4 Ways Going Back to School Makes You a Better Parent
It may be hard to see amid the stress, but the skills that help you succeed as a student also pay dividends for your kids.
Papers, projects, research, tests — going back to school as an adult adds a new level of complication to your already jam-packed life. “Regardless of whether we are at school or at home, parents who are working on their degrees are stressed,” says Sara Villanueva, a developmental psychologist, associate professor at St. Edward’s University and mother of four. “It’s OK. You can admit it! We’re all in the same cortisol-filled boat.”
But you already have the tools to handle it, she says. And the skills you’re honing on campus are likely to reap big dividends for your children.
First, says Villanueva, the fact that you are in school speaks volumes. Your children see you working hard. They see you budgeting your time, studying and solving problems. “From the time they are infants, our children look to us for guidance — on how to react when we feel stressed, how to behave in specific circumstances, whether to jump in or give up when things get tough,” she says. “We are their first reference point, the person who models the behaviors they will utilize in the future.” So ask your kids to quiz you at the kitchen table. Read your textbook at soccer practice. Hang your tests on the fridge. Show them your effort is paying off.
Communication skills are crucial for success in college. You work in teams. You make presentations. You offer and give feedback. “Being able to clearly state your message helps build rapport, collegiality and trust,” says Villanueva. The same is true at home. “As parents, we must clearly communicate our thoughts, opinions, feelings and expectations. Clear and consistent communication encourages similar behaviors from our children and benefits the individual, the parent-child relationship and the family as a whole. It also sets the stage for healthy future relationships, and who wouldn't want that?”
Your life as a student has likely brought with it all kinds of organizational tools, from scheduling apps to the ubiquitous sticky note. “We all have our own way of responsibly meeting deadlines and managing tasks,” says Villanueva. “By using those same organizational skills at home, parents can meet the constant demands that come in the form of science projects (theirs and yours), PTA meetings, baseball games, dance recitals, and doctor’s appointments, all the while enjoying the chaotic bliss we call parenthood.” Staying organized makes your life easier and also provides the consistency and routine that kids depend on.
As you get to know your classmates and professors, you become part of a group that guides and supports you semester after semester, whether you’re looking for a study partner or a recommendation letter. “Working as a team, sharing common goals, building an environment of support and encouragement — these are all behaviors that are continually reinforced in the classroom,” says Villanueva. Sharing these concepts at home teaches your kids the power of collaboration, responsibility and consideration. “When we approach our children with a ‘we are all in this together’ kind of attitude, whether the objective is spring cleaning or learning to ski, it empowers them to know they are not alone. It signifies that if we work together, we will all reach the common goal in a much more reasonable and efficient way.”
In short, says Villanueva, embrace the challenges going back to school brings. Be honest and open with your kids about the short-term sacrifices you will all make now, and the long-term gains that will benefit the entire family in the future. Also, don’t forget to take downtime when you need it and make sure to take care of yourself. The end result? Less stress. “And less stress means better parenting behaviors, more meaningful interactions with our children, a stronger family unit … well, you get the picture!”
At St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, we’ve designed our graduate and degree-completion programs for adults to fit into your busy life. Courses are taught in the classroom, online and blended formats at convenient evening and weekend times.
Stacia Hernstrom MLA ’05 is a freelance writer.