Spinning Plates: Being a T-Bird and a Dad

By Nate Flake, Guest Writer 

Courtesy EHHS Dean's Blog
Courtesy EHHS Dean’s Blog

If you have ever been to a circus you have probably seen the spinning plates act. The performer gets plates spinning one by one on the ends of long poles and then proceeds to run around frantically, re-spinning each one as they slow down at different times. It’s stressful to watch. But it is an incredibly accurate comparison to going to school while you’re a parent. You can’t focus too much on one plate or else the other plates will fall. And so it is being a parent and a student at the same time.

On the Thursday night during Foundations, our group finished while there was still daylight left – for the first time that week. I made the long drive back to Scottsdale just in time for dinner with my wife and two daughters. Later that night I was putting Koko, our five-year-old, to bed when she told me that she was happy to see me come in the door earlier, because she thought I had moved away. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her response, so I explained to her that I had started school again and might miss some bedtimes here and there. It’s been a little over a month since that conversation, and now that I have settled in to the student/parent swing of things, I have some tips that might be helpful to all those parent T-birds out there.

Give Everyone Their Time 

I think of it like this: your kids didn’t make the decision to go back to school when you were coming up on 30 (in my case at least), so why should they have to make the sacrifice of your presence during that time? This is usually where I lose a lot of people. I figure I should be the one taking the majority of the stress of this grad school experience, so I try to take the short end of the stick where I can. If it comes down to choosing between sleep and spending time with my family, I choose the latter every time. So my schedule is usually school, time with the kids, then time with the wife, time on homework, and then finally sleep. If I’m lucky I get to the sleep part of that schedule before the clock changes to AM, but I’m not always lucky.

Now I want to make a footnote of sorts to this last bit. I do realize that there are times when waiting until 10 or 11 to start homework just isn’t feasible. Heaven forbid you procrastinate until the last minute on an assignment and you have no choice but to work all day and night on it. If this is the case, the one thing I have done to try and make the best out of the situation is by just doing the homework at home while your kids run amok and your spouse/nanny/mother-in-law/whoever watches them. Even if you have your headphones on and are completely in the zone, the fact that you are present in the house makes a big difference to the kids.

Maximize Your Time on Campus

This is especially important if you live off of campus like I do. You need to make the most out of the time that you are on campus, not only for your family’s sake but for the sake of your wallet as well. That means you need to plan out your classes, group work, CMC sessions, gym time, and whatever else you have to do on campus so that they fall into the most condensed amount of time possible. I try to avoid campus like the plague on days that I don’t have class, that way I get the most out of my days off with the family as well.

Don’t Over-Commit 

Courtesy Nate Flake
Courtesy Nate Flake

We all know the famous business mantra: don’t over-promise and under-deliver. The same goes for your time as a student parent. When I was going through the first week of classes and learning about all the different ways to be involved on campus, I knew one thing for sure: any extra time spent at school and away from my family better be pretty important. I knew that if I signed up for a ton of different clubs or other student groups I would end up stressing myself out and thinking of ways to get out of my attendance obligations in order to spend more time at home. So instead I picked one or two commitments, and decided that those would be my only “extra” responsibilities.

I’m not saying any of these tips are going to make your time at Thunderbird glide by worry-free, but even if they help alleviate a little bit of the extra stress that comes from the already challenging role of being a parent, then they might be worth looking into. Eventually most of us will be doing this same type of plate-spinning act when we work on our careers and manage our families at the same time, so you might as well settle in and get used to it.

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