By Evelyn Saunders Harmer, Special to The Christian Science Monitor — Many women with families are returning to college, as I did several years ago , or are considering the possibility. Some have definite career objectives. Others want to develop their cultural and intellectual interests or try to discover where their potential abilities lie.
Whatever the goal, there are fundamental guidelines which will make the transition from "at home" mom to "student" mom easier for both parent and child. Based on my own experience, here are a few ideas that may be helpful.
Everyone in the family should understand why you want to go to college and what changes in routine will be necessary. As long as children know their mother will be available when they need her, they usually are happy to support her.
If you are still in the planning stage, explore all the educational options available. Find out whether credits or degrees earned in programs that interest you would be accepted if you should want to transfer or do advanced study elsewhere. For the career-minded, check employment prospects in your chosen field.
Try to avoid beginning college during a period when your child faces some other major adjustment, such as entering school for the first time or moving to a new community.
A realistic attitude is essential. A full schedule of courses may be too heavy, even if family members help with household tasks. Generally, two hours of preparation are needed for every class hour. Many courses require library or laboratory research. It might be better to start by taking one or two courses, rather than to lauch into a full degree program. Know what expenses you will incur and how you will meet them.
If after a reasonable effort you are not happy with your program or school, ask a counselor to help you make a change. There is no failure involved in withdrawing from a situation that is not right for you. Your children will react negatively if they sense you are unhappy or under too much pressure.
To succeed as a student, especially in a career program, you need to demonstrate reliability and purposefulness. If possible, make alternative arrangements for occasions when sitters don't show up or your car breaks down. Trivial home problems should not be allowed to intrude.
If you have serious family difficulties, however, explain to your professors and adviser so they can modify requirements. Most institutions now are more than willing to admit adult women to regular day classes, and younger students enjoy contact with more mature people.Don't be intimidated or apologetic if you occasionally encounter someone who shows prejudice because you are a "returning housewife." If you have the credentials and are meeting your responsibilities, your status is as valid as anyone else's.
If things sometimes go wrong, remember that there would be problems to solve even if you stayed home full time. A return to school can be beneficial not only to a mother, but also to her children. They learn to share home responsibilities. The fact that Mom has to study makes it easier for them to do so. You will have a better understanding of what they are experiencing, and they will be proud of your accomplishments -- especially if you get an "A" on homework theym helped youm with!