Monday, February 13, 2012

Strike the Delicate Balance Between College and Children

For college students, school and parenting matter equally, and each is a full-time job. Striking the balance and splitting the difference take time and practice. No matter how old your children are, two cardinal principles of balance always apply—“the principle of the airplane oxygen mask” and the simple mandate, “Get help!”

During their pre-flight safety advisory, flight attendants explain, “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, your oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling,” and they stress, “If you are traveling with small children, secure your own mask first, and then help them put-on their masks.”

Developmental psychologists suggest the same principle applies in all parenting: address your own needs and tend to your own well-being, so that you are adequately prepared to care for your children. Imperiling your own health does no one any good. Therefore, regardless of school and family pressures, get the sleep you need, nourish yourself well, and take time for exercise. Most of all, carve-out some “me-time”; take a few precious moments for solitude and reflection. If you have trouble balancing everything, strengthen your support network. Trade time and favors with family and friends. Most of all, make certain both parents share the load equally, because children need love from both their mothers and their fathers.


Four fundamentals

Successful college-student parents and developmental psychologists agree on four fundamentals that assure both your children and your schoolwork will get the attention they deserve:

Mix and match your schedules. Try to arrange your class schedule to match your child’s daycare, pre-school, or school schedule, so that the whole family goes to school together. If your child is old enough to have homework, then arrange time to study together, too; work on your easiest subjects while you help your child with his or her work. When children see their parents reading, they more eagerly read. Even as you devote quality time to your child, save your best hours for yourself. Determine which are your most alert and productive hours, and dedicate them to sustained, serious study, the time when you complete assignments for your most difficult classes.

Do not try to multi-task! Many parents try to squeeze the most from every precious minute by doing a million things at once. Don’t. When your child needs attention and care, let go of everything else and devote yourself to being a parent. Then, when your study requires your undivided attention, arrange for child-care and take care of business. If you do not keep your two obligations separate and equal, both of them will suffer. Your child deserves all of you, and your study deserves the best of your time and talent. You absolutely cannot simultaneously cook supper, compose an essay, listen to your child’s latest adventure, take care of the laundry, walk the dog, rotate the mini-van’s tires, share fish recipes, and read ahead for your next class. Well, okay, actually you can do all those things all at once, but you shouldn’t.

Albina.Aiden 201Make the most of precious moments. When life’s regular routine yields a few moments of quiet quality time with your child, seize them. Many mothers, especially mothers of ‘tweens and teens, capitalize on commuting time to discuss delicate issues with their children. Calling them her “shotgun dialogues,” one mother, a law student at the University of San Diego, explains, “When we’re driving to school or softball, we’re in a perfectly private and wonderfully quiet place, and I have my daughter captive. I know she won’t jump out of the mini-van while we’re on the freeway. Therefore, I take advantage of those moments to ask the most difficult questions about boys, friends, school, the family, and the future.” Smiling, she adds, “Both of us have come to cherish those moments.”

Dinner and bedtime are sacred. Strategic moms recognize both the value and the efficiency of sharing early evening hours with their children, building the kids’ sense of safety and security around a predictable routine. One mom, who squeezes online college in-between a full-time career and her family responsibilities, breaks it down: “The whole family benefits from taking a breather between school and homework. We prepare dinner together, share our days’ events over dinner, and take time to restore of sense of direction.” She similarly emphasizes, “My children could read their bedtime stories to one another, but I still need that precious time with them. Those few magic moments before bedtime remind me why it’s worth it to keep working and striving.”

Even if she does not completely understand “college,” your child recognizes the importance of what you’re doing, because she reads and feels your excitement and determination in your affects and gestures, and she hears them in your voice. She naturally respects your schoolwork as much as you do, and she will share your joy and satisfaction when you collect your diploma and begin your career. Most of all, you must have faith that you are setting an excellent example for your child, showing the value of education and achievement. Children of college graduates attend college themselves.

Peter Harrington is a career counselor and content contributor for Top Colleges Online, a great source of information on expanding your education -- from obtaining a pharmacy degree to how to become a veterinarian.
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