Oh, the joys of parenting. If you are new parents, I bet you are all fed up of hearing the just-you-waits: “Just you wait till you have to wake up every night for a year”; “Just you wait until pumpkin puree is all splattered on your living room wall”. And so on. While everyone is very keen on warning you about all the things you will be missing out on, no one really tells you how the sweet side is. The cuddly nights. The first smile. The glorious moment when you go to pick them up at daycare and they come running at you with the biggest of smiles on their faces, so glad to see you and so ready for kisses and hugs.
But then examinations come. And, unavoidably, we tend to forget about those sweet, sweet times because we are stressed out and that screeching little monster is just a hindrance to our much-needed quiet time.
This will be my second year facing examinations while being a mum. It is not easy, but rest assured, neither is it as bad as it looks. In fact, last year I managed to get my best grades yet. But to achieve those, I had to figure out many things first and I am sharing them with you in the hopes that you may find something useful.
Realise that raising a child is not only your task.
As an African proverb goes: “It takes a village to raise a child”. Fortunately, we live in times when this is becoming more and more accepted, but it is still an ongoing battle, even more so if you are a woman. Revision and examination time is the time when your significant other should be more involved in child tasks, be it changing diapers, putting the kids to sleep or driving them to their extracurricular activities. If you are lucky to have family near you, do not hesitate to ask for their help. Me being an expat was a hurdle at the beginning because we do not have our family nearby to provide support, and we both feel like The Little One is still too young to have a babysitter or a nanny. However, had we not been able to cope with everything, we would have certainly resorted to that option. Usually, a good jointed plan of attack before revision time does the trick for us. We sit down and try to devise a general plan that will be adapted and flexible to particular circumstances if need be. In general, our plan involves allowing me to study in the evening by him bathing and/or feeding The Little One, and them leaving the house on weekend mornings so I can concentrate and add a good four to eight hours of study per weekend.
If I had to name one single quality that being a mum has brought to my study dynamics, it would be the ability to prioritise and distinguish what is a non-negotiable need from what is a mere add-on. Establish your priorities from the beginning, and if you are faced with a problem (sick kid, for example), then you will know how to tackle it by following your priority list. Similarly, learn to prioritise your material: what is absolutely needed from what is just a surplus of information, and try to stick to the essentials if you are pressed for time. If your parenting duties do not leave you much extra time, prioritising and focusing your efforts and materials of study is going to be a must.
Squeeze in extra time by pre-thinking and pre-doing.
One big component of success in independent studying is planning. Sometimes it is hard to have a neatly devised plan when you have a toddler roaming around, but do not deceive yourselves: with kids around, planning is even more important. The good thing about planning is that it will smooth out the routine activities. Planning means that you will not spend valuable time deciding what you should be doing, because that effort has already been made, hence creating a flowing chain of activity instead of lapses of productivity abruptly stopped because of the necessary pauses to think about what to do. Some areas that benefit from planning ahead are: food and eating (by meal prepping), breaks from study (when and what you will do on those breaks), house chores (for example, try to clean the kitchen while food is cooking on the stovetop so you will not need to invest much time in cleaning afterwards, or throw away advertising leaflets when getting the mail, so you will not end with a pile of papers in your house that needs constant sorting).
Be kind to yourself and your kiddo.
Depending on the age of your kid(s), it may be really hard for them to rationalise that you are not there when they ask for you. This is certainly the case of The Little One. She is used to having my attention every afternoon and evening, and we do a good deal of things together: playing, painting (well, trying to paint), blowing bubbles, reading stories, going to the playground, etc. Suddenly, this time is reduced drastically while I try to scratch a few minutes here and there to outline an essay or to go through the material covered that day. And she, of course, complains about it. This is tough for both of us. I feel guilty for not having as much time for her, and she feels bad because she prefers having a good time with me over pretty much anything (except chocolate). Unfortunately, at two years of age, she still is too little to rationalise that mum has other things to do, and I really cannot ask her to understand that. I bet this is a feeling most mums are experiencing while revising for examinations. However, as I have said before, time spent grudgingly and/or worried is unproductive time, so if you feel your time hitting the books is going to be unproductive, leave them for a bit and go play with your kids or treat them to an unusual meal/outing. The trick here is realising that quality goes over quantity, same as with your studies, so if you can only be with your kids for twenty minutes, make these twenty minutes count and be significant to them. Do not think that your kids are going to be scarred for life just because you study instead of being there with them each time they ask, that is not the case. Your kids also need a happy parent, not a parent that is grumbling and complaining when s/he spends time with them.
Whatever your difficulties with your kids when revising for upcoming examinations, try to brave them. The examinations will soon be over and your kids will enjoy your undivided attention afterward, and without the stress of pending deadlines, things will be easier. We are planning a two-week vacation in good ol’ Spain right after my examinations so the three of us can catch up on having some quality time together.
Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.