly, just about every parent does this, and at least they’ll eat it all, right? Another tip is to shop online. No dragging the kids around the supermarket, and the delivery driver carries the groceries right into your kitchen. Time saving for the win!

GIF: Napoleon Dynamite trying to get Tina the llama to eat food.

13. Finally… let it go, let it go! (Parents of young children, you just sang that Elsa style, didn’t you?).

I’m specifically talking about ridiculously high standards for the house. Realistically, you’re going to have to lower them. There’s a video about golf balls that drives home the point that we all have the same amount of limited time, during which we must prioritise tasks. Think of easing up on the housework as a trading system: house a bit messier over a few years equals a new degree, career and life. Worth it, don’t you think?

Photo of blogger Heidi with her daughter.

Here’s the summary: it won’t be easy, but use the tools and support available to you, like USQ’s amazing Student Support team (I’ve sent them countless emails, and they’re still just as fast and friendly at helping me) to lighten the load. Get creative, reach out, and be kind to yourself. Enrolling in university proves you wanted this. Just like those times when you couldn’t give up on figuring out why your children were crying, don’t give up on you and your needs now. So, try out one or two of these 13 time management strategies and see if they’re a good fit for you. As you begin to get a grip on your studies, try a few more. Soon enough, you’ll be admiring your marvelous self, as will be your children. YOU GOT THIS!

GIF: Come on, you got this.

For more tips and advice on how to juggle study with parenting, visit the 'parent' topic on USQ's Social Hub or join the USQ Studying Parents Facebook group.

*Last date to withdraw without incurring financial penalty may vary between semesters. Visit the USQ website for more information.

All GIFs used in this blog were sourced from Tenor and Giphy.

Author profile image of Heidi