December 26, 2016

Balancing School, Work & Family

I'm not going to pretend I have a one-size-fits-all answer to balancing school, work, and family. All I can provide is a perspective on how I manage these three elements successfully. I have been working and going to school (both full-time) for the last three years. I knew once I passed the NCLEX-RN exam that I wanted to get my doctorate in nursing practice. We (my husband and I) had it all planned out. After a long journey of seeing numerous infertility specialists and being turned down or ending up with no results, we decided to try one last time with a new provider. If the first cycle of medications weren't effective, we would take a break. We needed a break. During our break, I would start graduate school and my husband would focus on his career. We completed the first cycle of infertility medications, and nothing happened. I remember us sitting in the doctor's office and finally coming to terms that it wasn't meant to be. We had extended lines of credit, spent around $6,000, obtained weekly ultrasounds and associated procedures, and we had no baby. We walked out of our doctor's office tearful, but we knew it was time to refocus our energies. It was about a month later, and I woke to an unusual feeling. You might not know this, but when you suffer from infertility, you obsess over your body. You're told to track your body temperature daily, monthly ovulation dates, and other applicable intelligence. That morning, I knew something was different. I took the test and I was indeed pregnant. I sat in the tub of our bathroom and just stared at the stick. I was in my second semester of graduate school, and I was now pregnant. All I could do is laugh and cry.

Life is funny. It's unpredictable and some blessings happen all at once. I was now pregnant, working as a bedside nurse full-time, and going to graduate school full-time. At first, I wanted to withdraw from school and focus on our family. We had waited ten years to meet our little one. I didn't want to stress my body out and cause another miscarriage or worse. Mind you, the entire pregnancy was high-risk due to our previous complications. It wasn't until my husband said, "You did nothing wrong. Don't allow fear to change your behavior. As long as you take care of yourself, I want you to stay in school. We will figure the rest out. Don't be afraid of trying and achieving your goals." And with that, I've been juggling all of it ever since.

Be Organized 

In order for me to meet course deadlines, appointments, and date nights with my husband, I have to be organized. Very organized. As a nurse working in the inpatient setting, my schedule is created two months in advance. Which means, I plan things around my work schedule. Where there are gaps, there is time for family, friends, and studying. For me to remember all the commitments I've made, I use an old-school planner (paper and pen style). It fits my personality type, and I like something I can hold onto. The planner keeps me on track and allows me to see what is ahead. Whether it's speech therapy or a group study session, the planner keeps my family and me on track. Trust me, I've been there. Your child has a big school event, and you missed it because you had a school-related assignment due that day and needed to finish it. That happened to me once, I got my planner, and it hasn't occurred since. I refuse to sacrifice my presence as a parent for academics or vice versa. When you're organized, you find new opportunities and become creative at time management. My husband and I both work full time, so every week we sit down, exchange schedules, and plan upcoming events. The goal is to make room for our passions but to never forget we are a team and a family.

Be Available 

When I get home, my husband and son have my undivided attention. When I'm with them, I'm emotionally present. This concept should apply to balancing school and life as well. When you register for a course, you must dedicate yourself and not make excuses. There is no point in paying $3,000 for a course, only to fail out because you've missed deadlines and assignments. Being organized must come with an ability to be realistic with yourself too. Most individuals can't study and have a play date with their child. Children usually require your complete and undivided attention, and any studying you do during that time will be futile. In my opinion, you have to plan time for academics. Make yourself receptive to education by creating an environment that is conducive to learning. The goal is to study and for retention to occur. The point isn't to get it over with as fast as you can. I haven't met at student yet that obtained an 'A' in a course by accident. There is no substitute for hard work and showing up. Being available is something you must practice daily. Distraction occurs when there is dysfunction. Being emotionally present halts dysfunction and allows room for growth.

Be Realistic 

There will be moments where everything will go wrong, and there will be difficulties. Life can be planned down to the millisecond, and something still could go sideways. You do remember we tried for 10 years to conceive, we stopped trying, refocused, changed direction, and then I finally got pregnant, right? Life is like that. Understand this plan will work 99% of the time, but life is an adventure. You must not stress out about things you can't control. If it rains during a play date in the park, don't project your anger on your loved ones. If you planned to study during your child's naptime and they don’t nap, don't get frustrated. Regroup and reassess. You can only do so much. You could read your textbook while taking your little one for a stroll in the park (which usually equals sleepy time for my son). You will need to creative when life's randomness changes your plans. This understanding of unpredictability brings me to my next point, posting course deadlines (in a planner) ahead three or four days. For example, if an assignment is due on Friday, I will post the due date for Tuesday. This tactic will leave me three days for issues that could arise. Whether your little one becomes ill, or you just need time to yourself, you have that cushion of time for what ifs and life's shenanigans.

You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Don't settle or give up on your passions. If you want a career and a close relationship with your significant other and children, it is possible. It will take sacrifice and some late nights. Even though my life didn't go as planned, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. When my son sleeps, I study or clean. When my husband and I are home, we appreciate the time we have together and are emotionally present for one another. It's all about being organized, being available, and being realistic. I refuse to neglect my role as a mother. But I also refuse to cast my career ambitions aside. We all have priorities in life and we work every second to show our commitment to those priorities.

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