Usually when you announce to the world you are having a baby people’s faces light up and they offer you words of encouragement. But my pregnancy announcement was unfortunately met with a different response. "You've just wasted 2 years." "I guess you won't go back." "You've ruined your future." "You know you don't have to keep it."
At the time I was 20 years old and half way through a university degree. I had met an amazing guy who had swept me off my feet and we had, very unexpectedly, fallen pregnant with our first child. Luckily the people that mattered most supported us 100 per cent, but there were more people than I like to remember who legitimately thought I had thrown my life away.
Even in this era there are oodles of people who assume once you fall pregnant, at any age, you have thrown away any future career prospects you had planned on. In their minds, children take away your dreams.
Yes, unfortunately, there are people who still believe this.
This week I thought back to those comments and wondered how the people that made them would react if they saw my life now. Suffice to say, I no longer talk to any of them and can only hope they are reading this.
Almost seven years on I'm still with the same amazing guy and he still sweeps me off my feet. We now have two gorgeous sons, we are paying off a house and we have two adorable dogs.
Oh, and far from my dreams being stolen, I've also just enrolled in a Master’s degree.
As for my little family, my two little guys and my partner are my biggest cheerleaders in all of my personal and professional endeavours. They give me strength, support and encouragement when I need it. They cry with me and laugh with me, albeit sometimes at me, but they have been by my side for the whole ride. When my son 'graduated' preschool last year he wore a cap and gown and he told everyone how happy he was to "have a uni hat like mummy's". I've never been prouder.
When I tell people my story now I get much more positive comments. "Wow you've achieved so much." "Look at how far you've come."
But the most common comment by far is: "How did you do it all?"
The only words I have in reply are these: I did what I had to do.
Was it easy? No. Did I want to quit at times? Of course. Was it all worth it? Absolutely.
Study with kids is hard, I went back when my son was 4-months-old and took him to countless lectures. I wrote essays while breastfeeding at 3am with a laptop in one arm and my baby in the other. I did a summer session at university and completed a mind bogglingly painful four hour exam while I was eight months pregnant in the sweltering February heat. But the feeling of accomplishment I had when I graduated, then six months pregnant with baby number two, and my later success in my chosen industry, has by far outweighed any tiredness, or stress, or the regret I felt while studying.
Finding the right form of study can be an important factor in your success. To find what’s best for you means researching what it available in your community and what suits you and your family. Fortunately, many universities, TAFEs and colleges have cottoned on the phenomenon on parent students and offer childcare facilities and flexible study options. If you speak to the lecturers and teachers directly some of them will even allow you to bring your children to class when it permits.
As someone who has been there and done that, and as I sit here organising myself for a return to study next year, here are my top three tips for undertaking taking study as a parent.
Consider studying online: Having done both face-to-face study and online options I can see clear benefits and disadvantages to both but as a parent online study is by far the most flexible. You aren't constrained to lesson times and can often work when children are sleeping or at day care. Granted, you do need a high level of discipline. If you set yourself time to study, and stick to it, you will have success.
Planning: Get a diary, a calendar or an app and write everything down. Studying as a parent requires a huge amount of planning. You need to be aware of how your study schedule fits into your family schedule. Plan, plan, plan! Also, find yourself a dedicated study space. You’ll thank me later for that advice.
Utilise your support network: I could not have got where I am today without support. Support from my family, support from my friends and support from teachers. Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. If you have a question about a subject or an assignment approach a teacher.
If you want to start studying or return to studies have faith in yourself and your abilities. I strongly believe showing children how education can be fun and rewarding are truly priceless gifts you can offer them. And as for advancing your own education, it’s important to never stop learning, never stop chasing after your dreams, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you are at.
Have you gone back to study or changed career with challenging family commitments?