Manchester Metropolitan University Students' Union

The balancing act - Natalie Brookes

Saturday 04-08-2018 - 13:14
Natalie cover

Being a parent is challenging. You need to become an expert in juggling many balls at the same time - you need to ensure your kid’s uniforms are sorted each day, that their homework is done on time, their lunches are prepared, blah blah blah. The list goes on and on. But what do you get when you combine parenting with being a mature student?

In my experience; worry, immense pressure, financial stresses, even guilt. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about my family. I am a 31-year-old married mum of three sons, ages twelve, eight and five. With three boys, you can imagine the chaos that goes on in my house on a daily basis - if they are not arguing over who gets to play on what, they are wrestling, complaining, hungry, thirsty and asking constantly “can I have?” or saying “he won’t let me have a go”, “Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum” (I bet the parents reading this understand how this makes me want to rip my hair out!)

However, because I'm a glutton for punishment, and my desire to study nursing grew so strong I could taste it, I decided to go for it. This was five years ago, when my youngest son was only six months old. I could tell you the whole story of how I got into university, but it’s a long, drawn-out story consisting of volunteering, evening classes, GCSE’s, functional skills etc. Fast forward five years and here I am. A mature Student Nurse, with a house to keep running, three older sons (four if you count my husband), a female dog (because I didn’t want to feel outnumbered) and one wage coming in with bills to pay. Sounds scary I know, but I may be preaching to the choir here.

Now, let me tell you why I thought this article was a good idea for those parents who have decided to pursue their dreams of having a career, and how do-able this really is. On the very first day of university, all 65 of us new fresh-faced students were asked by the lecturers to stand up individually and introduce ourselves to the cohort. I was listening intently to the people I am going to be spending the next three years of my life with, and noticed that there were quite a few mature students in there, many of whom had kids, and admitted their fears and anxiety over how they are going to cope being a student with a dependant family.

The common fear amongst those parents was time – “how do I balance all the work with my kids? I feel so guilty about leaving them” and (this may surprise you) “my family and friends are making me feel awful about leaving my child, they say I am being selfish”.

OK, number one - never feel guilty. Would you feel guilty about going to work full time? I don’t think you would, because you know you’re working very hard to give your children the best start in life. Why should being a student be any different? Yes, it’s a three year course, with financial stresses - but, once those three years are over, you have a career, you’re earning money so that if your child comes up to you and says “I want a new phone” or those trainers that everyone’s wearing, then you can.

Furthermore, you’re a role model. You’re setting a great work ethic to your child or children, and that no matter how far away that goalpost seems, that with hard work, dedication and perseverance, your lifelong ambition can be accomplished.

In order to be successful in your studies and at home, it is important that you’re organised. One way to be organised is by having a calendar - a fun calendar (I have a Disney one!) because if it’s fun and bright then you will find yourself looking at it more often.

This is the best way to plan your days so you don’t forget anything like appointments. Another idea is to purchase a white board and place it in a room where your spending most of your time. In my instance, I have a white board in the kitchen, because it’s guaranteed that everyone in the house will see it. On this white board you can plan the day - this is a godsend for me when I’m on placement - because in order for the kids to earn their spends, I write them chores for them to do whilst I’m not there. Plus, if you have boys then you’ll know what they’re like, so you can remind them to put their uniform in the washing machine ready, do their homework, ensure their toys and games are put back upstairs by the time you get home - less work for you when you get home after a 12-hour shift. I have found that it teaches the boys respect and teaches them to clean up after themselves, plus, I have peace of mind that their work isn’t slipping because they have a set time to do their homework.

A slow cooker will become (apart from the kettle) your most used kitchen appliance. You can prepare meals the night before, or in the morning and put the food on a slow cook - that way your family is fed.  Now this comes from personal experience, but make sure you write a note asking someone to keep some to one side for you, or the whole lot will be gone, and you’ll be stuck with pasta or a bacon butty. Yes, this has happened to me more than once. Greedy buggers.

Time management and prioritising is key to a less stressful you, especially when you’re on placement and have an assignment to finish. But, your kids don’t understand that though do they?

Recent studies show, that on average, a person loses concentration after two hours of constant studying. After this time, information stops going in, and your work becomes less informative and academic. I find that after two hours, I’ll take a break from work. At the weekend, I’ll only do my work when the kids are in bed, because I want to spend time with my family. We enjoy taking our dog for a walk – as I said she’s a female Labrador, because I got tired of feeling outnumbered by boys who love running themselves silly at Wacky Warehouse (it’s a noisy place, but thank you to the person who invented it!)

Even though you’re a student, life carries on too. In the words of Ferris Bueller “life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t slow down once in a while, you could miss it”. That quote, could not be more true. Nursing alone, is a very stressful and demanding course, so finding a source of de-stress is important if you enjoy sleeping at night; my form of tranquillity is drawing. It is very easy to get lost in the political ethos of the profession, and you will often find yourself acting like a robot and your whole life revolving around placement, assignments, reflections etc.  It’s important to stand out, and allow your fun side to shine through. I don’t mean come into the skills lab to practice catheters dressed as Donald Duck, but maybe add little things that shows others in your care that you’re not too serious and approachable. I am an avid Disney lover, and made a pact with my fellow student nurse that we will become the Disney Nurses. Before I started my course I purchased a Little Mermaid fob watch (thanks eBay – and I have had plenty of nurses who have said they wanted to pinch it! HANDS OFF.)

I am also a self-confessed geek, and regular attendee of the annual Manchester Comic-Con every June.  I’m a Batman lover, and I also have a Batman fob watch and notebook that I use to write reflections in (if it was up to me I would be driving to the hospital in a bat-mobile). Little things like this actually get attention from my patients - my fob watches have been something of a conversation starter, and an ice breaker between patient and student nurse. Not only do they bring out the fun side in you, but it shows others that your approachable, you don’t take yourself too seriously and you will do your up most to provide the best care possible.

Your fun side doesn’t just have to show in placement, it can come out in University too.

Purchase yourself a great bag and pencil case - I have a Tom and Jerry bag (and surprise, surprise a Batman pencil case) that’s filled with my collection of stationary (which you will get a worrying addiction for) that I bought from a shop in Manchester called Forbidden Planet, which if your a film buff; like me, and love comic books; again like me, then you will love that place. It is also important to allow yourself to let go of everything, from daily living, from university and from work, so go out and enjoy yourself every once in a while. Get a baby sitter, grab your other half and go have some fun. Plus, a little tip here, take your student card with you because you get great discount in the Printworks. I don’t drink, so I usually enjoy going to the Odeon Cinema in the Printworks, which you get discount rates for admission thanks to the presence of a student card. It is very important to spend time with your partner, because sometimes; like your kids, they can feel a little sidelined, even forgotten, so spending a little time together is very healthy for you both.

Right now, I bet your head is spinning - I know mine was when I first started my degree in Adult Nursing. So many questions were rushing through my head, and I was making myself anxious. You will find that the cohort you are with will become your second family. You will create a support system with both your family at home and at university, all you need is organisation, faith, trust and pixie dust (see what I did there!) But honestly, you will be fine -  be proud of what you’ve achieved, and don’t ever feel guilty for bettering yourself in order to create the lifestyle and work ethic you want for your family.

You’re a role model whether you realise it or not. Putting on that uniform for the first time, filled me with pride, and when I went to pick my sons from school one day my five year old went up to his teacher and said “Miss, look, my mum’s a nurse today”. That filled me with such joy. You work the way that suits you, and you organise the way that suits your situation alone, (all I have done is give you some tips). You can do this - the balancing act between family life and student life can work together harmoniously.


Read more welcome stories from fellow students here.



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