How to do University Study with Kids

I thought it might be helpful for some if i go into some strategies that i’ve used while working on my PhD while having a baby and now toddler. I realise everyone’s life circumstances are different but you never know there might be something in here that helps you if you also are attempting to do study as a parent of young children. I think having older, school aged kids would also be quite different to what i’ve experienced so this probably only applies to young kids.

Should you study with a child? – My experience
Now firstly i would’t really choose to study with a baby or toddler having now experienced what i have done now. The degree i’m doing i started long before i got pregnant and had my son. He was planned, but my study was taking so long (almost 10 years for my phd) so i didn’t want to delay my life anymore. I thought being pregnant would give me the motivation to get it finished. Unfortunately my experience of pregnancy and really the 1st year of parenting is that my brain left my head – i found it very difficult to concentrate on complex stuff like a PhD, I just wanted to plan his wardrobe and cloth diaper collection and read about what childbirth would be like. Once he was born I also didn’t want to miss being there for him and was quite exhausted. I took about 9 months of maternity leave off from my studies after the birth which i’m very glad i did.
Now I am just trying to finish what i started. My degree is unlikely to provide me with any extra income or a career or anything like that. I’m really just doing it to finish and occasionally it is nice to have something just for me, something that works my brain. I can only appreciate that part though after about my toddler turned 1 and i felt like myself again a bit.
So should you plan to study with a toddler or baby? Well that really depends on your goals and priorities. If having the degree will really help you with work later on then absolutely it is something to consider. If you hate just being at home with your child and want something more adult and to use your brain then again – study might be something great to consider. Do you already have a good job that you are perfectly qualified and if you are wanting to study and change careers but could maybe put it off for a few more years until your child is at school? – Then  maybe consider delaying studying until you really feel like you have more time and energy and are getting a good amount of sleep at night. Ultimately the decision is yours but you do need a plan for how you can make it work while being a parent too.

Strategies for Childcare that Don’t Cost A lot:
Ok now assuming you are now studying and have a baby or toddler. If your child is anything like mine then it is impossible to study while watching them at home. I know people who have managed this. My toddler however either goes under the table and hits his head a crys every time or climbs up on me or reaches up and hits the computer keyboard. He also makes a lot of noise that makes concentrating extremely difficult. If I were someone prepared to sit my child in front of the tv all day then maybe i could study – but i’m not parepared to do that, there is too much evidence that isn’t good for children under the age of 2 especially for as many hours that i’d need.
Thus the only way i can study is to have someone else look after him.

My options are therefore:

1. Evening and Weekends While Dad is at Home
My husband works during the day on weekdays. I have occasionally studied in the evening once he is home from work. I also often study on weekends. I’m not a fan of weekday evenings though personally as that is when i am generally extremely busy making dinner and putting my son to sleep which can take hours potentially. I’m also not a night person and very tired by this time of day. Weekends on their own aren’t enough time for me. Also I don’t get the entire weekends to study as my husband also needs to do some things around the home which require me to look after our toddler.

2. Extended Family Babysits
My mother lives interstate but for a while we tag teamed. Id either go visit her for 2-3 weeks or she would stay with us and she enjoyed looking after my son especially as he is so young and she didn’t want to miss him at this age. This only worked though as my mum doesn’t work herself so could visit for so long.

3. Affordable Childcare
Childcare is insanely expensive in Australia. This is especially an issue when you are studying rather than earning as you aren’t making money to offset the cost. This put me off using any form of childcare for a long time. What i’m doing now though is a good balance of cost to time. I’ve discovered in a few different places i’ve lived now there is usually an affordable childcare attached to local gyms run by the local council. The first place i did this i had to stay onsite (so i worked in the cafe) and it it was just a gold coin donation for 1hr which i could use 4 days a week.

Now the new place I live i can pay slightly more for ‘occasional care’ and leave the premises and get many more hours at a time. So at the moment i’m doing 3-5pm tuesdays and wednesdays. I drop my son off, my husband picks him up after work (i have to leave the baby carseat at the childcare). I go to the library from 3pm till it closes at 8pm. Then i get 5hrs studying for the cost of 2hrs of ‘occasional care’. On thursdays i also put him in for 3 hrs in the morning and work at the cafe on the premises because they aren’t open in the afternoon and working at the cafe means my 3hrs there costs less than my 2hrs where i go to the library which is offsite (this is called ‘creche’). Apparently the ‘occasional care’ we pay is even claimable from childcare rebates from the government and i can expect maybe half the cost back. So overall i’m getting quite a few hours to study for not a huge amount of money, certainly less than i’d be paying for the same amount of time in a standard childcare (even with government rebates).

Anyway i hope outlining everything that i’m done for this might help someone in a similar situation. Studying with a young child has both a good and bad side. It is certainly entirely more difficult than studying without children (i’ve experienced both). Don’t count on being able to do all nighters for example. And time away from my son is time away from seeing him grow up (however i’m not away all that much). On the other hand having a project to work towards that is entirely unrelated to being a mom is great. And something really challenging, more so than often a standard job is also good. Study is also often more flexible than job so if you are just looking for something to challenge yourself and get among adults, rather than actually earning money then study might be for you. Regardless make sure you can come up with a childcare strategy. Even if your baby right now is happy sitting in a bouncer and you can study to your hearts content with them at your feet, it is unlikely that this will be the case months into the future while you are still doing your degree. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with taking time off where you need as study should be just part of your life and not the only thing that’s important!





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