By Isabel Stephens
“How do you manage uni life with family and
household responsibilities, especially with small children to look after?”
This is a question I repeatedly get asked when people hear that I have returned to studying and retraining in my late 30’s.
Isabel with her husband Graham, son Thomas, daughter Grace and dog Bosco
To be honest, returning to study has not
been as difficult as I imagined it would be.
When I first received my acceptance letter into
the Bachelor of Midwifery program at UTS, the thought of balancing uni life,
clinical practice and study with family and household responsibilities, which
already took up so much of my time and energy, seemed impossible!
I remember having many sleepless nights and
lots of fractious tears worried about how I would manage it all and still keep
my sanity intact by the end of my degree.
To add to this pressure, my young children had
not even started school yet, and I was immediately filled with guilt at the
thought of not being able to give them 110% of my attention.
I have since learned that the best thing I can give my children is being a good role model.
I can do this by not only being a great mum, but
also by being a great student and following my dreams and passion of becoming a
midwife rather than succumbing to fear and not doing what makes me happy
in this lifetime.
Isabel with her youngest son, Nathaniel. The Bachelor of Midwifery at UTS allows you to follow at least ten women through their pregnancy, birth and ante-natal appointments
Everyone knows that when “Mama is happy,
then everyone is happy!”.
So, I will share with you the wisdom I have
learned along the way to help keep everyone afloat, happy and sane in my
The following are some of the things I have
done to ensure that life is as stress-free as possible, and at the same time to
achieve and succeed in my studies and clinical practice.
One of the first things I do every February
when I receive my uni schedule is dedicate some time to sitting down with a
calendar and planning and organizing my schedule for the year ahead.
I use the calendar option on my computer
(one that shows a whole month at a time) and input all of my classes, my
children’s activities, school holidays, clinical practice times and every other
date I can foresee for the year.
Of course other commitments will spring up,
but as long as you have at least 80% of your major commitments planned out, you
can sit back and breathe a little easier, since you now have a blueprint for
the year that you and everyone in your circle can follow day-by-day, week-by-week.
The next thing I do is look for any clashes
with my uni schedule and clinical placement.
This is where I then call upon dear friends (since we have no family
here in Sydney), and before-and-after school care to begin organizing the
children’s activities, so that they know in advance where they will be going, and
with whom, while Mummy and Daddy are at uni and work.
To date, I have had no issues with this
part of my scheduling, since I do let everyone know a year in advance when I
will need some help with child-minding.
(Just a side note here – if you are
anything like me and hate asking for help, another positive that uni has
brought to my life is forcing me to reach out and ask for help from friends when
I need it, and to learn in return that I can be there to help them when they
Thomas, Graham, Grace and Isabel (with Nathaniel in Isabel’s tummy)
The following are some of the other tips
and tricks that I can share with my fellow students who have children and
Plan out your study time
Once I have received
my course/subject syllabus, I add all assignment, readings and project due
dates to the calendar I mentioned above.
This allows me to have a clearer view of the daily and weekly time that I
need to set aside for small bouts of study in order to accomplish the required
workload for the course.
Make a start
My advice is to begin assignments
in order of due date, one or two days after receiving your syllabus. Even if it means just opening a Word document
on your computer and jotting down ideas for the assignment. It will help to bring
a small sense of accomplishment, as well as make the assignment feel a little
less daunting. At times it has even got
me excited about doing the assignment because it gets the creative juices
Set goals, with yourself and others
thing I recommend is to sit down with your partner, husband, wife or relatives,
go through the detailed calendar and let them know and see what you have to
accomplish both academically and personally in the next month or so. I know this has helped my husband see more
clearly all that I need to accomplish in the next few months so he can offer
his help and encouragement. Usually this
is in the form of taking our kids to their weekend activities while I head to the
uni library to work on assignments for most of the day.
Prep and freeze meals
In the February
before uni begins, I also begin to double up on recipes I make for nightly
dinners (ie. meat balls, lasagna, bolognaise sauce, stews, casseroles, soups,
and so on) and freeze lots of meals so that when I have late classes, I don’t have to
worry about dinner prep.
Be realistic about clutter
As far as
the household chores go, I resolve myself in knowing that during uni, my house
will not be the cleanest I would like it to be.
But I remind myself that uni is 10 weeks, then a month break in the
middle, then another 10 weeks, then 4 months break. As long as I remind myself that for 10 weeks each
semester, life and the house will not be as mess free as I would like it, then I can look
forward to uni breaks and holidays where I can once again dedicate my full
attention to it. For me, knowing that life will be a bit ‘full-on and go, go, go!’
for only a short amount of time lessens the feelings of being overwhelmed by
things not being perfect.
Be organised during semester
other things that can be done to make life less stressful while at uni for 10
weeks at a time is:
- prepare lunches the night before
- set out children’s clothes and your own outfit the night before
- ask your partner to replace your traditional birthday and Christmas
gifts with a cleaning service to come in once a month to attack the messy jobs
you can’t get round to during uni (ie. cleaning bathrooms, floors and dusting)
Reward yourself, even for the small wins
Lastly, and most importantly, reward yourself once a week for
getting through another week, as you countdown to end of week 10 and semester
break. This could be a walk on the
beach, a cuppa with a girlfriend, a manicure, a caramel slice…you get the
It is VERY
important that you reward yourself for small accomplishments, like getting
through another week of your calendar, or finishing assignments and projects, or
mastering more skills during your clinical practice.
At times, it will feel
like you are climbing a mountain, so reaching each small base on that mountain
needs to be celebrated!
So to all of those who ask me, “how do you
do it?” – it is simple.
With a little foresight, some planning, and
support from family and friends (and/or child-minding services such as
before/after school care, babysitter, nanny or au pair), you can do it all and
You just need the courage to break down
what seems like a very big and daunting project into small manageable tasks
that you can tackle individually on a daily basis.
And before you know it, 10
weeks will be completed; you can have a break and breathe a little easier
before the next 10 weeks of study and training begin.
Soon enough, the days, weeks and years will
fly by and you will find yourself graduating with a degree in health from UTS
and starting a career in a field you have always dreamed about!
You will look back with a great sense of
accomplishment and pride, knowing that you showed yourself and everyone you
know exactly what you are capable of.
Good luck and I hope to see you around the
labs and classrooms of UTS Building 10.