Tips from the Trenches: Library School While Parenting: Wins and #Fails

Somehow I made it through my first semester of library school as a parent. It took a village. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without being in a remote program, not working full-time, having a supportive partner and family nearby to occasionally take up the childcare reins. And I have one child! I also have new-found respect for ALL working and/or studying parents out there (and yes, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, that counts as a full-time job, sometimes more so because you don’t get the break from childcare while you are at work).

The semester was full of some wins – the main one being getting through it all, many parenting fails, and endless times feeling as if I was giving the short shift to “_____” (fill in the blank): baby, spouse, work, school work, friends, self-care, etc. I felt like the lamest person canceling the lunch date with a friend because I sorely underestimated how busy my week would be or turning in assignments mere minutes before the due date because I didn’t get more work done the day the baby refused to nap or I kept falling asleep trying to study after work. It broke my heart to hermit away from my husband and son to write papers. Yet it was easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I should be able to manage it all, “After all, plenty of parents do grad school and parenting, often while juggling lots more in their schedule. I need to get it together.”

The reality, I try to remind myself, is that no one has it together. We are all just trying to do the best we can. Sometimes just hearing some words of wisdom from other parents performing similar juggling acts can help. I hit up many library school parents I knew for their best tips and suggestions to offer others. While their parenting life, work, and school situations varied, they all had some gems to share:

Be really honest with yourself about workload you can handle. Factor in reading time, research time, lecture time, writing time, editing time. Be conservative in your estimate, because things are going to come up–in your family, at work, and in the world–that might slow you down. There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow units-wise and building in more flexible ways to get experience simultaneously–such as volunteer work.

Move deadlines up by at least a few days on your calendar to build in time to handle the inevitable puking kids in the days before that huge project is due.

Communicate constantly with your partner or other support people about how you’re feeling and what you need.

Communicate with your instructors. I’ll always remember what one professor of mine said: “Stress is inevitable, but suffering is optional”, and encouraged us to reach out if we felt like we were lost or drowning. No professor wants their students to suffer (okay, well, most professors). I have only had to ask for an extension a couple of times due to health or family crises, but each time I reached out early to my professors and was as open as appropriate about what was going on. They were always really understanding and expressed gratitude that I was proactive rather than waiting until too late (or after deadline) to ask for extra support.

 Don’t be shy about asking family/friends/other parents for help. I hate asking others for help! But I bit my tongue a few times and asked other parents to give my child a ride to school or back home in those times when I had to be two places at once. As a single parent I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the support of the parents of my children’s friends. If you have older children, explaining,“Mom is studying now” is helpful so they understand why when you are away in your room. Oh, and the most important part, try not to feel guilty 😉

Make your family situation work for you. If you’re interested in school or youth librarianship. ask librarians at your kid’s school if you can volunteer or test/implement ideas in the library. Bring your kids to public library programs and introduce yourselves to the librarians (the kids can help break the ice). Practice storytimes on your kids, talk to them about what they’re reading if they’re older.

If you work in a library, you can interview a librarian for an assignment or ask for their opinion on an assignment (most people love to be asked). Think about how you might be able to have one of your library school assignments do double duty as a project that can benefit a place you work or volunteer.

Finally, remember that despite what the Instagram pictures might lead you to believe, no one has it together. Remind yourself that when your child is sick, your computer crashes, and due dates loom large. You got this!

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