Last summer, I finally pulled the trigger on something I’ve been talking about for years – pursuing a Master’s degree. To those who know me, it didn’t come as a surprise because I have been talking about it forever. Yet, year after year, I found reasons to wait. As each year passed, it became harder to commit myself to a multi-year program. Finally I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and life wasn’t getting any slower.
So here I am, midway through my second of six semesters. And man, does school feel different this time around. This time, I am pursuing a graduate degree as a full-time working mom. It’s not easy. I rarely talk about it, and when people do find out I joke about it. “Nothing is easy once you become a parent, so why not add one more obligation to the list, right!? Ha!” But the truth – the deep-down, hard, real, truth – is that most days I feel guilty. Guilty because I’m spending many thousands of dollars on my own education. Guilty because I have yet another thing to balance. Guilty because my husband is picking up my slack with cleaning and laundry. Guilty because I have even less time for socializing. And, despite my best efforts to complete my work outside of “family time,” I have skipped out on fun times with my daughter and husband to focus on schoolwork.
The most obvious (and sometimes painful) difference is that I can’t give it my all. I mean, I can give it all I have left on a particular day. Or, I can give it my all for about a two-hour period once a week when my husband takes my daughter out for a daddy/daughter date. But if I’m being honest, even then I am distracted with work, laundry, cooking, and about a hundred other things.
For the sake of survival, I have learned to lower my expectations. School is a part of my life today, but it certainly isn’t the focus of my life this time around. I diligently plan ahead: blocking my Outlook calendar to read or do homework over lunch twice per week, working ahead in the syllabus when I have a big work project and planning around times when my husband travels and I’m on duty at home.
I have learned to do homework just about anywhere. I finished a paper in a cab ride from La Guardia to Manhattan. I have done homework on the floor outside my daughter’s room while waiting for her to go to sleep. I have read endless chapters and articles in our kitchen, in the car, and even on vacation.
Some days I don’t know how I will get it all done. There are times when I know that no one is getting the best of me. In these moments of weakness, I wonder if I made the right choice. What keeps me going is the hope that one day when my daughter is older, she will realize that I (successfully, I hope) balanced school while I was raising her. I tell myself that by example, I am teaching her that life and adulthood require work. And it’s hard work, the kind that isn’t always fulfilling but without fail teaches us something meaningful. I hope when she looks back she will feel proud that her mom showed her that education is important, empowering, and above all – worth it.