Have you ever wondered how a parent can care for young children and their family, work a paid job, and still find time to study? We take our hats off to parents 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 master’s. A radiographer, Emma is an MRI supervisor at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, a job she loves. Emma also started a Master of Public Health while pregnant with her first son, Sam, and finished it four years later. It can’t always be easy, and we bet there are plenty of ups and downs, so 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 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 and nap 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 employer is also really supportive, and I’ve been able to take study leave to attend classes or tutorials.
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 out 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 my husband 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 others who are considering studying whilst on parental leave?
One of my fears was that I would lose part of my identity when I had kids. 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?
1. Make use of sleep times, especially while the baby is little and sleeps a lot (or is supposed to!).
2. Universities record almost all lectures for online consumption. 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.
3. Occasional care is a great way of snatching a few hours to study or attend classes without having to commit to a child 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 child care environment before my return to work.
What’s the best advice you’ve been 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 the second time around.
Lastly, at the end of a busy week, how do you positively re-energize?
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.
My favourite time of the day is … the moment I flop down on the couch after the kids go to bed.
I’m happiest when… I’m with family and friends.
I’m addicted to… cheese. All of it!