Have you ever wondered how a mother can care for young children, her family, nail her job and still find time to study? We are in awe of women like Emma, who live their busy lives with grace, find time to have fun and juggle the demands of completing a degree … in this case, her masters. Yes, take a bow, Emma! A radiographer, Emma is MRI supervisor at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, a job she loves. Emma also started a Masters of Public Health in 2013 while pregnant with her first son, Sam, and finished it at the end of 2017. She has two children, Sam and Frankie.
For those wondering, Public Health is the study and practice of health at the population level, taking into account social, environmental and cultural influences. Emma is hoping to move into a career in public health, she says, ‘Although I’m not exactly sure what type of job I’ll be doing just yet!’
We always love hearing about different ways women use the time they have whilst on parental leave. We sat down with Emma to find out how she manages it all.
We are in awe of you. How did you manage to study while juggling work and children?
Sometimes I haven’t managed very well! But most of the time it has worked out. My husband, Gav, is the best—I would say that we really do split most parenting tasks 50/50, which takes a lot of pressure off me. To keep up with my studies while I was on parental leave, I made the most of every daytime sleep to sit down at the computer. Now that I’m back at work, I study during my breaks, and I’ll sometimes take a weekend half-day to go to the library at university so I can study without being interrupted. I’ve never been great at working in the evening, so I try to get as much done during the day as possible. My boss at work is also really supportive, and I’ve been able to take study leave to attend classes or tutes.
Were there times when you wondered if you could keep going?
I’ve never thought about giving up, but there have definitely been hard times. The thing I don’t like is feeling constantly guilty: if I’m hanging with the kids, I’m feeling guilty about neglecting my studies. If I’m at work or studying, I’m feeling guilty about the kids, or not giving Gav enough of a break. It works for me to have clear boundaries about how much time I devote to study, so that on my days with the kids, I’m there to have fun with them.
What would you say to other women who are considering studying whilst on parental leave?
One of my fears when I had kids was that I would lose part of my identity. Learning new things and being part of a collegiate environment helped me still feel like ‘me’, even when I was struggling with sleep deprivation or a cranky toddler. That said, I have friends who preferred to totally devote themselves to parenting for the short time they were on parental leave, which is totally fine too! You have to do what’s best for you and your new family, and remember that for most courses, you can always defer for a semester or two if you’re finding it too tough.
What are your top three tips for managing your study through parental leave?
- Make use of sleep times, especially while the baby is little and sleeps a lot (or is supposed to!).
- Many universities record all lectures and put them online. I have done entire subjects without attending a lecture in person, although I always tried to get to the tutorials to participate in discussions with the tutor and other students. Also, university libraries have amazing websites these days—you can search for and download most journal articles and many textbooks to read online from the comfort of your couch.
- Occasional care is a great way of snatching a few hours to study or attend classes without having to commit to a long day care place before you’re ready. Both my kids have attended a local occasional care since my youngest was seven months—it was a nice break for me, fitted in easily with breastfeeding and got her used to the childcare environment before my return to work.
What’s the best advice you were ever given by another parent?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Easier said than done when you’ve had no sleep and your mind is a mess, but I’m doing much better at it second time around.
Lastly, at the end of a busy week, how do you positively re-energise?
I know I’m supposed to say that it’s with an hour of meditation followed by a green smoothie or something, but if I’m honest it’s with takeaway and a glass of wine. I do try to get to a yoga class on the weekends, and I’ve been riding to work since I’ve been back, which is a great way to clear the head before the dinner/bath/bed mayhem.
Favourite time of the day is … the moment I flop down on the couch after the kids go to bed.
Instagram sites that inspire you … foodie ones (@hettymckinnon, @hellolunchlady), design ones (@thedesignfiles) and a few friends who post amazing photos of their travels that make me want to get out and see the world again soon (once the youngest can cope with a long-haul flight!).
I’m happiest when … I’m with family and friends.
I’m addicted to … cheese. All of it!
Favourite wardrobe staple for work … a navy Gorman skirt I’ve had for ages. It’s getting a bit ratty tbh.
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend … Dejour jeans. They alter them to fit in-store!
Heels or flats? Flats.