Law is infamous for being considered a ‘hard’ degree, heavy on the reading, academically rigorous and competitive. Not having studied anything else at university, I have no idea how accurate this is (although non-law students do often look a lot more relaxed!) But, as a parent it just added to the general anxiety concerning work-load, and how on earth it would be possible to fit everything in. I wished I’d been able to ask some questions of someone who knew what it would be like…
So I thought I’d write a blog on my experience so far; aspects which have been particularly challenging and things which have helped. Also, what it actually feels like to be a mature student with a family, studying alongside the majority of students who have just left school.
So, here are the major issues I’ve faced as a law student and a parent, beginning with those I’ve found most straightforward to deal with…
- Workload! So far, this has been the easiest thing to manage. Whilst other students are moaning about the amount of reading, parents tend to be fairly experienced at time management. Also, there is no choice but to have a routine. I don’t have a complicated social life or random nocturnal habits to fit my studies around. My study routine is pretty simple…put kids to bed, study until I need to go to bed. And sometimes I allow myself to watch some rubbish on TV, waste time on facebook etc. But mostly, that’s it. And of course, random bits of work can be squeezed in between seminars on campus.
- Timetabling…there is no getting round the fact I have to be home by 3, in time for my eldest to get home from school. After-school club (on top of nursery fees for the youngest) would totally stretch my budget into the realms of unmanageable. I was quite worried about this, but the law school have been excellent at accommodating the needs of students with dependants. All lectures are online (and frankly much more enjoyable from my bed anyway), and the timetabling office were able to slot all seminars into times I could be on campus.
- Life outside uni still goes on. Shopping needs doing, kids get ill, parents evening, pick up repaired glasses, pay a bill etc etc. My partner doesn’t live with me but has been an amazing support. Frankly, it would be virtually impossible to manage without emergency support to call on if a child gets sick on the day of an as assessment. Become one of those anal people who have a handbag diary, a calendar on the wall, and a whiteboard by the front door with all of the kids tasks laid out for that week. Make the kids help with housework and encourage independence. Forget organic wholefood meals, compromise with jacket potatoes, homemade pizza, pasta sauces and take aways! Use school dinners. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with childcare and housework from anyone willing…its not like you’re after a night out clubbing. This is to get you to a position where you can get a career to provide for the children, and be a more rounded and happier person yourself. I got pregnant at 17 and am ready for some education now I’m 29!
- Feeling like a law student can be hard when everyone else seems to be making friends, joining law society events you can’t justify a babysitter for, and discussing essays which a mature student not in halls is left puzzling over alone. Remember your reasons for being there…its sad not joining in the social stuff, but chucking tequila down my neck whilst slagging off the seminar leaders isn’t really my idea of fun these days anyway.
- Finance has been a nightmare. I cannot overstate what a pain in the backside this is. Whether you’ve been on income support or working, single or in a relationship, knowing where to turn for advice is very difficult. Student finance is generally aimed at the school leaver, with info for mature students and parents often hidden in far flung corners of websites. Call centres give contradictory or uninformed advice. Best bet…apply for everything as soon as possible, and make friends with the staff at the uni advice centre. Chances are you’ll soon be on first name terms as they sort out the nightmare which is student finance for parents. Not only are there student fees and living costs, but childcare fees, possible bursaries to apply for, access to learning funds regulated by the uni, scholarships, and don’t forget to check with state benefits you may still be eligible for. I am yet to find any source of advice which can give reliable info on all of this, but the uni advice centre have the time and skills to make the right phone calls to the right people and make my life a bit easier. Make use of services like this! Which brings me on to the biggest stress of all…
- Stress. Finally, I am studying law, something I have always wanted to do. But suddenly there are just so many things going on in my life! Studying, kids wanting to play, meals to plan and shop for, friends not wanting to get forgotten, partner wondering what’s happened to me, bills and finance applications piling up, Christmas around the corner…argh!!! No matter how much STUFF there is in your life, there has to be space to be you sometimes. Not mum/student/bum wiper/homework helper/socialist/domestic accountant/events organiser…just me. Who quite likes watching Eastenders. And collecting post-it notes. And reading Marxist theory, and being involved in socialist student politics as much as I am able. And doing the guardian quick crossword. And scribbling with a biro all over the pages of a blank notebook which I bought just for this very purpose. Stress can be manageable, its a natural part of life… but it also has a habit of suddenly overwhelming a person and making them want to chuck everything in. So look after yourself and take time out where you can to reflect and wind down.
So far, most people have responded to discovering I have two children with expressions of horror, pity or wonder. Apparently, I must either be a masochist exceeding even the bounds of R v Brown, or have some kind of superhuman power to fit stuff in, get the reading done and still turn up on time (mostly! and in fact I put my trousers on back to front the other day.) But one student who I sit next to responded with ‘wow, you are so lucky. I really miss my home country and family, it must be so nice to have a home, family and children to go back to after a day of all this.’
And she is totally right.
What got me here was determination, and a measure of masochism. What keeps me going is family, the support they give me and the fact they make it all worthwhile.