This blog post is an attempt to provide some helpful hints to graduate parents that I have learned over the past 14 months of being a grad student and single parent. By no means am I an expert in this area, but I am simply sharing my experiences with you. There are many more tips that I could list here, but these are the main things I wanted to share. Comments and thoughts are welcome!
Tip #1 – Don’t cry over spilled milk. Seriously, I’m talking about spilled milk. Between trying to finish papers, pull all-nighters for exams, feed your kid(s) something healthy besides your poor college diet of ramen noodles, having some meaningful interaction with your kid(s), cleaning your house, etc. etc. etc., things can get pretty stressful and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. A messy two year old transitioning from sippy cup to BIG GIRL CUP! is just the thing to send you flying off the handle. My best advice is remember to laugh. Laughing with a child can be the best therapy after a long hard day. Getting into that laughing fit where you are laughing at their laughter and then they laugh back and you go back and forth for 5 minutes is the bee’s knees and the cat’s meow. SO don’t cry over the milk, or the water that’s not in the tub but on the floor, or the black permanent marker that’s ALL OVER the white bedroom wall (okay that DID warrant a tear or two). Instead, laugh rather than cry because in the end you still have to clean it up
Tip #2- Exercise. For me this is the VERY last thing on my to-do list, just below cleaning out the oven and scrubbing the shower. We all know how good working out is for the body, but the benefits for the mind are HUGE! Getting up at 5am to do INSANITY with Shaun T. is about as easy as eating soup with a fork BUT after that 45 minutes, I’m ready to take on everything the day is going to bring. Working out with the kiddo can be fun and pretty entertaining at the same tim (watching a 2 year old do jumping jacks and mountain climbers is great for a good laugh). Go for a short walk, take your kid for a walk (a great time for language stimulation, which we SLPs LOVE), do 30 squats before getting in the shower, lift the milk gallon above your head 10 times… seriously, do ANYTHING that gets those muscles moving because you automatically feel good. And when you feel good, you do good.
Tip#3-Take your kid on a dinner date. I know this may sound a little strange, but it can be so much fun! Since you are a poor graduate student with kid(s) like me, I’m sure that money is TIGHT. But there are tons of cheap restaurants or specials to take advantage of. At Applebee’s, kids eat free on Tuesday nights; at the University Roadhouse, kids eat free Sunday-Thursday. You can get a cheap appetizer and your kid can eat free! It’s fun for the kiddo AND can be a great alternative to that day when you simply don’t have energy to cook macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. You can change this tip to anything you want besides a dinner date, but having some sort of special bonding time that your kid may look forward to is key.
Tip#4- Don’t feel guilty- EVER. This is one that I struggle with all the time. It’s very easy to feel guilty that your child is in day care all day and then you have homework all night and they are stuck in front of the TV. I try hard not to use the TV as a babysitter, but honestly Barney or Elmo can be a big help when the to-do list is massive. DON’T feel guilty no matter what other people say. Remember that you are working hard to give THEM the best future you can provide and that when they look back on this time they will be proud of how hard you worked (and my guess is probably not too terribly upset about the TV time). One suggestion I have is to make the absolute most of the quality time you have with your child. Getting home from day care at 6 and bed time at 8:30 doesn’t allow much interaction, when you figure in dinner and bath time. Spend the hour you have doing everything your kid wants to do and then work work work when they fall asleep.
Tip#5-Remember– just one day at a time. I made this the title of the blog because it has been my reminder every day. The bottom line is that unexpected things are going to happen… like your kid’s daycare giving you 3 weeks notice they are shutting down and having to scramble to find a new one. NOT COOL. You must remember that this time in your life is temporary (Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” gets this absolutely right), and that you may not make it to every deadline in time. You may not get to research every thing your teacher told you to before the next class. Remember that you are working hard every day and that you ARE doing it! If something doesn’t happen the way you expected… just LET IT GO. Take it one day at a time and remember that tomorrow is a new day
Good luck raising your kids and going to school. You ARE doing it and you WILL succeed!