Updated: Nov 1, 2019
By: Dr. Sheila Yarbrough
After years of working with students pursuing degrees while juggling various obligations; I have found that there is value to be had in sharing what I have learned through my own academic journey. I discuss openly my academic pursuits before becoming a parent as well as the pursuits after becoming a parent. Invariably, during discussions about timelines, faculty, and coursework; the new degree candidates who are parents voice concerns about their ability to meet the needs of their children and finding time to study while dealing with the obligations and worries that parenting can bring. I have spoken with parents who say that they know that obtaining a degree could bring significant benefits to their family. Additionally, they want to be educational role models for their children. However, some fear that the needs of those same precious children will hamper their ability to be successful. Acknowledging the importance of their concerns is always my first step in helping parent-students. After getting them to take deep breaths, I offer the following:
Our children should be the chief concern when making any changes to the rhythm of the family. We are going to parent regardless of the activity in which we are involved. Starting or returning to school at any level requires a transition. When we are parents, our children experience the transition right along with us. It is our job to make the transition for them as simple as possible.
Arranging and following a schedule for everyone is important. Whether it is bedtime, study time, medical appointments, or school activities; it is crucial that dates and times are remembered. Having a calendar that everyone in the family can see is helpful. Also, keep a version of your own calendar and show your children how to track their own events. My daughter had her own “BIG DAYS” written in crayon early. Now, as a teenager, she has developed her own sophisticated event tracking system. She helps me stay on track when I forget to put events on my calendar.
Demonstrating to our children that goals can be accomplished and that they have a supporting role to play, can be a great lesson. Let your children know, in age-appropriate terms, when you have big projects. It is fine for them to see you working on those projects even if you struggle. There are lessons to be learned when they see us work hard for what we want. Allow them to celebrate with you when the projects are completed. Consider having a family meal, movie, or game night when a class or school term ends.
Do your homework together. This is an opportunity to discuss writing, research, or just talking through assignments to promote critical thinking. Students may learn patterns, cause and effect, and literary terms in elementary school. By middle school, some students will be working on science projects, analyzing texts, and learning to use either MLA or APA or both. The adventure of citing sources can be something that you will have in common. If you have terms or concepts to learn, let them test you. This gives them time to “test us” in a positive way. It is good if they see you have a learning curve to overcome. My teen’s technological skills outpaced mine some time ago. Your teen or preteen might just be able to set up Quizlet or test your terminology knowledge with plain 3X5 note cards. With very young children, setting up their work area near your work area can add a level of importance to what they are doing. Helping your young students understand the need for quiet time and focus are other skills to be learned during homework time. You can gently remind your young students that there are times for reading and thinking that require quiet. For younger children, puzzles or memory games can be a fun way to build focus. Be patient and again consider the age and attention span.
For more information, you can check the board of education standards in your state for more specifics about what students should be learning in each grade.
Being Doctoral Moms means that we have skills and lessons to share with the children in our lives that go beyond a title or a framed degree. Perseverance, resilience, critical thinking, patience, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and focus are just some of the gifts we can help the young people in our lives develop as we progress on our Doctoral Mom journey. Most importantly, in sharing and nurturing these skills, we will be helping young potential doctoral people begin their journeys to success.
About the Writer
Sheila Yarbrough, PhD is a senior-level education administrator with 20+ years of experience in teaching, student affairs, business and leadership training. She is successful in fostering student academic success across disciplines by delivering quality classroom and online instruction through creative student engagement. Dr. Yarbrough is a transformational leader with experience managing a diverse and multicultural workforce and providing faculty development. With her excellent interpersonal skills, she has a proven history of cultivating and maintaining collaborative teams and partnerships with college administrators, staff, faculty and key stakeholders. Dr. Yarbrough is recognized by students as passionate and personable and creating an engaging learning environment.