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Restaurant reservation: check. Graphing calculator: check. Stuffed toy: check. When you’re an adult student, there is a lot to balance. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, have children or don’t, many people are impacted by your studies. Keeping up your communication can help to ease stress, for you and for them.

Your loved ones may feel that their world is being rocked. They may be afraid that they won’t see you as much, that struggles with money will arise, or that the balance of household responsibilities will shift. They need to know what to expect.

“I try to communicate that this is a temporary period in my life, when school takes precedence over everything else, and reassure [my family] that balance will return in the future,” says Amber B., a second-year graduate student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Partners and Spouses

If you have a partner, sit down and talk through the impact school will have on the two of you. Find a setting and time free of distraction and where you’ll both feel comfortable. It may be helpful to discuss things a little bit at a time so that the situation doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Here are some of the things to talk about with your spouse, partner, or others deeply involved with your life:

  • What sort of time commitment is your program per day, per week, and over its duration?
  • How much time will you spend away from your home and family?
  • What roles will change, and who will do what?

More discussion topics

Here are some of the things to talk about with your spouse, partner, or others deeply involved with your life:
  • What sort of time commitment is your program—per day, per week, and over its duration? 
  • How much will it cost, and who’s going to pay for it?
  • Will you hold a job; will your partner pick up hours? 
  • Will you delay having (more) children, a home-improvement project, and/or something else? 
  • How much time will you spend away from your home and family? 
  • What roles will change, and who will do what? 
  • How will you keep track of individual and joint responsibilities?
  • What time will be set aside to spend together? 
  • How do you expect your career to change after school is done?

Map Everything Out

In addition to having careful conversations, find a space where you can create a visual timeline of your time in school. Sit down and map everything out in your calendars. If you use one for everyone in your household, note important deadlines, events, and mile-markers on it. This can help you plan ahead when papers, exams, holidays, and other things coincide.

Grant L., a third-year graduate student at Life University in Marietta, Georgia, notes, “If my loved ones can see the big picture it is easier for them to understand the sacrifice.”

More ideas from students

Keep a Shared Calendar
Many students use a calendar where the whole family’s schedule is laid out. Here are some examples:

Online calendars
Everyone with an account can see it, and you can create events for you and your loved ones. For example, you can plan a “date night” and invite your partner!

Poster board and markers
Create a calendar for each month using large paper. Post it in a place where everyone can see it, such as the kitchen. Make sure there’s plenty of room to add things as necessary. You can use color-coding for different members of the family or various kinds of activities (e.g., tests, classes, sporting events and recitals, doctor’s appointments, and parties).

You can also do this on a white board or chalkboard.

Keep Close

When you’re focused on academic commitments, it can be challenging to stay connected. To keep romance alive, try some “dating.”

Set aside time for you and your partner each week, a special few hours just for the two of you. Even when schedules are tight, and even if you need to change the exact time, stick to your plan. Without opportunities to reconnect emotionally, the process of managing life while in school can be even more challenging.

Dates don’t have to be complicated, nor do they need to be especially long.

Ideas about no-stress time together

Dates with your sweetie don’t have to be complicated. A few hours over a quiet dinner, a Saturday afternoon hike, or catching a movie together can all provide necessary relief and keep your intimacy alive. If you have children, arrange for a friend, family member, or babysitter to keep them busy.

If you opt to stay home, make it feel special by lighting candles and playing your favorite music. (Maybe some Barry White in the background?) Focus solely on one another. No phone calls or texts, and no discussions about things that cause either (or both) of you stress. Make this a time of love and comfort, not something you’ll both avoid.

Here are specific ideas from students:

  • Organize work/study sessions and take a break to cook dinner together.
  • Talk over a cup of tea at the end of the night. It’s time to reconnect and make sure you’re on the same page.

Finally, be available to talk whenever you can throughout your schooling. Samantha C., a third-year graduate student at Life University, says, “I think just having an understanding attitude and knowing the door is always open to conversation is the first step.”

Children

Children need stability, and often don’t quite understand what it means when a parent’s schedule or availability changes. Depending on their age, try explaining what you’re doing in terms they can relate to. For example, if your child is in school, explain that he or she has homework and class trips, while you have papers and special study groups. You can even work on assignments together. Now there can be no complaints that your son or daughter has to do homework and you don’t!

Increase Understanding

A visual representation of your school experience can help children understand what you’re doing and how they fit into it.

For an example, lay out a timeline in construction paper. You can make a graduation cap out of black paper or material and stick tape or other moveable adhesive to the back. Mark milestones, perhaps by semester, and advance the cap forward as you pass each one. You can also include events from your child’s life, such as the first day of school, holidays, parties, games, and recitals. This will help him or her feel included, and may also increase his or her understanding of what you’re doing in relation to things that are familiar.

A big, visual representation of your school experience can make the situation more concrete, and allow you and your child to spend time together marking each step.

Time Together

Set aside “dates” with your child, much as you do with your partner. Make sure you have one-on-one time each week, even if it’s just half an hour playing, cooking together, or working on one of his or her school projects. Once every 4 weeks or so, give your youngster a special afternoon of your time. Arrange an activity that matches his or her interests, and devote your focus wholly to your child. Encourage him or her to ask questions and share feelings, including concerns or frustrations, and make sure you validate them. It can also be helpful to have a daily check-in time, like when reading at bedtime.

Support Is Essential

The demands of academics can be overwhelming and it’s important to ask for help if you need it. “Family and friends can offer physical support, such as picking up a child from school, helping with homework, or cleaning up and running errands. [This] can help you eke out a little bit of [extra] time,” says Dr. Tara Kuther, professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

Remember that your relationships are partnerships. When you’re excited about something you’ve learned, share it with your friends and family. If you’re frustrated, ask your support network for insights about balancing various demands.
Ask your family for encouragement and reaffirm for them that even though you may not always be around physically, you are there for them in heart.

Take Care of You

You have dates with your spouse or partner, with children if you have them, and likely with study buddies and some friends. Don’t forget to also make time for yourself once a week and do something just for you. Take a fitness class, spend time on a hobby, read for pleasure, or simply take a nap! Make this a time you look forward to, that helps you recharge.

It may be encouraging to remember is that school doesn’t last forever. When you’re slogging through a late-night study session or tripping over toys and textbooks, keeping this in mind can help you continue to feel motivated as you make your way toward the finish line.

Take Action!

  • Talk with your family about how school affects your schedule.
  • Take the time to have thorough conversations, and keep the door open for more.
  • Use shared calendars to keep track of everyone’s priorities.
  • Set time aside each week to connect with your partner, children, and/or other family members.
  • If you have children, draw parallels between your school experiences.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself and ask for support if you need it.

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