Making the decision to return to study can be a tough one, no matter what stage of life you're at. But when you're a mum, it can be an even more tricky - especially when you're giving up work to study, or changing your existing work hours to fit it all in.
There are many benefits for mums who study, from gaining more qualifications to seeking a higher paying or more satisfying job in the long run. But with those benefits come challenges; ranging from the loss of income to juggling time constraints, studying while pregnant or with children can be tough.
Kathryn* decided to return to university when her first son was six months old. She was motivated to undertake honours to complete her psychology qualification, which would be a complete career change for her.
"I realised returning to study would be expensive, and it would mean I wouldn't be able to work as many hours as I would need study time," she says.
She was also concerned about how she would balance her changing work hours and raising her young son, but through careful timetabling and prioritising her tasks, she got through it all – and the challenges wouldn't stop her from studying with small children again.
"It's been a very fulfilling experience and I've loved feeling academic and intellectual again," she said.
On the other hand, Alicia* decided to return to study while working full time. She and her partner both had demanding jobs, so being able to fit in a busy study routine would be a challenge – but the benefit of upgrading her qualifications would lead to greater career opportunities.
Then, towards the end of her first year of distance education, Alicia learnt she was pregnant. She continued studying during her pregnancy, reducing her subjects when required. Later in her degree she fell pregnant again, and the busy mum continued her studies.
That wasn't the end of the challenges, when last year Alicia undertook her first professional placement in her current degree. "This proved quite demanding with a nine-year-old, a six-year-old and a three-year-old (who was in family daycare one day per week), as well as a partner who works unpredictable hours and no family support," she explains.
So would Alicia make the choice to study again with small children? While it has been hard, her kids have been her motivation, and in the long run she knows it will all be worth it. “My kids are seeing the importance of lifelong learning and the ability to achieve what they set their mind to,” she says.
Tips for achieving balance studying while pregnant/with children
• Use a timetable: Kathryn swears by the use of a study timetable. While this can not only help you work out what you're doing and when, it can also be useful for your partner and kids to understand your busy times.
• Consider distance education: Running a household while studying and possibly working as well can be a tough ask. Alicia recommends distance education as she found it was easier to connect with other students through the course's Facebook group. "This helped me through many tough times and allowed me to celebrate all the achievements with others in similar situations," she says.
• Schedule in important activities: whether it's family or work commitments, Kathryn recommends scheduling all important activities to ensure nothing is forgotten.
• Get the kids involved: Alicia’s older children now do their schoolwork at the same time she does. Her youngest child is even involved, having fun playing with his train set at that time.
• Take "me" time: Remember that study is work, too. Schedule in time for yourself, whether it’s exercise, relaxation time or a hobby you enjoy.
• Prioritise: Kathryn explains the importance of prioritisation. Rather than doing everything, she aims to achieve the top three items on her to do list each day.
• Study when you can: Alicia reinforces the importance of studying when you can, even if you can only achieve 30 minutes at a time.
• Ask for help when you need it: Support systems don't just have to consist of family. With no family close by, Alicia had to ask friends for help to look after her youngest child when he wasn't at daycare.
Chat with other mums who are studying for support and tips in the Essential Baby forum.